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Hill Country - Hype Country

  • j

Last night around 7:00 I finally had a chance to try Hill country on 26 street. I could have just as easily stopped at RUB, which I love, but after all the posts on how wonderful the place was I wanted to pick up a sandwich and try it out. We wanted to test out the place before coming in with a party of diners in the next week or so.

You would think that at 7:00 on a thursday the place would be pretty busy. at least at the bar. It wasn't and I was able to walk up to the counter and get served instantly. I am not sure if it was the booming music that prevented anyone from wanting to linger, the lack of table service, the lack of plates and cutlery. I don't know. For me it was music that made conversation impossible that meant I couldn't stay more than a few minutes. It's one thing to have booming music at the bar while you are trying to impress women, it's another to try to sit though an entire meal and get deaf. (I feel sorry for the staff who are very nice). In any even I could not bring anyone I know to the place because with the noise and the lack of table service it's more work that it should be.

I got a 1/2 lb of the "lean" really leaner and poorly sliced and trimmed brisket. Wrapped up by a cheerful gentleman who doesn't know how to fold over and close a paper tray hot food (which should have been a lot hotter and was bone cold when I got it home). But what really got me is I wanted a sandwich, not two odd slices of white bread tossed in. At Katz's they can slice, make sandwiches, give a taste, and a pickle in about the same amount of time. I didn't like any of the sides so I didn't bother.

On the way home I picked up a Portuguese roll for the sandwich. THen I trimmed up the brisket a little more. At Katzes, lean is lean. here it ain't and I just don't like chewing fat.

The flavor, good, but nothing special, Give me RUB anyday, Take me to the little stand at the Houston airport any day too. but this place is hype and the lack of a crowd shows that folks are figuring it out.

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  1. my only experience with Hill Country was the sampling I had of their Salt and Pepper beef ribs at the Taste of New York event...and I have to tell you...they (I went back for seconds) were awesome. Very friendly group of people. They seem to be having fun and are putting out, from my small sampling, some tasty stuff. I'll certainly go there at some point. Additionally, I question how fair it is to judge a BBQ place on its takeout.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dkstar1

      THat's a fair point about the takeout but I had a sample there and it didn't taste any different at home and it's from the same meat, the same service as a sit down. As a FOOD reviewer of BBQ I only know what I like and I won't argue that some might fine the food worth the hassle, but as a place to eat or even takeout the ambience and noise shows a real lack of understanding about a walking into the store experience. For me, and I guess a whole lot of other people who weren't there last night - that's important.

    2. i was there on Wed. night. not that impressed either. I got the lean brisket and it also had quite a bit of fat still on it. and it was dry and not much flavor and kind of cold. i had to use a lot of bbq sauce. i got 2 pork ribs - which i liked better due to the peppered rub. and we got 3 sides - mac&cheese, sweet potatoes, and cabbage coleslaw. did not like the cabbage coleslaw at all - weird flavored. sweet potatoes were good - but too sweet. and mac&cheese wasn't bad - but not much in the little cup the penne has a lot of air inbetween pieces vs. the normal elbow macaroni.
      the loud music was ridiculious. they tried making us sit downstairs which was ridiculiously warm. and i had to look at 5 other tables for forks b/c we couldn't find our 'server' - she only showed up once to bring us water.
      i think rub will be a more regular stop for me - i really like the pulled pork sandwich. hill country - i may go back w/ a group of people b/c the food is easy to share. the meat was too much for me. but it's not high up on my list.

      1. I'd rather they gave you regular plates. Even paper plates would be an improvement. The butcher paper seems like a cute idea but it's really not practical, especially with a large group.

        That said, the cue itself is really pretty good. Fatty? Cue is not exactly health food. As for the white bread, you really shouldn't have been surprised. There hasn't been a single review, either on Chowhound or on the Internet, that promised 10 different kinds of designer breads. You get white bread at a true Texas BBQ place and that's what they were shooting for. May a little inauthentic variety in the breads would be an improvement but it certainly wasn't a case of bait and switch.

