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Hill Country: Most overrated BBQ in NYC

s
squirrel1.1 Oct 26, 2008 05:06 AM

Utterly disappointed is the best way to describe my experience with this 26th St. "Authentic" BBQ place last night. Granted it was a Saturday night around 9pm, but I don't think that's a fair reason to have run out of half of the items on your menu. Nor do I think the fact that the Texas Longhorns played a big game to be a valid reason either.

We had the pork ribs which I admit were very tender and tasty. The "Moist Brisket" was horrible. Seriously, I'd rather gnaw on shoe leather for ten minutes than try to choke down another serving of this meat. My wife said it was only because it wasn't sliced thin enough. I don't buy it.

On top of that, the setup of the place, while maybe perfectly suited for Texans, was annoying to say the least. Waiting on line for food, waiting on line to pay, picking up one order here, one over there, sides at this counter, drinks at that, etc. was enough to drive the most patient diners nuts.

If you want to wait in line for 25-30 minutes to eat overpriced, chewy beef BBQ, Hill Country will be perfect for you. Personally, I'd rather fight off elbows from the frat boys at Brother Jimmy's than deal with this place again.

  1. j
    judibean Oct 31, 2008 09:39 AM

    I wasn't in love with Hill Country either. Dinosaur BBQ is still my favorite.

    1 Reply
    1. re: judibean
      t
      tpigeon Nov 1, 2008 07:45 AM

      I dont live in ny so I only went once when it first opened but I thought it was fantastic. I am no BBQ genius though...

    2. l
      landshark Oct 27, 2008 02:06 PM

      The BBQ at Hill Country is not and never will be Kreutz. The BBQ can be good, but is inconsistent. Last time I went, the sides were horrible probably the worst in NY as far as top BBQ places go.

      As far as the line is concerned.
      1) A lot of BBQ establishments in Texas have lines, but at most (except Kreutz) you get your meat and sides at the same time
      2) At Katz yes it is tradition to stand in line, but even they give you the option of waiter service

      1. uitsmijter Oct 27, 2008 11:03 AM

        Sorry, but as a longtime Texas resident, I couldn't disagree with you more. Hill Country is the best TEXAS BBQ in Manhattan, hands down. If you don't like Texas BBQ, go eat at any of the fine examples of regional American or international BBQ joints in and around Manhattan. It's that simple. If you want to give Hill Country another chance, try the lean brisket, get some of the authentic side dishes, and relax a little.

        By the way, try showing up at Una Pizza Napoletana late on a Saturday night and see how you fare in terms of pizza dough availability. Restaurants like these do their best to predict demand on any given day given the cost of their raw ingredients. If they end up with 50 lbs. of brisket (or pizza dough) unsold at the end of the night, they lose their shirts. Now, if they consistently run out of food at 9pm on non-UT football Saturdays, they are losing a bunch of revenue and potential repeat customers like you, so I agree they made a mistake here and it is going to cost them at least your repeat dollars. It's a tough business to be in, but Hill Country has done much better than most.

        3 Replies
        1. re: uitsmijter
          r
          robinsilver Oct 27, 2008 01:23 PM

          Good comparison to a pizza place late on a Saturday night, but at least with pizza it only takes about 15-20 minutes to bank a new pie. Hill Country's brisket has to smoke about 18 hours. They haver very large smokers in the kitchen, but there is still a limited amount of briskets and other foods that they can smoke in a period of time, and I am sure that you don't want re-heated brisket that was made a few days before and zapped in the microwave when you come in.
          So, Tarquin, I am going to be in Plano in a week and a half, any of the Top 5 in that area?

          1. re: robinsilver
            t
            TarquinWinot Oct 28, 2008 11:10 AM

            Sadly, the "Top 5" this year, Snow's (#1), Kreuz's, Smitty's, Louis Mueller's, and City Market in Luling are quite some distance from Plano. Most of the landmark locations for Texas BBQ are located in and about the Texas Hill Country near Austin. You might just want to ask around for good BBQ in Dallas, or check on the board here, for recs. If all else fails, and you don't want to settle for a Dallas steak, it appears there's branches of the Rudy's BBQ chain in Frisco.

            If determined, pehaps the closest (and definitively the best) of this years top 5 is Snow's in Lexington. It's a little under 4 hours from Plano to Lexington, which in Texas distances might be considered short. Here's a "review" I did in July: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/538140

            To keep this at least somewhat related to Manhattan, the sausage at Hill Country is actually shipped from Kreuz's (that's the correct spelling) in Lockhart. So, to that extent, Hill Country is comparable to Kreuz's in that it's the same food. People can squabble over how much skill it takes to correctly smoke a sausage link, but I'll excuse myself from that debate.

