Our eating in DC was organized almost entirely around proximity to the Smithsonian museums (where we spent our days) and our hotel (where we spent our evenings). I’ve already reported on two of our hotel-adjacent dinners (at Baby Wale and Bantam King); here now is a report on the first place at which we had lunch: Hill Country.
As you may know, Hill Country, a specialist in Texas barbecue, started out in New York city. The flagship restaurant is still there, as is another location; DC is the only other city with a branch. It is an easy 10 minute walk from the Museum of Natural History—and you will probably walk even faster if it is drizzling, as it was on the day of our visit. Either way, I’d say it’d be well worth an even longer walk.
It’s a large restaurant done up almost entirely in dark wood and paneling. Seating is relatively informal with a lot of long tables along with a few four-tops plus some bar seating. On the lower level they have a stage for music. Everywhere they have markers of Texas—from license plates to a lone star on the wall to pictures of famous Texans. The restaurant was relatively sparsely occupied when we got there right after noon but began to fill up quickly after that. I assume that on a non-rainy day it would be busier still. As far as I could make out, the clientele was largely groups from nearby offices.
The ordering system is a bit confusing at first for first-timers (like us) but not hard to figure out. Your server gives you a meal ticket on which is listed everything you could possibly order. You take this meal ticket and get in the queue in the mess hall’ish back room where the food is dished out. When your turn comes up you go up first to the meat counter and tell them what you want. Other than specials everything is sold by weight. Your meat cutter will mark your meal ticket and give you your meat. You then take your tray over to the large counter where sides are dispensed. There’s a large selection of cold and hot dishes here. Your ticket is once again marked with your selections. If you’re getting dessert you repeat the process at that counter. You then go back to your table with your meal ticket. At the end of the meal your server takes your ticket and brings you a bill which you pay at your table.
So, what did we get from this process? We got all the important food groups: brisket, pork spare ribs, Kreuz sausage, and a special of chicken wings. (Somehow I failed to get any of the white bread that’s supposed to go with the meats.) Five side dishes to go with these: potato salad, cole slaw, bourbon sweet potato mash, baked beans with burnt ends, and collard greens with bacon. All were at least very good. Among the meats the pork rib was very good and the smoked chicken wings and sausage were excellent. The sides were uniformly very good; I particularly enjoyed the collards, the sweet potato mash and the baked beans. All of this was more food than five hungry people could finish (we were meeting one of the missus’ cousins for lunch and so we were three adults and two kids).
To take a look at the space and what we ate, launch the rather excessive slideshow below. Scroll down to see what we made of the service and overall experience and for the price.
Despite the informal nature of the restaurant our server was present and on top of things. The atmosphere in the restaurant was very pleasant. And given the informality and the high level of sound, it’s a good place to go with young children—especially children who enjoy grilled/smoked meats. As to whether it’s as enjoyable when packed to the gills, I don’t know.
Price? The missus’ cousin insisted on paying and so I did not get a close look at the bill. But doing rough math I’d guess we were somewhere in the $100 range for a lot of very tasty food. A very good value for the quality as well. Speaking of quality, I am very far from being an expert in barbecue or even an aficionado. As such I cannot tell you how good of an exemplar of the Texas style all of this was. On the other hand, I am not an adherent of any other church of barbecue and so have no prejudices against the Texas style either. I can tell you we all liked it very much and that if barbecue of this quality were available in the Twin Cities we’d consume it very often. Those with greater experience of and stronger views on the subject will doubtless have other views.
Up next from our trip (we’re now back in Minnesota): our first meal in New York. Yes, it involved pizza.