July 2, 2007 | BITE: My Journal

Hill Country: Texas Land 

Photo: Steven Richter

       I can almost promise that Annette de la Renta, last year’s debutantes, and smart minxes with Tuxedo Park aspirations will not likely be hunkering down to nibble chunks of brisket ripped off greasy butcher paper with their fingers.  But self-styled gluttons and uninhibited molls who crave greasy grub will score dinner at Hill Country Barbecue Market and think they’ve gone to pig heaven. For sure, its baby-faced fourth generation Texas creator, Marc Glosserman, has fulfilled a dream he was nursing during telecom days and bursting internet bubbles. You can take the boy out of Lockhart, Texas, but you can’t take Lockhart out of the boy.

     Hill Country is real Central Texas, he points out, big eyed and glowing with pride. Its swift slicing pit masters. The imported Kreuz sausages -- I especially like the jalapeño cheese-injected link.  Its dry-rubbed ribs, smoked over post oak wood shipped in from you know where. Its numbered meal ticket that gets stamped as you shop for your meats, priced by the pound ($5.50 to $17). Its game hen cooked in a beer can. Its Dixie cups of Blue Bell ice cream stored in  Blue Bell’s own refrigerator case, not yet arrived the summer Saturday we dropped by. The deep sink behind our table, to wash up after. Brick and wood have an applied grey smudge, as if from generations of smoke. And downstairs you can stomp around to a live Texas band, if so inclined.

    It’s a quiet summer Saturday early on and the kitchen must still be finding its groove. Moist brisket (we don’t fool around: moist means fatty) and beef shoulder are really good and the boneless prime rib is sensational -- especially where it’s rare, better than too dry beef ribs.  Even the pork ribs taste a tad dry to me.

A greasy mess of meat starts out looking almost neat.  Photo: Steven Richter

     Eddie, the meat maven, wrangles a mingling of barbecue for our table from the barbecue counter. I’m the designated shopper for sides.  I can’t get the Longhorn cheddar mac & cheese disher-upper to give me more melted cheese crust. “Crispy. Crusty.”  I cry. “Please, right there, that…,” pointing to the burnished layer.  It’s a language gap, I realize. He stands there befuddled as his partner in the potato salad area grabs the medium portion foam cup (choose “good eating,” “heaping helping,” or “feed your family”) and tops it off with crustiness.  Even not quite hot enough, the cheese-whacked rigatoni glop is great. I can’t stop eating it. 

    And the confetti cole slaw is good, too.  But not listless baked beans.  How can corn pudding be so boring? What it needs is a better recipe.  We could sip the market’s bourbon Texas Nectar or Chili Cherry Chocolate Martini with this stuff, but I’m as happy as Ladybird Johnson in a rose garden with my Texas root beer.  Our friends sip ice tea from a giant Mason jar.  Since we’ve been recognized, Big Red cherry soda arrives, on the house -- one sip, too sweet.

    Astonishing as it may seem, our quartet of gourmand incredibles votes to bypass dessert.  But that appears, too: giant peanut butter and jelly-filled cupcakes, jalapeño-touched brownies, vanilla pudding with wafers (oh, sweet memories of mom’s supermarket puddings), and that Texas ice cream with wooden paddle spoons.  I love the chocolate.

    Truly paralyzed, the four of us sit glued to our chairs, catching up on the gossip as do most somewhat civilized New Yorkers sharing dinner.  I realize I’ve been so intent on mastering the drill, queuing up for sides, gobbling more than my share of macaroni before any one else discovers how good it is, getting a taste of everything in that greasy pile on fat-soaked paper…that I’ve been frantic.  Only now that it’s over, can I finally relax.

     Am I innately more couth than I thought?  Am I becoming a wuss? Scandalous thoughts.

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