Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Restaurant: Hill Country

Meat by the pound. I could probably just end this post right now, but I guess that isn't fair to anyone else given that just typing that made my tongue moisten. BBQ in New York has become the latest trend, like noodle bars, dessert chefs and other such eating establishments. At Hill Country, like a number of other BBQ joints, they take the less is more approach with nothing but Texas decorations or "memorabilia", wood, cafeteria trays and meat by the pound wrapped in butcher paper. Don't let the decor and style of ordering fool you, however, because the food is top notch, New York priced, and has a great Texas style bar selection.

When three beefy boys walked into Hill Country on a Friday night, we were all business. We took the menu's and without even sitting down discussed the plan of attack. It was quickly decided that all meats should be in the half pound range, with each of us ordering 1 type. Then on to sides, where the debate was heated between medium or large. In the end we decided on medium, and each of us were responsible for 1 of these as well. Having noticed my favorite bourbon while waiting at the bar, I ordered an Eagle Rare on the rocks. It is a great bourbon that is aged for ten years and passes along the oak, sweet caramel and fire that you expect in good Kentucky bourbon.

After waiting in line and placing our orders we returned to the table with an assortment of meats that included 1/2 pound of moist brisket, 1/2 pound of beef ribs, and 3 jalapeno cheese sausage links. All of the meat comes with slices of white bread, which my fellow eaters enjoyed, but I stayed away from knowing it would just take up space in my stomach that could be filled with meat. In the sides category we ordered mediums of the mac & cheese and the cucumber salad, but someone broke our agreement and got the largest container of Texas chili I had ever seen in my life. I couldn't complain, since I also snuck in an order of chipotle deviled eggs. Not having had deviled eggs in a long time, I forgot how delicious and satisfying of a taste they can be, and the chipotle mixed in added a smoky kick that jump started the entire BBQ meal. The brisket was indeed extremely moist, with great smoke rings and a flavor that balanced the fat of the meat with a fall of the bone tenderness. My one complaint was that to keep it moist, the brisket ended up having a lot of fat around the edges, and I am never a fan of eating the fat on any type of meat. You just need to be careful when adding the hot sauce and the BBQ sauce to distinguish fat from tender meat.

Moving onto the beef ribs, we discovered that the reason one person was not a fan of ribs, chicken wings, chicken legs/thighs, bone in pork chops, etc was not due to the fat, the messiness, or anything else. It was entirely due to "not liking bones". As in, he didn't like eating meat that had a bone in it. I think I will leave that statement alone and let you ponder it for a second...Despite our initial shock, we trimmed the meat off of the ribs and portioned it out for the three of us. I myself am not a big ribs fan (because it is minimal meat), and found that the ribs, while full of smokehouse goodness, felt a little overcooked, stringy and tough. Maybe the brisket had spoiled me, but the ribs were far and away the biggest disappointment. Luckily the sausage was still left on the plate, and it may be the greatest sausage I have ever eaten. After first slicing into it I knew I was in for a treat. I stared in awe as the cheese oozed out of the meat just by gently pressing down on the link. This specific type of sausage is made in Texas and shipped to New York, which I found out later, but at the time all I could do was gobble it up and wish we had doubled up on the sausage and skipped the ribs. It had a strong smoke to it, but the meat was distinctly flavored to the point where the smoke was more of an undertone than a primary flavor. The cheese couldn't really be tasted, but the oozing gooey texture added to the overall delight. After the final bite, which probably took about 20 seconds in total to eat, I realized that I needed water very quickly, as the jalapeno snuck up on me when I least suspected it. Overall though, the sausage was the highlight of the meal, and can't be missed.

As for sides, I have never seen such a big tub of chili before. It both turned me on and disgusted me, particularly because I was still really hungry and knew I could eat at least half of it if given the opportunity. Luckily (I think) someone else at the table took it upon them self to eat nearly half. The chili was tasty, like real Texas chili (no beans), but it could have used a bit more heat for my taste. Luckily, hot sauce was at the ready. The mac & cheese was tasty, made with ziti and oozing cheeses everywhere. The cucumber salad was a surprising hit, perhaps because it was cool and sweet, with a bit of tang from the vinegar. Compared to all the other dishes it made for a nice palate cleanser and cut the hot, spicy, smokey food we were consuming like madmen.

Topping off the meal my friends got banana pudding like you would remember at camp or the school cafeteria, except good. I went for the PB & J cupcake, which started falling apart after almost the first bite. The cupcake was stuffed with grape jam, and the frosting was made of peanut butter with reeses pieces topping it. After a few futile (and messy) attempts to finish eating it, I gave in and finished every last crumb with a fork. Needless to say, I was both happy with the fun desserts, and shocked that we all had room for it.

I will definitely be back to Hill Country, maybe for their all you can eat specials, and would recommend it to anyone that likes Texas BBQ, with a no frills attitude. Of course, don't forget about the New York prices.

Meat by the pound, from Texas

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