I swore off restaurant reviewing a while back, and yet I really like talking about restaurant experiences. Unfortunately, a singular experience can somehow morph into what seems like a review and that’s not my intention. With that in mind, here are simple facts about a meal I had last week with Craig and my friend Lauren at Hill Country on 26th Street between 6th Ave. and Broadway.
First, a needless fact: I used to live across the street from Hill Country on the corner of 6th Ave. and 26th Street and moved right before Hill Country opened.
“We don’t care.”
Fine. Here are the relevant facts:
1. Our original plan was to eat at Shake Shack but the line was so absurdly long that Craig said, “No hamburger is worth this long a wait.” I suggested Hill Country.
2. When we arrived at Hill Country, there were a mass of people in the front area and it was difficult to know where to go.
3. Once it became clear that you put your name on a list like at a normal restaurant, even though it’s a self-service restaurant with tickets that they punch much like at Katz’s Deli, we put our name on the list and they handed us one of those buzzer thingies. They said the wait would be 30 minutes.
4. We waited in a corner of the bar and Lauren and I had tequila drinks: she a traditional margarita and I some signature drink that was a distant cousin of a margarita.
5. Finally, after the promised 30 minutes, our buzzer buzzed. We approached the stand and a woman led us inside.
6. The woman asked if we’d been to Hill Country before. We told her “no” and she explained how it worked: after she takes us to our table, we get in line at one of the counters and order our food. They stamp our ticket and we pay on our way out. “Lost tickets cost $50,” she chirped. “So don’t lose yours!”
7. She then led us down a staircase where a band was playing incredibly loud covers of 80s songs. The table where she wanted to seat us was right next to the stage and we all experienced moments of deafness before we were able to ask her to seat us upstairs. “That’ll be an additional wait,” she warned us. We said that’d be ok.
8. Apparently, we called her bluff because back upstairs she sat us right away.
9. We left our bags at the table and approached the line at the meat counter.
10. A menu hung from above and everyone who joined the line at that moment had the same reaction: “What the f**k??” We all had that reaction because they were out of the very thing most of us wanted: pork. No ribs, no pulled pork (though, looking at their website, it doesn’t look like they normally have pulled pork.) What they did have was brisket and chicken.
11. The brisket cost $22 a pound. When I asked the man at the counter how many pounds would feed 3 people, he said “one and a half.” So I ordered 1.5 pounds of brisket and Lauren ordered 3 chicken pieces. Craig went to the “Sides” table and picked up coleslaw and mac and cheese. Lauren picked up sweet potatoes.
12. At this point, we were all a little disgruntled: the wait, the noise, the lack of pork, the expense.
13. Then I served myself a piece of brisket:
14. This is not a fact, it is an opinion: I loved it. “Wow,” I said. “You know, I didn’t want to like this because of everything else that happened, but this is amazing.” My companions agreed. The brisket was moist and tangy and packed with flavor.
15. Also not a fact: The sides were just ok, though Lauren and Craig praised the mac and cheese.
16. Opinion: The chicken was superb: also moist and smoky and tangy and a perfect option for someone who doesn’t eat red meat who wants to experience BBQ.
17. Craig disliked the atmosphere but loved the food. Lauren concurred.
And that is my non-review of Hill Country.