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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review: Hill Country

Do you have a big appetite? A fat wallet stuffed with greenbacks? Extra time on your hands? Do you crave barbecue?

Texans boast about their big, wide-open spaces. They also boast about their barbecue, and take such pride in it that Texans even divide barbecue styles into regional variations, depending on the state’s geography. And barbecued beef earns them their fame.

Recently opened Hill Country in Penn Quarter is all about Texas barbecue, taking a page from the meat markets in Central Texas, as the menu reads. Barbecuing beef may be a Texan priority, but the grill masters at Hill Country can add pork ribs to the list of “bests” and be proud about it.

Hill Country is the sort of place one might find somewhere in Central Texas, one supposes, but certainly not in the nation’s capital, where politicos rub elbows with the twenty-somethings. Smoky aromas, twangy country music, waitstaff decked out in cowboy gear, including boots, add up to a Texas experience.

But for a barbecue fanatic, the ribs are the stuff of dreams: big, meaty, and obviously cut from a hog eight feet tall. Want half a rack, the usual sum of a barbecue order? The server behind the meat counter may look you up and down, assessing what your capacity is. I heard, “well, two ribs will be just fine for you.” After yelling the order to the carving station behind her then weighing up the ribs, she handed the paper-wrapped package over the counter, one that weighed something over a pound. Two ribs weigh that much?

Because this operates on the help-yourself system, Hill Country can provide various ordering stations, displaying before your hungry eyes what’s cooking for the day. Over at the next station, with a display of sides from collards with applewood-smoked bacon (the flavors were drowned out in cooking liquid) to corn pudding, sweet potato Bourbon mash, skillet cornbread with ancho-honey butter, and mac & cheese.

Just around the corner, pick up sweets and soft drinks, including the Big Red soda shipped in from Texas. (They also sell another Texas favorite, Shiner beer, though not from this station.) This is one time when overeating is warranted, because the one dish you cannot omit is the banana pudding. A specialty, presumably, of Texas home cooks and folks from the South, this particular pudding reminds one of all the comforts of home. But Hill Country’s version takes this up several notches: an ultra-creamy pudding scooped atop a bed of crushed vanilla wafers. You may prefer bread puddings, also on the menu, or even want a PB&J cupcake, but you’d be foolish to pass this dreamy dessert up.

Of course, the big surprise comes at the end when you check out: you can pay at the door with your marked-up meal ticket or if you are seated at the bar, pay there. But you may be surprised at the price tag attached to your succulent ribs or beef brisket.

Hill Country | 410  7th St., NW; (202) 556-2050. Hours: 11:30am-11pm daily & weekends. Prices: moist beef brisket, $22 per pound; boneless prime rib, $29 per pound; market chicken, $8.50 per pound.

 

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.