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Jul 1, 2009 01:52 PM

Hill Country BBQ coming to DC

Seems the NYC joint is coming to DC next year to Penn Qtr. mmm Blue Bell Ice Cream!

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  1. I've had mixed impressions with Hill Country in NYC.........very expensive.....inconsistent food.....

    1. If it's anything like the NYC one, I'll pass. (read the second comment.)

      6 Replies
      1. re: 4X4

        So let me get this straight: An inconsistent New York purveyor of Texas-style barbecue is going to open a branch in DC? Forgive me for not getting too excited 'bout this.

        It's tough enough for legendary barbecue joints to open branches that don't suck (see, e.g., Maurice's Piggy Park (SC), Fresh Air (GA), Dreamland (AL).

        1. re: Bob W

          No! No! Get excited! I'm Texan and was living in New York when Hill Country opened. It's not as good as the original Kruez's, sure, but soooo much better than anything DC currently has to offer. Like 300% better. Y'all will see when it opens - Austin Grill and Capital Q will just suddenly seem so NOT TEXAN. They don't get everything right, but they are pretty darn close on a lot.

          This is exactly what DC has been needing. Now if we could only get good Vietnamese (inside the district), Korean BBQ (inside the district), Tex-Mex, mom and pop style Italian a la Frank or Max in New York, and if BYOB was allowed, I'd be happy. Oh yes, and a German beer garden. Whew.

          1. re: mc22

            Nam Viet is pretty good for one of your requests.

            1. re: mc22

              mc — did you see they're planning to serve big red and BLUE BELL! I don't give a whip about the barbecue — i'm looking forward to the ice cream :)

              1. re: mc22

                MC22 - There is a German Beer Garden on H St NE

            2. re: 4X4

              I think I like the 6th comment better.

              I plan on checking this place out this weekend. It's not like there's any better BBQ in my neighborhood. :-) I'm not looking to compare it to the stuff I had on day long Saturday road trips around central Texas or anything, I just want some decent meat.

            3. For the benefit of those not familiar with Hill Country, would some of you please elaborate:

              - What kind of BBQ do they feature? Texas? Kansas City? Carolina?
              - What do you you consider "expensive"? How much is a full rack of pork ribs, for instance?
              - What kind of sides do they have?

              Also, its a pretty broad statement to say that they are better than anything in D.C.. Better than what? Famous Dave? Rocklands? Urban BBQ? Why?

              22 Replies
              1. re: Sean D

                Okay, recent Austinite moved here willing to give it a try.

                Texas BBQ is beef brisket, with sausage (hot guts), ribs, chicken and turkey a follow up in more or less that order. Pork is not common and is almost always ridiculously thick pork chops. No rubs, no sauce during cooking, just lots of time and wood. If you can't smell wood smoke when you go in the door, it's not a good sign. Smoke ring on the meat is a sign of quality. White bread, sliced onions and sandwich dill pickles are a must, along with some kind of sauce (usually tomato-vinegar-spice based). You order by pound or part pound at a lot of places. Fairly typical sides -- coleslaw, ranch or borracho beans, potato salad, etc. Meat should be moist, good smoke ring, very tender and not require sauce to be good. Chewy brisket is a bad bbq place.

                Can't address the NYC expensive bbq question and there's little point comparing prices from Texas to here.

                1. re: zebcook

                  zeb — i'm nodding along with your near-perfect description and i do believe there's a little drool on my face. don't know if you saw salt lick on the best thing i ever ate barbecue episode but man it made me miss texas. but if this place has big red and blue bell ice cream, which it allegedly intends to, I'll be one of the first knocking down their door.

                  1. re: zebcook

                    Texas BBQ is also about clod (beef shoulder). The only rubs should be salt, pepper, maybe cayenne, and the wood is either oak or mesquite.

                    I have to wonder what kind of licensing you need to operate a wood smoker in Penn Quarter. I can easily see neighborhood condo dwellers complaining about the second-hand smoke hazard.

