410 7th Street NW
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown, Archives/Navy Memorial
Sunday – Tuesday: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Wednesday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.
It takes a lot for me to be blown away by a restaurant, but I think for the first time in D.C. this new establishment has done just that. Hill Country BBQ just opened up last Saturday, and I took to opportunity to check it out tonight along with a buddy of mine. I had heard earlier in the day from a couple of co-workers that the original location (which is located in New York City) was pretty damn good, so my expectations going in were high. Not only were my expectations met, but Hill Country was everything I imagined and much, much more.
Having had BBQ down in Austin, TX, I can say that I can make this comparison with a certain degree of reliability. Hill Country is the closest thing to a BBQ joint in Austin that’s not in Texas that I’ve seen so far. The setup and feel reminded me a lot of Rudy’s BBQ. When we first walked in, you could already tell the the place was going to be lively. Looking like a typical country bar/restaurant, the venue was mainly wood with black and white photos of blue collar workers on the walls, Texas flags hanging from the ceiling, and chalkboard menus all around. We waited at the bar (45 minute wait – but perfectly reasonable since it’s a new place in the heart of Penn Quarter) and had a beer. The beers I’d like to quickly point out are served in honey jars, which warmed us up to the atmosphere right away.
Once our name was called, we were escorted to our table (by one of several gorgeous hostesses – that tidbit is for the guys) and were instructed on how to proceed. Much like Vapiano’s, you’re given a “passport” and get whatever items in the cafeteria style line you’d like and then pay as you leave the restaurant after you’re done eating. The first stop in the line is for the meat. The brisket, chicken, pork ribs (and shoulder) are all priced by weight, and you pay for individual sausages. Trying to figure out what to get was a daunting task, but there is an employee in line ready to answer questions and give advice on what to mix and match. Once you get up to order (there were 6 stations to order meat), they measure out your requested order and then wrap it up in brown paper with a generous helping of white bread. I ordered 1/4 lbs. of moist brisket (you can get lean as well which isn’t as fatty, but has less flavor in my opinion), 1/4 lbs. pork ribs (which ends up being one giant effing rib, Flintstones style) and one Kreuz sausage (I got the plain, but my friend ordered the Jalepeno style).
Moving on after that, you get to the Sides Station where you can order any number of sides from collared greens, to beans, to Mac and Cheese. I went for the 8 oz. Mac and Cheese, and an order of cornbread (comes in 2 large pieces and Ancho Honey Butter).
We brought our food back to our table and our server, who looked like Ludacris (seriously, I’m not being racist – the guy looked like Luda), was super on top of getting us our drinks and checking in often to make sure everything was okay. As for the food, I don’t even know where to begin. IT. WAS. AMAZING. The brisket was moist, flavorful, melted in your mouth, and was that perfect amount of juicy meat with bits of fat. The rib didn’t fall off the bone, but the tenderness of the meat was there and was perfectly seasoned. The sausage had a nice little spice, and when you bit into it it had a little crunch as you broke through the outer skin, and a deliciously soft and juicy interior. There was a tasty Hill Country BBQ sauce on the table as well.
The Mac and Cheese; oh man, the Mac and Cheese could have been a meal itself. The pasta was a penne style, and the cheese practically oozed everywhere (in a good way). I think I tasted a bit of Worcestershire sauce and pepper in the cheese mix as well – it was heavenly. The cornbread and honey butter were good, and probably better than normal because it was literally fresh out of the oven when I got my pieces. Although the cornbread and honey butter were just okay on their own (it’s kinda hard to make cornbread really good or really bad), they complimented the meats and Mac and Cheese quite well.
The food already made the place worth going to, but then a woman came up to us and told us about the karaoke. So I went downstairs to scout it out. Downstairs is a whole other hall, with tables, a bar, and a stage. I’m assuming that they normally have live music on some nights, but on karaoke night the patrons can go up and do their best Dolly Parton, Britney Spears, or Bruce Springsteen impression. One great little thing is that the restaurant will give the singer a complimentary whiskey shot before or after they go up on stage. And the karaoke isn’t just some video machine with the words and bouncing little ball on it; there’s a live band playing along with you (far cooler). Now I’m not sure how many songs the musicians know, but when I went down there the woman was singing a song from “Mamma Mia” so I imagine they probably know quite a bit.
Bottom line: This is hands down the most fun place you could go to eat in D.C. right now. It’s laid-back, the workers are super-friendly, the food is phenomenal (since it’s by weight, you don’t have to pay for any more than you have to) and the price is actually pretty good. I got a total of probably around 3/4 lbs. of meat (w/ white bread), 2 pieces of corn bread, a cup of Mac and Cheese and a Miller Lite for a grand total of $19 (and I took most of the sausage home with me because I was so full after the brisket and the rest). Bring a group of friends and you’ll have a great time. Grade: A-