Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hill Country Barbecue comes to DC

Having already been smitten with Hill Country Chicken on a food field trip to New York City, I had high expectations when I heard of Hill Country Barbecue's venture into Penn Quarter.  B and I decided to brave the hordes on a recent April Saturday night, armed with our appetites.  We entered the cavernous space, fronted by a 360-degree bar and filled with long wooden tables.  Hill Country's country-themed interior is large but warm, charming and inviting.

Patrons are given a "food passport" upon entry which is presented at the three stations in the rear of the space where, like a kid in a candy-store, you select from classic barbecue main and side dishes.  Carvers help you select meats, priced by the pound, and weigh and price them right in front of you, grocery-style. We asked lots of questions of our carver; he was passionate, knowledgeable, and right before we moved onto the sides stations, he revealed that he was the chef!  He told us that he had trained the staff at NYC's Hill Country Chicken, so I knew we were in for a treat.

We decided to splurge on the beef short rib: $30 (!) a pound for a Fred Flinstone-sized cut.  It was fork-tender, succulent, and well worth the splurge.  But the other meats we chose--the brisket and chicken--also had an unbelievable smokey depth of flavor, impossibly juicy and tender.  While barbecue sauce is available, we barely touched it, since the flavors of the chicken, brisket, and short rib needed no enhancers.

Sides are no slouch either.  The six cheese macaroni and cheese is creamy, tangy and justifies a trip to Hill Country just to give this side a try.  Campfire baked beans with burnt ends were hearty and slightly sweet.  The one flaw in an otherwise untoppable feast was the cornbread, which was comparatively dry and flavorless.

We each enjoyed a mason jar of beer at the bar before taking our order to go.  The heat insulated bags kept everything hot on the drive back over the river.  The dinner was not inexpensive, but highly customizable as meats are available at fair prices, and sides come in three sizes.  Our meal with two beers, a short rib, barbecued chicken, moist brisket, one medium side, one small side, and cornbread came to $75 with tax and tip, but would have been significantly less had we not splurged on that finger-licking short rib!

The verdict: best barbecue for miles around, which hopefully means that this Manhattan transplant is here to stay!

Hill Country Barbecue Market on Urbanspoon

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