                  2. re: Sean D

                    I'm very late to this discussion based on the date of this post but wanted to chime in. Is Hill Country going to make a splash in DC? You're darn right it will. I have eaten at the NYC store recently and it is very authentic TX or better yet, Lockhart, TX style BBQ. As for the other spots mentioned like Rocklands, I hate to inform you but they all stink. I have eaten top BBQ all over the country and the fact that those places may be popular, doesn't mean they are good cause they aren't. Urban BBQ, a fairly new comer, is about the worst of that list. What's more, their location is terrible behind a crappy strip mall in Rockville.

                    Urban BBQ
                    10163 New Hampshire Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20903

                    1. re: jac0077

                      Always nice to hear from another BBQ fan that we don't have anything good to eat here. Hope one of your favorites opens here soon so wee can see what you like.

                      Those of us who have lived in the DC area for a long time perhaps have become accustomed to what they call BBQ here, just as you have wherever you come from. It's a regional thing.

                      I ate at Hill Country in NYC probably about 10 years ago and thought it was good for New York. So there! <g>.

                      1. re: MikeR

                        Some Chowhounders take comments personally which is too bad. Wherever I'm from is DC and have lived here all my life. That's right, I'm a native Washingtonian as our both my parents. I currently live inside the Beltway. The BBQ joints here are just not up to snuff there's no way about it. If they were, they'd be lines out the door and that just isn't the case at Rockland's or Urban or any other place in this general area. Sure BBQ is regional but that doesn't mean that it should be mediocre. What BBQ style is DC anyway? The places in NYC or anywhere else that are considering coming here get it done and have taken the time to learn what it takes to turn out great product. Hill Country is good BBQ for NYC but won't do well here? I doubt it. I was in NYC when BBQ first came with Blue Smoke from Union Square Hospitality Group and people sent the food back thinking it wasn't cooked not realizing it was smoked. Now NYC is full of great BBQ places and New Yorkers from Midtown to Brooklyn absolutely love it. One thing that may happen is these outsiders may force the local joints to step up their game and that's a good thing for all diners. Hill Country opened in NYC in 2007 so 10 years ago you may have eaten somewhere else thinking it was Hill. Blue Smoke was open then.

                        1. re: jac0077

                          If you haven't tried the chopped pork sandwich Fridays at Breadline or have recently been to Rocklands in Arlington for their chopped pork, I can tell you that you're absolutely wrong about having only mediocre bbq in the area. In addition, the ribs at Rays the Steaks East of the River are impressive: I never thought I would like baby back ribs, but these are serious.

                          My one visit to Urban BBQ, a few years back now, produced some impressive ribs, so I know they are capable of it.

                          I can tell you from having BBQ in the family, that different visits can produce different results.

                          1. re: Steve

                            are there any ideas about when Hill Country may open?

                            1. re: daves_32

                              Opening pushed back and best scenerio is end of the year. Interestingly, the owner of Hill Country is a Bethesda native. That bodes well for me as that's my area. There isn't any BBQ joint in the heavily food laden town and the future could bring a location there. You never know.

                            2. re: Steve

                              I agree that different visits can result in a different product. Overall though, there still isn't anyone that is consistantly knocking this stuff out of the park. You mention Ray's and look what they've done. You wanna talk about a line? That's a great example of putting out quality. All his places are very good. It's amazing to me how few food establishments in the casual dining sector like BBQ joints, don't take the time to make it good and really good mostly every time. BBQ, for the most part, isn't rocket science. Today, you can even go to one of the top cooks on the BBQ circuit and take their class for $500-$1000. That may seem like a lot but you're learning from the masters who earn hundreds of thousands in competiton and know what they're doing. You take back 10% of what you learn and you're ready to have people stand in line for your food. I'll try Rocklands again maybe but don't think I'm itching to go to Urban any time soon.
                              I hear Chubby's in Emmitsburg (North of Frederick) and Black Hog in downtown Frederick are authentic joints and damn good. Thanks for keeping the thread going.

