Friday, June 3, 2011

Hill Country Barbecue, a public service announcement

We eat at a lot of places that don’t find their way onto the blog. At That’s What She Fed we try to only expend energy on reviews of restaurants that we enjoy and would recommend to friends. But every once and a while a restaurant comes along that is so staggeringly disappointing, so intensely underwhelming that we feel compelled to make a public service announcement. Hill Country Barbecue (the DC version at least) is one such restaurant. Consider yourselves announced…..

Recently, the other blogger and I set out on a weeknight date night in DC’s Chinatown to try a new restaurant and catch a movie (side note: Bridesmaids is the best chick flick ever made). We decided to head to Hill Country Barbecue because we had read good reviews and Hill Country was mentioned in the latest issue of Food and Wine Magazine. With credentials like that and the guarantee of hearing country music (sigh) our selection seemed like a no-brainer.

Upon entering Hill Country, we were greeted by a large sign that outlined their convoluted ordering and payment system which involves a cafeteria-like service area where patrons queue up to servers at several stations who then mark down what they gave you on a little card which you in turn present to the cashier at the end of your dining experience. After reading the sign and listening the hostess’ unenthusiastic attempt at explaining the system to us and another confused patron, I was already questioning our choice.

We were led us to our seats, which seemed unnecessary because Hill Country has what appears to be cafeteria style seating. We were placed at the end of a long table that already had a large party at it. When we asked to move to a nearby two person table the hostess seemed confused by the request. The seating system is just another cog in the convoluted machine that is eating at Hill Country. Another peeve of mine was the fact that the waiter’s only purpose was to bring us alcohol, but we only had DC tap water dressed up in mason jars, what are you supposed to tip for that? It makes no sense that their system is an awkward hybrid of self service and waiter service, either have the waiter be a waiter or have a bar, put out some trashcans, and let me do everything myself like at a real barbecue joint.

As we read over the tiny meal tickets, which doubled as our menus, I began to take in the décor of the place. It felt as if we were waiting in line for a mine car themed roller coaster at Disney World, but I digress ….

We asked the guy at the carving station for a half pound of 'moist' beef brisket. He plopped down .75 lbs of meat on the scale and asked if it was ok. We figured ‘what is a quarter pound between friends?’ and said it was ok. (I later did the math and the quarter pound, which was only a couple slices of meat, wound up costing us $5.50!) Hill Country inexplicitly does not have pulled pork on the menu, I realize that pork is not traditional to Texas barbecue, but neither is having a red rope between the waiting room and the dining room (they have pork spare ribs which makes the omission more perplexing). They were out of chicken the only other substantive selection on the menu which would later prove to be a blessing in disguise. I caught a glimpse of the ribs from across the room and could tell they looked questionable, so we wound up just sticking with the brisket.

The server quickly wrapped the brisket in butcher paper and wrote down the cost on our ticket. Wrapping is a good practice for Hill Country, because if I would have seen the brisket up close, I would have dropped the tray and walked out. Upon opening the package at our table, we were shocked to see that the brisket was almost half fat, pushing the definition of ‘moist’ to its outermost limits. If the brisket had actually been smoked properly, the fat would have rendered and its juices would have seeped into the meat causing it to be moist. The meat that we were able to extract from the fat was gelatinous and almost alien in texture. It lacked a smoke ring (from the lack of proper smoking), was overly salty and had little flavor from whatever rub they used. The BBQ sauce was pretty generic and did little to make the meat palatable.The other blogger only had one or two bites and I forced down as much as I could purely out of hunger and not wanting to waste money.

We also ordered two sides, beans which were borderline decent and a piece of cornbread that was as dry as a Texas tumbleweed.

I am by no means a barbecue expert, but I have tasted various offerings in Central Texas, Tennessee, Brooklyn, Arlington VA as well as several mall food courts and minor league baseball stadiums that (square) dances circles around what we were served at Hill Country.

This was by far our worst dining experience in DC, easily edging out our naive foray into cuttlefish and any work related social event. To make the obvious pun, Hill Country had us running for the hills, but only after the cashier added up all the items on our meal tickets.

Hill Country Barbecue Market on Urbanspoon

*note 70% of voters must not have taste buds, or eye balls


  1. Wow. Maybe I'll reconsider that visit and stick with my local Rocklands!

  2. Do you like Rocklands? I tried that (Arlington) and didn't like it. :(

  3. That is depressing, but I am obsessed with the Hill Country BBQ in NYC. The moist brisket and chipotle smoked deviled eggs = amazing. Weird that it is so much better here.

  4. We do like Rocklands actually. I always get the pulled chicken sandwich. Surprised you didn't like it, but I guess we all have different tastes!

    I wouldn't be surprised if the NYC Hill Country is better, afterall that location made it into Food and Wine.

  5. I work a block away from HCB and agree the set-up is terrible. You have to stand in way too many lines. the food is not good, with the exception of the brisket. The sides are terrible. And it is expensive. What a disappointment!

  6. I couldn't agree with you more! However, if/when you come back to NY, Hill Country Fried Chicken (right around the corner from New York's Hill Country BBQ) does a decent job of making up for their less-than-desirable (and slightly pretentious) sister restaurant.

    Hill Country Fried Chicken is worth it just for the pie!