As the weather starts to cool down, comfort foods, like brisket and macaroni and cheese, begin to heat up. At Hill Country Barbecue Market, you can have these dishes in an atmosphere fit for a college kid.
The dining room greets guests with its long, wooden communal-style tables, each clad with a roll of paper towel. Large flat screen televisions broadcast the current sports games, a never-ending bar displays various spirits and beers on tap and the waiters and hostesses are dressed like true cowboys and cowgirls.
Modeled after the historic Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, the ordering process is fast and efficient. Just pick up your meal ticket, scan over the various meats and side dishes and get in line at the respective stations. Your meat is served to you on butcher’s paper, and the bountiful sides are generously scooped into paper cups. Pick up your individual cardboard sandwich tray and some silverware, and you have your entire meal within about five minutes.
But deciding which kind of meat you want is a process in itself. My three friends and I decided we wanted to try as much variety as we could, so we opted for one of the Dine-In Specials, which provide an assortment of dry-rubbed, oak-smoked meat and a few sides. We went with The Two-Step, for $49, which is recommended for two people but served the four of us plentifully. The meal includes a half-pound of lean brisket, two pork spare ribs, two beef ribs, half of an all-natural chicken and two “Heapin' Helpins” – medium sized sides. We chose the Longhorn Cheddar Mac & Cheese and Sweet Potato Bourbon Mash.
The lean brisket, $20.25 per pound, was definitely my favorite of the four meats. It was tender, juicy and rare, and the moment I began to chew, I could taste the smokiness in the back of my throat. The chicken, $9 per pound, and ribs, $12.50 per pound, had a similar effect. The smokiness became a bit overwhelming, but the ribs were still some of the most flavorful I’ve ever tasted.
Even the sides did not disappoint, each richer than the previous. The mac and cheese, at $5.50 for a single serving, was deliciously creamy and cheesy. The Sweet Potato Bourbon Mash, at $4.50 for a single serving, had a profound bourbon flavor but was still rich, silky and sweet. We also tried the green bean casserole, for $4.50, a Thanksgiving classic complete with fried onions; German potato salad, for $4.50, warm and creamy with a bit of a tang and the $3.95 Cool as a Cucumber Salad. Tart yet sweet, the cucumber salad provided a pleasant contrast in textures and flavors to the other creamy sides. But I can’t forget the skillet cornbread, $3.50. Just as it sounds, the bread had a pronounced cornmeal flavor and spongy, yet moist texture, perfectly crisp on the outside.
The dessert options were presented on a lunch tray. The $6 apple crisp was a little acidic, but it was redeemed by its tasty crumble topping. The $6 rice pudding was just as our waiter described it: “Good, but I’m sure you’ve had rice pudding before.” The brûléed top was a nice twist, though. The $6 sweet potato bread pudding tasted like sweet potato pie with chewy pillows of dough dispersed throughout. Definitely a winner if you like sweet potatoes.
At the end of the evening, my friends and I were reluctant to look at the bill. But we were pleasantly surprised when we realized it would only cost each of us $25. With enough food to feed a small army, Hill Country ensures that none of its customers leave hungry. The knowledgeable and friendly wait staff and comforting atmosphere make for a combination that is hard to come by. So will I be returning to Hill Country? As soon as possible.