                              1. re: jac0077

                                Chubby's is...okay. Black Hog has stepped up it's game considerably since they opened 3years ago. It's probably the best of the local joints, especially their dry-rubbed ribs. Nothing around here holds a candle to the wood-fired pits of Luling, Lockhart, or even Ft. Lauderdale. The smoke blower contraption things they use around here just do not produce real barbecue. Mostly, you can do better in your own back yard. I know I can.

                                1. re: jac0077

                                  I think that you'll find that those masters who teach $1,000 classes in BBQ aren't seeing any competition. They can teach you how to make a decent brisket or pork shoulder at home in your back yard, with a lot of time and patience, and willingness to eat when it's ready, not when you want it. They might even give you some tips that will let you do better in a competition. But BBQ in restaurant proportions is very different - just as any restaurant preparation is different from how you'd make it at home.

                                  The little roadside shacks can turn out a good product because they operate on a small scale. A restaurant that needs to serve several hundred customers a day in order to stay in business has to work differently, and they also need to be sure that they'll have those several hundred customers a day in the long run. In Austin, people who eat out probably go for BBQ once every week or two, but in DC where people wear white shirts and watch their cholesterol, for most fans, it's a few times a year treat. I'm not sure that even if there was a universally acclaimed US's best BBQ restaurant, it could prosper in the DC area. And if it doesn't prosper, it isn't going to last long.

                                  I don't go to Penn Quarter so I don't know how the restaurants there are doing, but there sure are a lot of 'em and if I was going to open a specialty restaurant that was really special, one where people from all over the Metro area would come to eat on a fairly regular basis, I wouldn't open it there. We'll see.

                                  I heard here that Chubby's was good, and I stopped there for lunch once when I was driving up to Pennsylvania. Not surprising why they call it Chubby's - the smallest thing on the menu was a pulled pork sandwich that was huge (and cost $10, I think), more than I could eat. The meat was a bit damp and soggy. I would have been reasonably happy with half as much food for half the price, but, since I see no reason to make Chubby's a destination, that if I eat there it will be on the way to somewhere, I doubt I'll eat there again. I go to Rocklands for lunch about once a month or month and a half, on Monday, if I remember, when they have a special where you get a free sandwich when you buy a beer. Decent sandwich, they have some good beers, not too much food, not too much money, and I'm a happy camper. $25 for a rib dinner, plus tax, tip, parking or Metro, at the maybe-to-be Penn Quarter Hill Country is something that I probably will never try.

                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    Yep. The Hill Country price point will discourage some folks. I ate at their location in NYC and thought it was high but figured it was NYC prices. Not sure folks will pay that here. One of the reasons that Five Guys Burgers does well is that their prices are reasonable. Even though DC has affluent residents, they won't pay $15.00 per person for that kind of place. BGR Joint in Bethesda is very near me but I won't go because you'll pay about what I stated above for a burger, fries and drink. If you add-in the milkshake for a little indulgence, it pushes it slightly higher if I remember. Price point does matter. We'll see what happens. NYC places are coming there's no two ways about it.

                                2. re: Steve

                                  I posted a reply in the wrong place. See below.

                                3. re: jac0077

                                  I don't know that Washingtonians would be lining up outside the door for good BBQ. They line up outside the door for cupcakes and burgers. I just don't thing that DC is much of a BBQ town, no matter who cooks it. A new place might be a novelty for a while, but I'd be surprised if one or two outsiders coming to town will start a trend.

