Much Ado About Brisket

2007.Jul.24 Tuesday · 0 comments

in Restaurants

 Oh Lord please don’t burn us don’t kill or toast your flock Don’t put us on the barbecue or simmer us in stock, Don’t bake or baste or boil us or stir-fry us in a wok…”

– Monty Python

Hill Country - barbecue and sides

New York City – So, all the rage these days is barbecue in New York. On just one night last week, Justin Timberlake opened his southern bbq restaurant, and a Georgia bbq joint opened up with less fanfare on the lower east side. Most of the recent press, however, has been raving about the experience at Hill Country, 30 West 26th Street, in the Flatiron district. Most of the raving has been positive, a bit has been negative, especially in regard to the “process”. And it is a process – you enter, each person in your party is given a card, upon which, over the course of the evening, various items will be marked off by one waiter or waitress or server or… well, they really don’t have much in the way of service staff, you’re kind of on your own – you wander around, go to the meat counter, and order your meat by the pound, or fraction thereof – normally a wide range of lean and fatty brisket, ribs, chops, chicken, sausages, and whatever else one might barbecue (which, in the case of Hill Country, involves no sauce, just slow smoking… what those of us who grew up in the midwest would call… ummm… smoking and/or grilling, rather then barbecue) – it’s all piled into a piece of pseudo-butcher paper, some white bread or crackers are tossed in, and it’s almost, kinda, sorta wrapped up and deposited on your cafeteria tray. Now, we got there at 9 p.m. and they were already out of everything except lean brisket, pork chops, and plain sausages… so that’s what we got. Side dishes are laid out on steam tables at another counter and ladled into your choice of a small, medium, or large cardboard cup – we decided on baked beans, mac and cheese, and potato salad. Drinks of the bottled variety are at another counter, mixed drinks at yet another, desserts at…. well you get the idea. What service staff there is outside of behind the counters basically spend their time clearing up the detritus of departing diners (tables are a mix of regular types and long picnic tables that are shared by various and sundry folk), or offering up more rounds of drinks. Music is loud and brash and more or less something country-ish. There’s a downstairs which we didn’t enter that apparently has live music as well.

The verdict – the plain sausage was good, but, well, plain, though smoky; the pork chops were huge, and tasty; the lean brisket was dry and relatively flavorless… well, not quite true, it simply tasted of smoke. Actually, everything tasted like smoke, which is far more intense than any meat flavors that might have remained, other than perhaps in the center of the pork chop, which is what made it the winner for the evening. The crackers serve no purpose that I could see. There’s hot sauce that’s not hot in the slightest on the table, and barbecue sauce called something like “if you simply must have sauce”… The “unsweet” iced tea was quite good. The mac and cheese – “made with five differen’ cheeses” was quite good, the potato salad too, the beans a bit on the vinegary side and not very interesting. Were we transported to hog or cow eatin’ heaven? Not so much.


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