The Hampton Smoker

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Three Times A Lady: Hill Country NY in the NY Times

This must be some kind of record for me-- 3 posts in one day!? Well with a news day like this who could blame me. I am thrilled to see that my good buddies Rob Richter and Lou Elrose got a rave review for their Hill Country NY in Peter Meehan's $25 & Under column in today's NY Times. Tell us all about it, Peter....

SMOKE MASTERS Lou Elrose, left and Robbie Richter of Hill Country.
Photo by Julian Jourdes for the NY Times

The Brisket Speaks With a Texas Accent

Published: July 11, 2007
I’VE never fallen afoul of a Texas Ranger, but my first bite of the fatty brisket at Hill Country hit me like a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the head. I was stunned. Was I eating beef barbecue this ridiculously good in Chelsea?

The New York-born pitmasters Robbie Richter and Lou Elrose shepherd brisket to perfection in big black smokers in the back of the restaurant. Alchemy, really, is what they’re practicing back there. No other barbecue place that has opened in New York in recent years has gotten it so right, right out of the gate.

It’s one of those multimillion-dollar joints: blaring music (live bands occasionally perform on the stage downstairs); a calculatedly weathered look that is more T.G.I. Friday’s than Freemans; a fair number of communal tables that can be reserved for groups of eight or more.

If the vibe is new school, the service is not: meats, sides and drinks are dispensed at separate counters; a “meal ticket” is used to tally the total at the end of the meal.

Which brings us to that brisket, that exemplary specimen of Texas-style salt-and-pepper pit cooking Mr. Richter and Mr. Elrose practice. The fatty part — the deckle, sold as “brisket moist” (the less marbled part, the flat, is sold as “brisket lean”) — should first be contemplated with nothing more than bare fingers and closed eyes. One should take a moment to appreciate the textural contrast offered by the ring of sweet-salty meat crust that surrounds the yielding, moist flesh, slick with fat, and the smokiness that never threatens to overwhelm the beef flavor. It is a thing of balance and of beauty.

Some meats are available by the piece, like links of chunky, dry sausage flown in from the legendary Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Tex., and whole game hens cooked on Lone Star beer cans. Everything else is by the pound: hammy pork chops cut from the rack; a few more cuts of beef including a supremely tender barbecued prime rib.

Side dishes, for the most part, don’t spark a must-eat-more response. In the future, I will augment my meat pile with nothing more than the dead-simple cucumber salad and the smoky campfire baked beans. Desserts, like a jelly-filled, peanut butter-frosted cupcake, are best suited to those who want their sugar buzz delivered with as little pretense and refinement as possible.

The drink selection includes sweetened iced tea in Mason jars and a vast selection of overpriced mass market beers (Miller High Life runs $5). The whiskey selection is respectable, the wines an afterthought.

The verdict? Easy: Hill Country is one of the finest new barbecue spots to open in New York in quite some time.

Hill Country

30 West 26th Street (Avenue of the Americas), Chelsea; (212) 255-4544.

BEST DISHES Brisket; prime rib; beer can game hen; Kreuz sausages; baked beans; cucumber salad.

PRICE RANGE Meats by the pound, $6 to $18; prime rib, $29. Some meats, like game hens ($10) and sausages ($5.25 to $5.50) are priced by the piece. Sides, in three sizes, from $3.95 to $16. Desserts, $4 to $6.

CREDIT CARDS All major cards.

HOURS 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS First floor accessible; basement with stage is downstairs.

EDITED TO ADD: Hill Country was in today's NY Post as well. Steve Cuozzo doesn't hold back declaring it the best bbq in NYC.


July 11, 2007 -- SOMEDAY, maybe by Thanksgiving, I’ll be in the mood again for white tuna and Kobe beef. But for now, my idea of a “luxury” item is the barbecued splendors that gush from new Hill Country’s trio of mighty, Texas-style pits.

I’ve never had barbecue this good in New York. Neither have you, although fans of Daisy May’s, Blue Smoke and their outer-boroughs ilk are sharpening their blog-axes, whining that Hill Country’s grub would be cheaper in Texas.

Barbecue, America’s favorite folk cuisine, is not brain science. It involves putting meats into an indirect-heating device and simply leaving them in for longer than it takes to roof a house.

This time-intensive process has been loonily eliticized and intellectualized by foodies obsessed with elusive regional “authenticity” and by shills for overpriced sauces and rubs.

Hill Country (30 W. 26th St.; [212] 255-4544) dispenses with the baloney. It delivers (mostly) beef in its unadorned, 16-hour, slow-smoked glory. Nothing goes onto it when it enters the pits but Kosher salt, large-grain black pepper and a hint of cayenne. The sweet, juicy result tastes of the “post oak” hardwood that fires the pits.

It also tastes like beef - unlike barbecue that’s slathered in sauces and rubs to compensate for shortcut cooking that drains moisture and flavor. Sauce is completely unnecessary.

Hill Country specializes in Texas barbecue, meaning mostly beef. There’s no pulled pork in sight.

Pit master Robbie Richter says, “The Texas style relies on the flavor of the meat to come through. Our rub is very simple. People ask me what makes our ribs so sweet, but it’s simply the wood we use, which has a wholesomely sweet flavor.”

Daisy May’s turns out some awesome products - I love its mammoth, succulent Oklahoma beef rib. But Hill Country, with two fun-filled dining floors compared to takeout-oriented Daisy May’s dreary back room, changes the balance of power.

Hill Country is so slickly designed down to the last nail that you could mistake it for a chain. But it’s one of a kind, crafted to resemble places in and around Lockhart, Texas, where owner Marc Glosserman’s grandfather was once mayor.

Telecom mogul Glosserman, all of 33, was born in Maryland, but, “I have tons and tons of cousins in Texas.”

Tons of “natural materials from the central Texas region” went into the joint - Southern pine and oak, black iron, limestone and what the promo sheet calls “a thoughtfully restored 1950s refrigerated beverage case.” More than half of the 250 seats are in the rowdy downstairs, where musicians take the stage three nights a week.

You order the way you do at Katz’s deli, which happens to be the way they do it in Texas. Take a ticket to counters for meat, sides, dessert and drinks, where it’s punched to be paid on the way out. Carvers plop meats onto butcher paper, which you lug on trays to picnic tables.

Jurassic-proportioned beef ribs are basted to a crisp finish that executive chef Elizabeth Karmel immodestly, but not inaccurately, calls “magic.” The flavor complexions are as variegated as shades of black, red, pink, gray and even blue that speckle the crust-like surface.

Hill Country has glitches. One busy night, they ran out of most of their meat before all customers could be served.

Chicken and beef shoulder can be dry. Although smoky chipotle deviled eggs are outstanding, mac and cheese is clumsy. But peanut butter and jelly cupcakes are distressingly delicious.

Lots of New York places now claim to have “real” barbecue, and some truly do. But until they catch up with Hill Country, they’re just blowing smoke.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went in and sat down and ordered a pulled pork sandwich. They said they don't serve pork. I looked at them and laughed and walked over to RUB for some BBQ.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Backyard Chef said...

Pulled pork isn't particularly common in Texas Hill Country restaurants since it isn't a very popular dish there.

Maybe you misunderstood-- they serve pork ribs and pork chops. So, pork is on the menu, but not the pulled variety.

That's the great thing about NYC's bbq scene right now there are options to suit everyone's taste. For instance, I would go to Hill Country for brisket hands down before I would go to RUB. But for babyback ribs, RUB would be my choice.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

`But- if I waned a Shiner Bock, RUB would be my only choice!

2:33 PM  

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