                                  Red, Hot and Blue started out like you described, when a bunch of Congressional staffers coming in with the new administration (was it Carter? I can't remember that far back) wanted good BBQ in town. They decided that they liked Corky's in Memphis best, and went there to learning about equipment and techniques from the cooks there, and had them help with the sauce. When they opened, it was as good as the best Memphis BBQ restaurants (I'm talking real restaurants here, not a guy by the roadside with a smoker) but the original RH&B team is long gone, probably most are dead now, and it's not the same any more. It was a pretty hot item when they first opened up, but the crowds dwindled long before the quality of the cooking did.

                                  I know I've eaten at Hill Country, because I saw an article in the Washington Post about it and I was going to New York around that time. I've also eaten at Virgil's in NY and a place around 7th avenue and 14th street, and thought they were both pretty decent, but I didn't really try to compare them to anything other than my own preferences.

                                  It'll be interesting to see how Hill Country does. Being that the plan (at least according to the Washington Post article) is for it to be in Penn Quarter, I probably won't eat there very soon, and if I ever do, it'll probably be lunch some time when I have to go to the Convention Center. So I really can't get very excited about its coming. But I hope it arrives, and I hope you enjoy it as much as you enjoy the original. I'll be looking for your report.

                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    I think the real question is whether people are going to pay $25 for a plate of BBQ in Penn Quarter that they can go to the aforementioned places in the burbs and get the same plate for half the price.

                                    1. re: MikeR

                                      One of RH&B's original owners was Lee Atwater (Reagan administration).

                                      1. re: Lori D

                                        That's the name I was trying to remember when I was scrounging up old memories. I guess 1981 or so would be in the right ballpark. I was hired to record a show that Atwater's blues band did back in the early 80s. The band was pretty good, but they didn't feed us any BBQ.

                                      2. re: MikeR

                                        mike, lee atwater, one of the creators of red hot & blue is rolling in his grave with you 1) calling him a congressional staffer and 2) associating him with carter. LOL!

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Hey, it was ancient history, awright! I can't remember who was the last president of the US.

                                      3. re: jac0077

                                        jac0077 - This idea that just because you've eaten Texas barbecue, you're somehow especially qualified to say that DC has no good barbecue is just silly. I think Rocklands and Urban have very good barbecue -- and I've eaten at Kreuz's and Black's in Lockhart and City Market in Luling (not to mention Oklahoma Joe's, Gates, and Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City; Lexington No. 1 in Lexington NC, Wilber's in Goldsboro, NC; Moonlite and George's in Owensboro; Rendezvous, Interstate, and Payne's in Memphis; Sims in Little Rock; McLard's in Hot Springs, Ark.; Angelo's and Railhead in Fort Worth; and a bunch more less famous barbecue places.

                                        If I've eaten a lot more barbecue than you (and I almost certainly have), does that make my judgment of Rocklands and Urban right and yours wrong? No, but it does mean you're not entitled to say our local barbecue is bad just because you've eaten in a few Texas barbecue places.

                                        This is food. People's opinions differ, even people with a lot of eating experience.

                                        1. re: Mississippi Snopes

                                          DC is becoming a great food town serving all kinds of stuff at all kinds of prices and that's a good thing. Being a native, I know that wasn't always the case. Rocklands and Urban and all the rest in this category will step up their game as I said before. Competition has a way of doing that. It's possible if not probable in the food business that if you don't get better you risk great danger of going out of business.
                                          You can have your opinion and I can have mine and I am entitled to it by the way. You've eaten at some great bbq places but so have I. I have been to many of the places you mentioned and more. Yes, Hill Country is TX or Lockhart, TX style but my BBQ experience is much broader than that for what it's worth. I hope many more of these places come to town. The DC area would certainly accept these joints and I suspect they'd do well. I like your handle by the way. I've had bbq all over MS too.

                                4. I was cautiously optimistic about this...not being familiar with Hill Country in NYC, I was wondering what to expect and how good this might be. I'm a Kreuz girl at heart - tried much in/around Lockhart and their brisket is by far the best!

                                  Any other thoughts on how good this place is? It's got to be better than Whole Foods (Fairfax) which we find currently is our best option.

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