            1. re: robinsilver
              k
              kathryn Nov 1, 2008 08:36 AM

              robinsilver, I think uitsmijter's comparison to UPN is apt! It's a specific pizzeria that runs out of dough each night. At UPN, they start their dough the day before, and make a new batch of dough every day. When they run out, they close!

              Which, of course, is what a BBQ joint does. They do the best they can to anticipate demand, knowing that selling out of an item means they don't take a loss.

          2. t
            TarquinWinot Oct 27, 2008 08:10 AM

            Well, any discussion of food involves individual tastes, of course, but this post seems to result from hostility directed at the unfamiliar and the wrong set of expectations. I've heard similar complaints from lots of New Yorkers who wouldn't know Texas BBQ if it kicked them in the chaps. Your constant use of the term "on line" is quite the shibboleth here.

            Let's first say this, as a preface. Texas is a unique style of BBQ, and while not actually my favorite sub-genre of BBQ, I like it for what it is and have visited all 5 of Texas Monthly's "Top 5 BBQ in Texas." Of course this makes me no more qualified than you when it comes to what tastes good, but I know examples of the food fairly well. This is the most authentic TEXAS BBQ you're going to get in New York. I'm not sure why you put the term "authentic" in sarcstic quotes if you seemingly have no basis to judge either way? And why the unnecessary undercurrent of hostility to Texans? If you loathe the Lone Star state so much why go here?

            All that aside, I think your order may have affected your experience. I suggest the lean brisket. I recently posted regarding Hill Country, discussing the confusion their use of the term might result in: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5653...
            But there lean is the way to go. It has little to do with how thin the stuff is sliced. Their jalapeno cheese sausage isn't actually "theirs" but shipped from Lockhart, Texas, the finest terrior in the world for Texas BBQ. If you dislike that, I don't know what to tell you, really.

            I agree, and have discussed, how they do get a little busy and all over the place with the sides. I can find the set up a little annoying as well. The place is far from perfect. However, some criticisms here are just so misplaced. Too expensive? You are in Manhattan, I think there may be a little more overhead in those head of cattle. Running out of food? It's annoying, but the best bbq in Texas routinely runs out by about 10:00 in the morning.

            Perhaps the most misguided comment of all is the one regarding the Longhorn game. I think cheering on a huge 'Horns win is the single BEST reason to run out of BBQ. I think most Texans would agree.

            4 Replies
            1. re: TarquinWinot
              s
              squirrel1.1 Oct 27, 2008 10:21 AM

              I'm not sure where I stated that I "loathe" Texas or their residents. I simply stated my disappointment with the restaurant.

              My point regarding the game was this, did they not realize that a UT/OkSt game would bring in more business? I'm sure they did, and they still ran out of food. To me that's a sign of not caring. Saying that it happens in the best places in Texas is a cop-out.

              However, I apologize if my opinion of Hill Country has in any way offended you. You seem to be very close to the place and its fare.

              1. re: squirrel1.1
                t
                TarquinWinot Oct 27, 2008 10:40 AM

                Oh, don't sweat it. I don't know what your opinions of Texans are, but I just thought comments like "the setup of the place, while maybe perfectly suited for Texans, was annoying to say the least" came off as a little strange. I'm not a Texan so I don't have a grounds on which to be offended, whether you meant anything by that or not. Maybe I read too much into it.

                Also, if these people were perfect capitalists, you're right, they should have planned more for the Texas game. The 'Horns plug was meant as a joke. That said, it's a pretty time-intensive cooking method. And to say that many places run out of BBQ is not a cop out, it's the truth, and it ties into the larger point of my post. It's a restaurant that reflects (imperfectly) a different style of doing things, and while you may find it annoying, to many it's not so out of the ordinary.

                I have no attachment to the place, aside from appreciating it as a restaurant where New Yorkers can experience Texas BBQ, even if it runs contrary to their expectations. I'm not going to discount your opinion, which maybe on that night was totally accurate. Maybe, what I'm trying to say, is we should all try and be careful of calling a place over-rated, or bad example of a cuisine, or suggesting it's inauthentic, just because it's a type of food we don't care for.

                1. re: TarquinWinot
                  s
                  squirrel1.1 Oct 27, 2008 10:45 AM

                  I will say in regards to the 20 min wait on line, we chose to sit in the front section with the hi-tops rather than wait 30-45 min (we were told) for table service in the back. I'm not sure if that makes a difference, but I realized I hadn't mentioned that in the original post.

                  It seems I should've gotten the lean brisket.

