Hill Country BBQ

30 West 26th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway
$75 for two people, with two drinks, with a small tip

Updated, 2007: Added a photo of the salty beef ribs

It was the perfect day for barbeque. We spent the better part of our Sunday sitting on a blanket under the trees in Central Park with our paper and a couple of fresh peaches. I just had barbeque pork ribs the day before, bought from one of those metal drum-turned-grills uptown but my appetite was unsatiated.

After a few drinks at Red Cat, we walked over to Sixth Avenue to the new Hill Country BBQ restaurant. The smell of smoked meat hit us as soon as we stepped foot in the warehouse space. Because New York City can’t have open pits in its restaurants, Hill Country makes up for the decor: wooden tables, concrete floors and corded wooden logs in the back next to barbeque trophies. The finishing pits are behind the counter, though, and my mouth watered every time they opened it. The maitre d’ gave us our meal tickets and explained the Texas way of eating: go up to the counter and pick what and how much you want to eat. Each meal ticket was marked by the staff. Our order was tallied at the end of our visit. Lose that meal ticket and you’ll be charged $50.

I ordered half a pound of the moist brisket and half a pound of the beef shoulder. At $18 a pound, the shoulder was the most expensive item on the menu when we visited. It was lean and juicy. Two out of my four companions liked it over everything else. Hill Country doesn’t kid about how moist their brisket is. My share was almost all fat. They were also so salty that I didn’t finish them. Beef ribs were disappointingly unavailable, so we settled for the pork ribs instead. They were smoked longer which made them drier, but they fell off the bone easier. The sausage, from the famous Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, was tasty with a spicy kick to it.

You can keep your bill at a minimum if you order by piece instead of by weight. One person in our party ordered two kinds of meat and both totaled $6 and change. The sides are the guaranteed culprits. They come in different sizes with the smallest starting at $4. Among my favorites were the red cabbage slaw and the potato salad. The black-eyed peas, or Texas “caviar”, were undercooked and undersalted, but they ended up being a good side for my oversalted brisket. I loved the cold potato salad, as well as the green bean casserole. The sweet potato and the mac and cheese earned similar raves.

There were several beer choices, from a Spaten to the ubiquitous Pabst, but I stuck with a good ol’ Coke bottle and ice cold water with lemons. Because I didn’t finish my brisket, I had room for dessert. The banana pudding wasn’t as good as Buttercup’s or Magnolia’s but it was still a good choice to end our meal. We scored a free slice of the interesting ancho chili with dried cherries brownie and a cup of Texas’ own Blue Bell vanilla ice cream from the cheery young man at the pies and pudding counter.

I didn’t tip too much because there wasn’t any table service except to bring us water. Now I realize that I should have. I’ll be back, though, to try the beef ribs and the game hen stuffed with a beer can. I’ll make sure to tip extra, order by piece and skip the salty brisket at my next visit. And oh, bring my camera.

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