A few months back, I wrote about a survey that District 365 was conducting on readers of food blogs. The results are now in! You can see them here. In my original post, I highlighted a particular survey question that interested me: Do readers want more posts about frugal living? Turns out, 60% of those who answered the survey do.
With this result in mind, I decided to write my next post – about Hill Country BBQ Market – from the point of view of frugality. This may seem strange, since the restaurant features Texan food, and everybody knows that Texas is about more, not less. Problem is, the prices are more too. When you belly up to the food stations, chances are you going to order by the piece (4 slices of brisket; 2 ribs; 12 chicken wings), but the prices are listed by the pound. Unless you are paying super close attention to what fraction of a pound your slices of brisket total to, you never really know the dollar value of your order until it hits you at the end of the meal. In this way, we easily ran up a total of $40 per person for lunch. Too much!
Here’s how I would do it differently next time, aiming at value for money:
• Texas BBQ is about brisket. Focus on it. The oversized ribs are not particularly flavorful, and when you see those huge bones, remember that you are paying by weight. Although the chicken is reportedly good, anyone can do good barbecue chicken. So your go-to meat should be the brisket that Texas is truly famous for. There are two varieties: dry and moist. Dry is packed with smoky flavor, truly to die for. This is the brisket experience that finally convinced me that good barbecue does not need sauce. But as Todd Kliman has noted, after 10 minutes or so the meat tends to dry out, so you need to order small portions that will be eaten soon after they emerge from the smoker.
I was dubious about the moist brisket – it’s fattier, but also more juicy. If you can get past the fatty look, the taste is pretty rewarding. But it is also quite rich and fills you up quickly. If you don’t know which style of brisket you prefer, I would order one slice of each to start off with, not more. You can always go back for seconds if you still have room.
• Order side dishes for the table rather than per person. The sides are large and since you will want to try several of the temptations on offer, limiting yourself to just one will feel like deprivation (not to be confused with frugality). So it’s best to agree on a few that the whole table can enjoy. We had the bourbon soaked sweet potato mash, tangy cowboy pinto beans, confetti coleslaw and green bean casserole. All good (though predictably I thought the sweet potatoes were too sweet), and way too much for two people.
• Dispense with the fru-fru drinks. They will lure you with their creative names, but there really is not a lot of punch behind them. I was not blown away by my Texas Tornado, for example. I would rather go with a $6 genuine Shiner Bock than pay $11 for a wannabe cocktail.
Like Disneyworld, Hill Country BBQ Market needs to approached with a plan. Regulars at Disney know that novices that jump in enthusiastically with no forethought tend to get overwhelmed until they understand the structure and workings of the place. At Disney, spontaneity must be traded for strategic planning. At Hill Country, exuberance must be traded for cool judgment. Less is definitely more.
Update: Nov 9, 2011: Return visit to Hill Country. I retract my words about the bbq chicken. It's a must have at HC. Tender, moist and flavorful, and the 'cue sauce is to die for.
Photos: Chris Svoboda