Housed in the same sprawling building as sister chicken and pie joint Hill Country Chicken but with a separate entrance, Hill Country Brooklyn is a high ceilinged Texas style honky tonk modeled after its other sibling Hill Country Manhattan. Like the original, it's also modeled after the legendary Kreuz Market (Lockhart TX), a joint near and dear to Hill Country owner Mark Glosserman since his youth. And like the original, it offers two levels of dining with mostly counter service, mostly meats by the pound and a bar on both floors. Unlike the original, the Brooklyn outpost is more functional than ornamental: there's less of an attempt to duplicate the Kreuz holding pits, showcase the kitchen behind glass and otherwise honor pitmaster culture more of a museum; this feels more like a restaurant. The display cases are smaller and the queues are more linear for sides and meats (in that order, which is how you should do it even in Manhattan). The same ticket-and-stamp method is used, but rather than lining up after the meal just to pay near the exit, in Brooklyn you simply pay the server.
There's no physical menu. Instead, you pick what you like from the sides station and order meats by the pound at the cutting station.
Meats include lean brisket (from the "flat") and moist brisket (from the "point"), beef short rib, beef shoulder clod, prime rib, pork spare ribs, pork loin (Brooklyn only), chicken, turkey breast and sausages made using their own recipe (a recent development) or shipped up from Kreuz Market. Sadly, the beef back ribs that were among my all time favorites are no longer on the Hill Country menu either in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
Everything's carved to order, weighed, placed on butcher paper and wrapped into a bundle to take back to your table. You hand your ticket (booklet) to the counter person, who'll place a stamp indicating the price based on weight.
There are also some fixed combinations such as "The Pitmaster" (1/4 lb lean brisket, 1/4 chicken, 1 pork rib, 1 link, 2 sides, $27), sandwiches made with pre-chopped meats, daily specials such as the whole hog on Sundays and an all-you-can-eat deal on Mondays.
I visited Hill Country Brooklyn with my light eating young bride and a more serious eating cousin for an Easter Sunday lunch.
Ideally, both Hill Country locations should be covered in one review, but ideally, any review update of a joint as important as Hill Country requires more time and more meals. So this one-visit quick take on the Brooklyn outpost is a convenient way to put a stake in the ground while still maintaining the goal of a more meaningful update down the road.
"EAK's Bowl of Red"Chili: Made with brisket and designed by executive chef Elizabeth Karmel, it's a smoky concoction with a soft, crumbly mouthfeel and a respectable chile pepper presence. As per the Texas standard, there are no beans. It used to taste a little more like beer (always a good thing), but overall flavor is still a plus and it's still one of my favorite barbecue chilis. Bonus points for being available for selection as a side.
Lean brisket: Brisket from the flat was sufficiently tasty and smoky but came up a little short in the tenderness and moisture departments. It was also a little too chewy. Flavor arrived more embedded and less evident on the edges.
Moist brisket: Much improved from recent steamy servings, the fattier cut was well rendered, smoky, well rubbed (more salt than pepper in the blend), with good crusting as well as melt-in-your-mouth inner tenderness and legit juices. If I can get it this good every time, Hill Country would have a fighting chance at reclaiming their brisket crown now in the hands of BrisketTown, Hometown BBQ or Mighty Quinn's. A delight and the obvious highlight of the meal.
Pork rib: Meaty full cut spares more than two inches wide at the ends had a rub speckled surface with more pepper than salt. The probable lunchtime reheat didn't compromise flavor (porky, smoky, rubby) or tenderness but had a paler color than usual and a telltale rubbery texture in some bites. That aside, the doneness was just right. Smoke was very noticeable but not the same mesmerizing post oak flavor I remember from my earliest visits to Hill Country in Manhattan.
Chicken: Hill Country's meats are served unsauced by default, but the chicken has a thin glaze that makes the surface just a bit sticky and sweet. Below the semi-crisp skin, the meat was pink, lightly smoky and sweet in a subtle way. Moistness was there for sure, but juiciness was not, so this aspect falls short of the gushing, paper drenching flow of birds from the Manhattan Hill Country in the early days. As far as thighs go, it was skimpy, with most of the height coming from the convex bone and much less coming from actual meat. But certainly flavorful, with some hammy qualities, pleasant smoke and strong chickeniness combined.
Sausage: The Kreuz jalapeno-cheddar sausage is one of my favorites, but with the new housemade option available, we decided to try that. Points off for not using string at the ends to avoid grate contact, but overall a decent offering with nice beefy-peppery flavor with light smoke and a somewhat moist, somewhat crumbly interior. I still prefer the snap of the Kreuz model, though.
I cannot tell a lie: I didn't try any sauce on this visit. Most of the meats didn't need it for moisture and none of them needed it for flavor.
Blackeyed Pea Salad: The combination of peas with vinegar and cilantro makes a cool, refreshing counterpoint to the smoky, salty meats, so it's my most frequently ordered side. For my one try in Brooklyn, it seemed a little long in the tooth: the vinegar had taken its toll, rendering the peas a little more soggy than they should be.
Mac and cheese: Maybe the sophistication of penne pasta and extra sharp cheddar causes this rendition to be overlooked in most discussions of best mac and cheese, but Hill Country has one of my favorites. There's just enough creaminess to get the job done, but not so much that it oozes all over the place. Interesting that it's now billed as "Longhorn" cheddar; I'm guessing that means it's no longer New York State? Still good.
Cucumber Salad: Another refreshing respite from the meats, this side is cool, crunchy and slightly tart.
The Bottom Line
Realistically, the Easter timing might not have caught Hill Country at their best, but there was still some success along with some upside. While those successes both here and in Manhattan are more intermittent than in the glory days of 2007-2009, Hill Country is still reliable for a good meal with a decent chance at a great meal. The moist brisket was certifiably great and the lure for keeping Hill Country in the rotation.
Yelp reviews of Hill Country Brooklyn
Urbanspoon reviews of Hill Country Brooklyn
||'Like' PigTrip BBQ Reviews on Facebook to keep up with all of the reviews and much more content not available on the site.