        1. I haven't tried Hill Country, but I was a regular at RUB. Don't they serve sandwiches on white bread, too?

          5 Replies
          1. re: a_and_w

            you get a choice at RUB. i had a seeded bun with mine. there was no way in hell i was going to eat pulled pork on white bread.

            1. re: sugartoof

              where are you from? new york city?

              texas girl thinks hc is fine (though a little kitschy--shipping in blue bell ice ceram and big read, come on). just don't eat the mac and cheese.

              1. re: HungryGrl

                This Texas girl agrees. The mac SUCKS.

                1. re: LeahBaila

                  Not exactly a standard version, but I actually like the mac 'n' cheese. :-o

                  1. re: RGR

                    I'm not 100% sure, but I went yesterday and the mac & cheese seemed 10 times better than it usually is - loved it. I have a feeling they changed the recipe. Overall, everything was delicious.

          2. I recently wrote a review of Hill Country on Roadfood.com. I happen to like it, but I thought it had some shortcomings. I've always found the lean brisket to be pretty lean, yet still moist. Sorry you got a fatty one, man. As far as being cold when you got home, how far did you travel with it. Most BBQ isn't hot to begin with, but rather warm due to being smoked over indirect heat. Not something that will travel well in terms of temperature maintenance. It's not too surprising that they wouldn't/couldn't make a sandwich. They don't ever offer any sandwiches on the menu. It's not what they do. The whole butcher paper/meat counter/no sandwiches is a nod to their muse, Kreuz Market, in Texas and much has been made online about that, so the info has been out there for some time. I wasn't mad about the pork ribs or beans, but I did really enjoy the Market Chicken, brisket, corn pudding and mac and cheese. I have to say that the prices for the desserts seems a bit outrageous. $6 for one cupcake. It was mighty good, but I can't justify getting it again at that price. I can make 'em at home. I would go back again, but it can get pricye as there aren't any platters/combos. Everything is ala carte and that adds up quickly.

            2 Replies
            1. re: billyboy

              it was pretty tepid when I sampled it at the store. My real point about the place is that they may have a "muse" of Kreuz Market (which I've never been too) but this is New York and the lack of business on a thurday night is indicative that while some hard core CHs might be willing to undergo the ritual but for the average New York the total package just doesn't cut it. As owners they are welcome to do whatever they want but frankly if they don't get proper table service, with proper plates, and a better selection of bread, and sandwhiches I'm not holding my breath for longevity.

              1. re: joelm

                i agree with your assumption about the reason behind the lack of customers.
                i have been curious about trying this place well before it opened and, even though i am in that nabe twice as week, i haven't gone b/c of the reviews. i've tried dinosaur, blue smoke, virgil, RUB and daisy may. the latter being the best by far. hill country just sounds annoying. i suppose i will try it at some point if i manage to get there before it closes down! ok, ok, i'm not being fair here b/c i've never tried it but the reviews, which sound very credible, are a letdown

            2. I have been to Kreutz Market -drove over 200 miles to get there. It was worth it and Hill Country does it justice. Like Katz's, you either get it or you don't.

              1 Reply
              1. re: guttergourmet

                I'm with you GG. I went recently and though I have never been to the real hill country, the moist brisket and beef ribs were the best I ever had. The sausages were pretty amazing too.

              2. My husband and I tried it once and, frankly, it was merely okay. (And he even knows one of the employees!) The confusing self-service layout (with separate counters for meat, sides, drinks) and the butcher paper under the meat instead of a plate, and the lack of table service all combined to make the experience a bit too sterile. Perhaps it's fun at the source in Texas, but we found it rather gimmicky and unfriendly for Manhattan. The brisket was fine but the rest of the atmosphere and the general setup didn't make us want to rush back. And I love barbecue...

                1. im adding to this because i didnt want to start a new thread. went there last friday night and was not impressed. this was my second visit, so i was hoping that they were having an off day. we had the pork ribs (beef ribs sold out), beef shoulder and the jalapeno cheddar sausage. even as an avid bbq-er, i can say with authority that HC missed the mark because:

                  you taste more of the gas than the wood smoke
                  none of the meat was tender, which indicates a rushed batch (true smokin requires that you smoke brisket for 12 hours in 200-225 degree temps)
                  the rub was way too salty

                  on a positive note, their sides were really good. im never going back there. service wasnt very polite either. chalk this up as a failed gimmick.

