Hill Country30 W 26th St, 212-255-4544Price range: $18-$28 Rating: 4 L's
It’s a great time for the barbecue-loving New Yorker. Ever since Blue Smoke opened in 2002, the city has been inundated with pit masters providing Southern expats with a taste of home, and the rest of us a taste for the real thing. And yet, when I walk past a packed Dallas BBQ — home of boiled ribs, sticky with corn syrup and liquid smoke — it’s clear that we need more authentic ‘cue.
Enter first-time restaurateur Marc Glosserman, an MBA from Maryland with a penchant for Texas barbecue. Thankfully, Glosserman hews close to the rocking joints in the Texas hills west of Austin, creating a 250-seat bi-level wood and steel space with two bars, giant smokers, strings of lights, and a stage downstairs.
There are no reservations or table service except for drinks (a poorly conceived mix of sugary cocktails, tequila shots and identical light beers — at least give us some Shiner Bock!). Instead, take your ticket to the smoker, where you get your meat carved to order onto butcher paper. Sides are, appropriately, to the side.
Yeah, but how’s the barbecue? Damn good. If this was 2000, it’d be the best in the city. But it ain’t, and the competition’s fierce. Hill Country’s Pork Ribs ($12/pound) are dense and smoky, though black pepper drowns out the meat. But this is Texas barbecue, and that means beef. And the beef is fantastic. Never before have I had Brisket ($19/pound) so bursting with juicy hickory. I could eat it every day, just as soon as I find a cardiologist who does monthly cleanings. Another interesting choice is the Prime Rib ($30/pound). Oh, it’s delicious and dense, but isn’t barbecue about the cheap cuts? Heck, they’ll cut it as small as you want, so give it a try. They’ve also got beer-can chicken, Texan sausage, beef shoulder and other choices, but this was plenty of meat for our party of four.
While sides are ample, none are stellar. Best was a chunky and sweet corn pudding, a farmhouse dish from Amish country to eastern Cali. Deviled eggs, corn bread and coleslaw were nice and homey too, if inexpert compared to some of the other ‘cue-havens. The market salad was basically inedible: no matter how much avocado they put on it, the lettuce was still brown. Better than all of these was a PB&J cupcake, with more lip-smack appeal than anything from Magnolia.
If Hill Country keeps on their expert pitmasters, books some good bands and improves the bar, they’ll be a part of the New York barbecue scene for a long time to come. Go, you’ll have a great time… just get the beef.