For the better part of the last decade, there was a Texan in charge of Washington,D.C. Yet during the eight years George W. Bush was president, there was no corresponding increase of Texas cuisine in our nation’s capital.
Chalk it up to this city’s conservative dining scene during those years. But that’s changed in the past few years, with there’s been an explosive growth in restaurant diversity. And although our current Oval Office resident comes from Chicago, Texas has come to town.
And as Texas would have it, they’ve done so in a big way. Hill Country Barbeque opened last year in Washington, D.C, building out a gargantuan space in Penn Quarter, on 7th Street, between E and D Street’s NW.
The D.C. spot is the restaurant’s second location, with the original in downtown Manhattan. And if you think it’s odd for a Texas barbeque joint to have its first two spots in northern cities, well, any concerns you have will disappear when you walk in.
The D.C. location is styled just like a saloon, with swinging wood doors separating the bar and restaurant area. The bar is right at the entrance, with black and white tile floors, and every offshoot of Shiner beer the Texas-based brewery distributes. From Shiner Light to Shiner Pale Ale, every strain of suds you could want, all made in Texas, is available here.
The dining space at Hill Country is massive, with roughshod floors and wood tables. They’re packed in, and when all filled, the space holds over 300 people. There’s even a basement below, with a bar and tables, for when the restaurant gets too crowded. Which is often. Ever since it opened, it’s seen big crowds, mostly owing to their succulent food. Although ordering is a different experience than what you are used to.
After being taken to your table, you host or hostess hands you small paper cards that contain the menu. You then walk back to a large deli-counter type area in the back of the restaurant. There, people stand ready to slice and weigh whatever meat you might want. That’s right, here, you order by the pound (you can get less if you aren’t as hungry). The meat is all Texas barbeque, which is different than any kind you might be familiar with. Beef is the star here and sauce is an afterthought. Your order comes to you plopped on a sheet of butcher paper with slices of white bread on top.
The offerings are as diverse as they are delicious. There’s moist brisket, cooked for hours on low-heat in a oak-fired oven. Massive ribs, some a foot long, have meat falling off their bones. And there are always different daily specials, from wings to pork belly.
While the restaurant excels in meat, that’s not the only kind of cooking they do well. The sides are savory and sweet and shouldn’t be skipped. From creamy macaroni and cheese (made uniquely with penne pasta) to Texas caviar (don’t be scared, it’s only black-eyed peas), there’s no need to eat just meat. And of course, if you have any more room after putting down a pound or two of food, there is dessert.
Hill Country doesn’t just specialize in food. They also bring in local and national country and folk music acts, and almost every night of the week there’s a live band playing at the bar downstairs, adding to the space’s honky-tonk vibe.
So if you’re in the mood for a bit of Texas, and a seriously good meal sometime soon, then Hill Country Barbeque is the place to go.
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