If opening night is any indication of Hill Country’s big city debut, New Yorkers are rolling out the welcome wagon for the newest in barbecue. This generous bi-level space on the outskirts of the Flatiron District, embraces its down & dirty southern roots with Western accoutrements, unfinished wood floors, communal tables and Americana signage. First-time restaurateur Marc Glosserman, an ambitious Jew from nowhere near the Lone Star state (Maryland), has wisely recruited Queens pitmaster Robbie Richter and “lady of the grill”, Elizabeth Karmel, to run three high-tech Hickory smokers and a well-endowed assemblage of southern-stamped sides and desserts.
Pass your wait at the front bar, where you can buy a round of tequila shots, browse the all-Texan wine list or elect for a cocktail. I kept returning to an addictively refreshing caipirita, a cilantro-spiked blend of tequila, lemon & lime juice, until we were finally handed a meal ticket, then called to take our place in a line that impressively spanned the length of the first floor. First up, all things barbecued and dry-rubbed of course. The supply of chicken had long since run out, so we ordered pork spare ribs, boneless prime rib, & Texas-imported Kreuz sausage (jalapeno cheese and regular). Served up cafeteria-style on plastic trays, all meats were delivered on sturdy brown paper, then plopped onto a scale. Finished there, we moved right along to the hot & cold sides station, where we had a choice of cheddar mac & cheese, sweet potato bourbon mash, campfire baked beans & green beans casserole. While barbecue loyalists may turn their nose up at the very notion of dessert, I dare suggest you hit up the sweets station. Bypass dried-out pecan pie tartlets and beeline it for the pb & j cupcakes. I promise you won’t regret it.
We dined like savages on the subterranean second floor with its own cowboy boot-crowned bar & live music stage. Austin legend Redd Volkert and his band Heybale were in the house to kick off the finger lickin’ opening night ceremonies. As the band played on, we gnawed on blissfully sweet and fatty pork ribs. Chubby string-in sausages were kicked up a notch by fresh bits of smoky jalapeno and gooey melted cheese, but the real find at Hill Country hands-down is the prime rib. Don’t let the brown paper platform fool you: this refined, unusually supple and flavorful cut of cattle warrants no more than a simple butter knife.
As far as sides go, savory campfire baked beans intermingled with smoky chunks of pork, were the perfect complement to any of the above barbecue opportunities. Ditto on a vinegary cucumber salad. I was less impressed by an overly chewy mac & cheese, but the green beans casserole, sprinkled with bread crumbs & mushrooms, proved a tasty & worthwhile vegetable accompaniment.
Last but not least, the pb & j cupcake holds its own in a city ravaged by a hefty stockpile of cupcake competitors. While I was content nibbling at the rich, peanut buttery frosting, my companion urged me to dig deeper into the perfectly moist cake, where I discovered a rich grape jelly filling. On Hill Country’s behalf, I’m challenging Magnolia to a duel.
Hill Country is anything but sophisticated, but that seems to be exactly the point. A surreal mix of barbecue fanatics, Texans nostalgic for home and friends of Marc Glosserman, Hill Country’s energy is contagious. Though you might want to practice your two-step game face or else prepare to face your painfully obvious East Coast upbringing.
Address: 30 W. 26th St., near Broadway
Until we eat again,
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