Hill Country (NYC)

30 West 26th Street (between Broadway & 6th Avenue)
New York, NY 10010

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Various meats priced by the pound ($9 per pound for chicken – $29 per pound for boneless prime rib at time of posting), sides $5-20 (depending upon size)
Ambiance- Super-casual, dine-in or take-out marketplace
Cuisine- Texas “slow and low” dry rub barbecue
Hits- German potato salad, fun “meal ticket” vibe (a great system for folks who want separate checks); I also HAVE to shout out Hill Country for their food-based community involvement with several charitable organizations.
Misses- Many BBQ joints will throw vegetarians a bone with an obligatory veggie burger or portobello-on-a-bun, but Hill Country is definitely a carnivore’s paradise.  Also, the meal ticket system, while fun, can lead to overspending if you’re not careful.
Sitting at the Hill Country bar, I was really excited to meet my friend Erica.  Fresh out of culinary school, she had a lot to catch me up on, and we hadn’t seen each other since my wedding in July.  And what better way to share stories than over some down-home, finger-lickin’, stick-to-yer-bones comfort food?
It was Restaurant Week, but when we got to the hostess station, we were given these nifty little meal ticket cards.  Like eating dim sum at any Chinatown establishment worth its salt, this meal involved stamping your card with the food you chose, which you pay for at the cash register upon exiting.
“How does the whole Restaurant Week thing work?” I asked naively, wondering how this system matched the $24 lunch Restaurant Week promise.
“Oh, we don’t exactly do that,” was the reply.  “You pay for what you eat.”
Okaaaay. Participating in Restaurant Week without a $24 lunch budget is a little like running the marathon standing on the sideline, but -hey- whatever.  The system is great for folks who want their own individual checks, but it can also become very easy to fall victim to “Monopoly Money Syndrome,” when you go around piling up your plate oblivious to dollar signs.
Hill Country is set up cafeteria-style (I guess they call it “market style” to eliminate the grammar-school-lunch-lady connotation), so you claim a wooden table, grab a tray, and visit each of the different stations for your fixin’s.  Being adventurous eaters but, alas, relatively small girls, we wound up with similar, sparing sampler platters.  I tried a beef back rib, moist brisket (as opposed to the lean brisket), and a pork spare rib, which was wrapped up in greasy brown butcher paper.  All three meats were tender and juicy.  The brisket was a little too fatty for me, but it was definitely moist.  Both ribs were meaty with a nice, slow-heat, rich-tang barbeque sauce.  The spice of the sauce wasn’t overwhelming, but it snuck up on me, unexpected.
I couldn’t resist the seasonal German potato salad, which was -to my good fortune- in season, and Erica had the sweet potato bourbon mash.  My potatoes were deliciously vinegary and salty with the skin (all that vitamin goodness) thrown into the mix.  Erica’s potatoes were rich and strongly sweet; good to sample but had I ordered it, I wouldn’t have been able to eat the whole serving.
We each had a piece of dense, sweet cornbread with ancho honey butter.
The accommodating folks at the sides counter let you taste before you buy, so we also sampled the collard greens (flavorful, not bitter), beer braised cowboy pinto beans (hearty and meaty), and white shoepeg corn pudding (sweet, creamy, and pretty darn decadent).
As you can see, everything is pretty much do-it-yourself, no-frills.  The waitstaff kept us in a steady supply of drinks, and the silverware was real (not plastic).  However, all food is served on paper or in thin cardboard trays.  Fancy it ain’t.  But it is pretty tasty.
We hadn’t come this far to skip dessert, so I tried a red velvet cupcake, which had that signature Dutch cocoa flavor.  (I’m not sure if they actually use Dutch cocoa, but the flavor was spot on.)
Erica had the banana cream pudding topped with two vanilla wafers- not as overly sweet as one might expect but creamy and delicious.
I’ve been on quite the BBQ kick lately.  Was Hill Country my favorite barbecue in the city? With so many hot barbecue joints in the city to choose from, I’d have to say no.  It is a place I can feel great supporting, given its many contributions to charitable organizations.  More than anything, Hill Country stands witness to entrepreneur Marc Glosserman’s homage to his family’s Texas roots.  Although the food has soul and warmth, the counter-style set-up doesn’t.  It’s an East Coast touch that, while unique and convenient in some ways, is more “New York anonymity” than “Southern hospitality.”  Worth the trip to try? Yes.  Worth going back? Maybe.

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