Acquiring barbecue at Hill Country Barbecue Market demands knowledge about the restaurant’s set of exorbitant rules. The patience required to get my hands on a succulent pound of moist brisket is unbearable. In spite of this, I abide, reassuring myself that a fatty tip of beef will arrive in my hungry belly very soon.
Hill Country’s complicated ordering system is like a marriage between a barbecue buffet and dim sum. Eat now, pay later.
Each guest is provided with a meal ticket, allowing them to peruse through the daily barbecue specials. SURPRISE! There is no table service at Hill Country Barbecue Market. Although waitresses graciously refill glasses of water and bring drinks to the table, each diner must approach the meat counter and order for him/herself. It’s a straightforward system until you conceptualize how difficult it must be for intoxicated walkers to carry themselves to the counter during late hours of the night. If these guests are seated downstairs, the chances of them making it out alive certainly seem improbable.
For hungry people dining on a budget, the butcher scale can quickly turn into the enemy. Each beef, pork, and chicken selection is priced by the pound. “Order as much as you want,” but realize that quality barbecue comes at a steep price. Watching the counter worker place another receipt on my meal ticket is like having another set of weights placed on my poor shoulders. DRATS.
Upon getting your hands on a meal ticket, there’s a strong chance that you’ll gravitate towards the barbecue specials. Although the specials offer a variety of items, it also means that the quantity of brisket will be limited. Instead of making sweet love to slowly-rendered beef, you’ll be stuck with ordinary rotisserie market chicken. What’s even worse is that an upgrade from lean brisket to moist brisket is another eight dollar supplement if you order the Everything’s Bigger in Texas for 4 ($99).
Stick strong to moist brisket ($23/pound) and links of Jalapeño Cheese ($6.50 each). The original Kreuz sausages ($6.00 each) remind me of a blend that I could easily score in bulks at my favorite Costco. The Jalapeño Cheese sausages, on the other hand, have a delightful saltiness justifying the price tag and making it the perfect partner in crime for the white bread. Yes, all the selections are accompanied with free piles of white bread or saltine crackers.
The beef ribs are spectacles you’d see at a Flintstones barbecue gathering. The bones seem like a reasonable bargain at $12.75 (per pound), but three of these babies can cost up to $50. The bones are so heavy that it causes the prices on the butcher scale to jump. As fun it is to carnivorously tear through the meat, the prices do not justify the taste. Maybe you could justify the price if you’re saving the bones for your dog (your dog will absolutely love you if you do).
Of the sides I’ve tried at Hill Country, the corn pudding is the standout of the night. The impact flavor corn instantly bursts in your mouth as an avocado would to a delicious guacamole. The layers at the top are the best because it has a wonderful crunch. Eating that corn pudding crust is like getting your hands on the outer edges of homemade brownies.
Other sides like Campfire Baked Beans (with Burnt Ends) and Longhorn Cheddar Mac & Cheese are good, but not spectacular. The baked beans are cloyingly sweet and the mac and cheese seems like filler. EAK’s bowl of red Chili is meaty & hearty, but it doesn’t merit as much praise as the side of corn pudding.
Blue Bell Creamery seems to bring back a sense of nostalgia to passionate fans in the southern states. A worker at the dessert counter suggested that I get a chocolate cookie à la mode (with vanilla Blue Bell ice cream). I accepted the recommendation and let down. Although the dessert is tasty, I can’t justify the cost. The chocolate chip cookie tasted stale and the vanilla ice cream seemed standard. I just wanted this plate to taste like a Pizookie. West coast fans would have been very disappointed.
The banana cream pudding is the must-try dessert at Hill Country. It comes in a humble plastic cup topped with layers of cream. Too bad it doesn’t come topped with the vanilla wafer that I saw on the New York Times (maybe this treatment is only for Pete Wells). Nevertheless, it’s deliciously notable because it has an impact banana flavor like the white shoepeg corn pudding. It’s unadorned, it’s custard-y and pleasingly sweet. It’s a dessert so soft and velvety that teeth aren’t even necessary. If I ever get my tonsils removed, I’ll wish for these creamy layers of banana cream pudding.
There are moments at Hill Country Barbecue Market that will leave you extremely confused. During my first trip to the counter, the worker reminded me that I could always come back for more white bread. When I did indeed come back for free seconds, another worker insisted that I was mistaken.
I proceeded by ordering more moist brisket and sausages. When I asked for a combination of white bread and saltine crackers, the answer from the meat counter worker was “no, we don’t do that.” I insisted that the bread was for the brisket and the crackers were for the sausages, but the counter worker did not seem to agree. I sadly descended back downstairs with my tray of meat.
Another anomaly is that the servers don’t actually bring you food, but the restaurant insists that you leave a tip for the staff. Although the waitresses are extremely generous in bringing out the drinks, leaving a 20% tip, as I would at any other restaurant, seems unwarranted. The front-of-house service is friendly and the back-of-house rules are unreasonable.
Although Hill Country has delicious barbecue (mostly the moist brisket), it often leaves me feeling empty inside. It only makes me want moist brisket in context. I start to yearn for barbecue accompanied by southern hospitality. For now, all I have is a scary mental image of the butcher scale, the prices skyrocketing by the second.