                  1. re: squirrel1.1
                    wleatherette Oct 29, 2008 11:40 AM

                    "table service" is kind of misleading, at least based on my experiences there. the "servers" cleared the tables and provided extra silverware and stuff, but nothing beyond that. when i asked for a glass of ice water, i was told to go to the bar for it. my visits have been during off-hours, so perhaps they're more hands-on when the place is busy.

            2. c
              ch_smooth Oct 27, 2008 07:06 AM

              When I ate here they were out of the moist brisket. At about 8pm. But we still got a bunch of good meat, most noticeably the prime rib. I ate here with a bunch of Texans and they all cried foul at the prices. $5 for a tiny little container of Blue Bell Ice Cream? And the sweet tea - was basically watered down Lipton's in a jar. The sides - not that excellent. I'd come back if I didn't have to pay for it. RUB, Dinosaur & Daisy May's are my pics for BBQ. They are better all around in my opinion.

              1. b
                billyboy Oct 27, 2008 03:32 AM

                squirrel, I'm not surprised they ran out of some items. That happens in many barbeque places. They only make a certain amount and then it's gone. No holding or heat lamps for the meat. R.U.B. on 23rd Street runs out sometimes too. I've been to Hill Country many times on love it. My last time was with an out of town friend and we arrived at 8:30pm and they were out of about 5-6 meats. Not surprised. Saturday around 9pm just isn't a good time to go there. Probably crowded (especially with a big game on). Lunch is a good time to hit them. More food still there, less people, less waiting.

                I wasn't a fan of the pork ribs as I've always found them to be a bit tough on two occasions. I'm not a fan of the moist brisket either. Too much like prime rib in texture for me. I think fat is good is the cooking process to keep things moist, but I don't want it as a significant part of the end result (especially if I'm paying by the pound)! The lean brisket has been perfect EVERY time! Good smoke penetration, a nice crust on the edges from the salt/pepper rub and pulls apart with the slightest tug.

                I've never waited 20 minutes in the lines. 10 minutes, tops. I did wait 1 1/2 hrs for a table (won't do THAT again). The "different lines" thing is part of the set up that I think mirrors its counterpart, Kreuz Market, in Texas. If you're a native NYer or have lived in the city a long time, having to do your own "work" at a sit down restaurant can be crazy. Personally, I don't mind it.

                1. a
                  Ann900 Oct 26, 2008 10:51 AM

                  The original hype around Hill Country was due almost entirerly to their original pit master- Bobby Richter. Bobby is an award winning pit master and one of the only New Yorkers to have ever been invited to participate in the Jack Daniels BBQ competition- an invitation only competition considered the top compeitive BBQ eventi n the country. I'd eaten Bobby's que fir years at BBQNYC and other events and it about as good as you could ever wish for. When Bobby left Hill Country the que quickly went downhill and has never been the same quaklity. (Bobby is working on an asian BBQ place in Brooklyn with Zak ? Pellaccio- the fatty crab guy)

                  1. Jel212 Oct 26, 2008 09:37 AM

                    I must agree, the food is pretty bad. I'll give props to the chicken, the beef ribs, and the lean brisket. I've had the pork ribs, the moist brisket, and the mac & cheese a few times, all very disappointing. Probably the mac and cheese the most - zero flavor. However - it's good drunk/latenight food, for sure - doesn't really matter what kind of meat/sides you're having at that point. But as a destination, definitely less-than-impressive.

                    1. r
                      racer x Oct 26, 2008 07:36 AM

                      I've been there 4 or 5 times. I agree that it does not live up to the hype. The food just isn't that good.
                      However, I do have to wonder whether you had to wait so long because it was a busy Saturday night. I've never waited more than about 5 - 10 minutes (including on the weekend).

                      1. g
                        gutreactions Oct 26, 2008 06:01 AM

                        The debates can go on and on about BBQ in N.Y.C. or elsewhere for that matter...but I respectfully disagree with you regarding Hill Country. I find it one of the better bbq options...all the meats we tried, the ribs, the spicy smoked sausage, even the sides were quite tasty. As for the layout, if you travel to Texas and surrounding BBQ territories many of more authentic 'joints' sort of serve in the 'cafeteria' style.
                        I would go back...

                        1. c
                          CornflakeGirl Oct 26, 2008 05:43 AM

                          I didn't mind the set-up at Hill Country at all. And I've lived here my entire life. I'd definitely stay away from Katz's if I were you.

                          When we had the Moist Brisket it was great. Overall we had a pretty good experience. Though, I think the prices are a bit high for what you get.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: CornflakeGirl
                            s
                            squirrel1.1 Oct 26, 2008 06:25 AM

                            I'm fine with Katz's. Maybe because the food I've had trumped the "service" side of the place.

                            Maybe I just had an off night at HC. Unfortunately everything I'd heard told me it was going to be an ungodly BBQ experience.

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