By Alicia Cohn - 05/11/11 11:45 PM EDT
They say the sky is big in Texas — so is the taste of Hill Country Barbecue in Penn Quarter. Located next door to the Shakespeare Theatre Co. and only a block from Verizon Center, Hill Country just opened its first D.C. location in March after four years in New York City.
Even the guy serving up drinks can explain that the meat is smoked, not grilled, as true southern Texas barbecue should be. Hill Country offers a choice of pork, chicken, sausage, brisket and ribs — or you can get a little of almost everything in the Pitmaster Combo — and they aren’t afraid of grease. The sauce is a little on the sweet side, and not very peppery.
The range of side dishes includes classics such as macaroni and cheese, green-bean casserole, baked beans with burnt ends, chili and true Southern favorites including collard greens, sweet-potato bourbon mash, corn pudding and cucumber salad.
Home-style desserts such as bread pudding are served in small jars (even the ones made to go). Hill Country also offers homemade cupcakes, including their signature PB&J. Sweet (and unsweetened) ice tea is also served in a mason jar, the kind that makes a satisfying clunk on the table. Hill Country also ships in Big Red soda from Texas.
The Penn Quarter location is a two-level bar familiar to anyone who has stopped for fast barbecue on the road in Texas. It looks like a cross between a cafeteria and a VIP lounge with hard-wood floors. “The system itself is actually quite simple,” according to Glosserman. “Everyone gets a meal ticket when you come in, the servers mark what you order as you go along.” Glosserman explained that this selection process allows customers to either choose their meal options a la carte or as a combo. Family-style dishes are also available for group events.
This parade of decisions might seem confusing, especially when the bar is busy during its two happy hours (between 3 and 5 p.m. and after 10 p.m. every night of the week), but the staff is friendly about giving direction, and the variety of options allows for freedom to move around. At the end of the night, customers can choose whether to pay the cashier on the way out or to settle the bill with a server at the table and show the receipt upon exit.
Hill Country offers two of the items any displaced Southerner seeks in a joint like this: Blue Bell ice cream and Shiner Bock beer on tap. Their signature Kreuz margarita is made with Tito’s vodka from Austin, another deliberate nod to this restaurant’s authenticity. Two other notable mixed drinks available are the Texas Rose (also made with Tito’s vodka and garnished with a Texas rose) and the Texas Tornado (made with Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka).
Grab a drink and head downstairs, where you can attend acts from south Texas featuring rockabilly, Southern soul and country music. With live music, karaoke or a show every night of the week, Hill Country Barbecue is the place for a Texas-style party.
Hill Country Barbecue is located at 410 7th Street, NW (hillcountrywdc.com).