I guess the simplest way to think of Hill Country BBQ in Penn Quarter is that it is Vapiano for rednecks. Of course Vapiano could easily be construed as an elegant trattoria for cheapskates – so there you go. But in either case, the concept is the same – you get a card as you enter the place, and that keeps your own tab. The menu items are in stations – think of a particularly swanky cafeteria – maybe the buffet on an ocean liner – and you visit where you want to eat. This is good to avoid those operatic moments when a large party needs separate checks – and to be fair, the casual aspects of it make it a good dining experience.
Of course Hill Country is applying this openish dining concept to BBQ. It is hard not to be a bit of a Q snob when you have spent time in the South. I have never spent time in TEXAS, but my tour in Georgia left me with some expectations. So the offerings for the BBQ I was more happy to have “good enough”. I tried their Texas Kreusz Sausage with Jalapeno and Cheese. It was not hot, but the flavor was there. The sausage was not bad, but definitely a bit tougher than I’d prefer. Trying food from others in our party, I could say that the ribs were pretty good – a bit less fall off the bone than you’d like but solid flavor. However, the sides were uniformly satisfying. I had a side of mac and cheese as well as a cucumber salad. The mac and cheese was melty and rich – almost coma-inducing rich. It was a definite comfort-food as a welcome supplement. The cucumber salad was there for the illusion of health. To their credit, the cucumber was not limp, and actually was cool and refreshing to go with the rest of the heavier food. Another plus was their cocktail menu – I had a gin sling (their version) and it was very well done … that is decidedly better than Vapiano (or at least cooler).
The decor is wood benches and the building rather loud – I imagine it’d be a bit relentless when live music is going on there. The market concept sort of renders the place feeling like eating at a busy mall or something. However, the overall experience is fun and it’s a solid casual place if you want that sort of food.