The new Hill Country BBQ at 410 7th Street NW is Penn Quarter is nearly set to open. Residents of the Lansburgh and Lafayette have been invited to a limited rsvp soft opening for this Wednesday and Thursday.
We first reported on Hill Country’s presentation in front of the ANC6C Alcohol Beverage Licensing committee back in April 2010. The opening of Hill Country this month is sure to set the DC blogosphere ablaze the remainder of the month as most major restaurant arrivals do. In order to stay a little ahead of the curve I offer the below review of my visit to Hill Country NYC in Chelsea last year.
The Hill Country concept is patterned after Kruez Market in Lockhart Texas. What does that mean? It signifies that the meat is prepared in the same Kruez dry rub style and smoked slow over post oak shipped in from Texas. The decor feels highly stylized with the good intention of putting off the appearance of an aged and rustic market rather than a shiny new restaurant. Tables are set with rolls of paper towels and cutlery thrown in a pickle jar. The dining arrangement is not centered around the typical restaurant table service. The waitstaff only services your table for drinks. Patrons order food at a series of service stations, watch as it is prepared, and bring it back to their tables. Actually the service model isn’t too far off from Vapiano but you are issued an old school ticket rather than a digital-age debit card.
The barbecue universe is famously pork-centric, but in Texas, the specialty is beef. At Hill Country this means the star is the beef brisket which can be ordered “moist” or “lean.” I tried the “moist” which was carved to order and served with two pieces of wonder bread on brown butcher paper. Make no mistake that “moist” means fatty. Since Hill Country is all about the dry rub rather than sauce, ordering the moist lessens the likelihood of having a dry sandwich. That said, you’ll likely taste some marbleized fat – and I plan to order the lean next time.
Hill Country offers 15 side dishes and, like the barbecue, you’ll also be ordering these from a service station. My table tried the mac & cheese and baked beans with burnt ends. Neither really inspired me to order again and the each come in small portions relative to their prices. Thankfully the other side dishes on the menu still do peak my interest as they include options atypical to fast casual DC dining like Sweet Potato Bourbon Mash and Texas Black Eyed Pea Caviar. Similarly the dessert menu offers original items like the signature PBJ cupcakes. Hill Country also ships in Texas brand Blue Bell Ice Cream and Big Red soda to contribute more authentic Texas flavor.
My visit was for a late lunch so I did not experience the live country music at Hill Country. The music calendar at the NYC location is a steadily filled and it is very cool that the performances are much more often than not a free amenity for diners. There is no dance floor or large standing area around the stage just tables. Last year during their presentation at the ANC the ownership group described the Hill Country experience as a family restaurant (they have 24 high-chairs in NYC) that gradually shifts to a younger crowd after 10pm. The focus truly is on the food which accounts for 78% of receipts at Hill Country NYC.
Hill Country is sure to be a hit with the tourist crowd off the mall. While I feel I need to patronize Hill Country a few more times to fully cultivate my opinion I do endorse the restaurant as a place for the locals to try. The experience of the decor, service, food and music is surely worth one visit. I’m not sure the food versus price value is there to be a regular but that may be resolved for me when I find a winning side dish.