                  1. I'm confused why you would use Katz's as your comparison reference.
                    I guess they both serve a no thrills sandwich with counter service?
                    Uh...strange comparison.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Both establishment's main stay sandwich is brisket. Of course, Katz's brisket is in the form of pastrami and corned beef.

                      1. re: fgf

                        I had no idea they served corned beef at Katz's :).

                    2. I find it amusing that not many of the commenters in this thread ordered the things that were praised in reviews by Bruni, Ed Levine, etc: moist brisket, beef ribs, beef shoulder

                      1. I've heard that Bobby Richter, the pit master at Hill Country has left. Can anyone confirm this. Bobby was the pit master at all the Bar B Cue NYC events and reknowned for his cue and his dedication to quality. If, in fact, he has parted wways with Hill Country it would go a long way to explain the decline in the food.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Ann900

                          From a New York Magazine article dated *1/4/08*. -

                          "It’s a sad day for New York barbecue: Hill Country and pitmaster Robbie Richter have parted ways, a mutual decision both sides say was amicable.
                          Pitmaster duties will be taken over by Pete Daversa, a Blue Smoke veteran who's been running basic barbecue operations under Richter since Hill Country opened."
                          Full article here - http://nymag.com/daily/food/2008/01/r...

                          I don't think Hill country could have gone downhill in the *week* since Richter left. The other thing is that the operation is still being run by his #2 guy who has been there since the beginning. If anyone can keep standards in place he should be the man.

                          In posts on CH and on other food websites there have been plenty of reports of inconsistency at Hill Country. The dish that was wonderful on a first visit is just OK when they return 2 weeks later. Other dishes magically get much better. That's always been the story.

                          The other thing is that people have very individual reactions to BBQ. People eating from the same plate of meat have varying opinions as to it's quality. Isolated downhill reports don't mean that much. You see the same for RUB and Dinosaur just to name a few. If those reports turn unanimous then that's a different story.

                        2. I split a pound of moist brisket earlier this week, and thought it was some of the best I've ever had (albeit very fatty, which may or may not be to your taste).

                          What I choked on were some of the prices -- I ordered the "devilled eggs", and got literally one ice-cold egg split in half. It was fairly unremarkable... a bit bland. The price, however, was remarkable... $3.95. Add to that a couple of $4 glasses of iced tea and a $5 small dish of potato salad, and it made for a very overpriced lunch.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: danoots

                            With some of the earlier postings in mind, I went to HC on a weekend afternoon and found it to be surprisingly strong - quite close to the original Lockhart inspiration. (I've been to Kreuz's as well as Smitty's, Luling City Market, Louie Mueller's and others in the region on various occasions. Always a great time but the fact is they also can be inconsistent.) Perhaps ordering carefully at HC pays off. Moist brisket, beef ribs, jalapeno sausages - all simply excellent. Can't really speak to sides or dessert (or related prices) as that wasn't the focus. Didn't get too worked up about the self-service or butcher paper either (which is exactly the way it works in TX). I know nothing about recent changes in pitmaster for that matter. What I DO know is that the quality was much higher than expected and, again, very closely resembled the original. Having access to this in Manhattan is a remarkable convenience. Can't wait to get back there. (And I think the Katz's analogy is a pretty good one by the way.) With all respect to those who have been disappointed, as far as I'm concerned HC shouldn't be missed.

                            1. re: burton

                              great way of putting it and I strongly agree!

                              1. re: burton

                                Thank you-I've been to Kreutz and Smitty's and wholeheartedly agree. The analogy to Katz's, which was mine, was not meant to compare their briskets (which while the same animal are two totally different animals). It was meant to praise two unique quirky food institutions which are fantastic in their own way, similar in the manner and type of service and prone to criticism by those who just don't get it and never will.