bbq


brisket and sausage, aka as meaty dinner

brisket and sausage, aka as meaty dinner

What is a birthday without a surprise party? So for Joanna’s birthday, the surprise involved an ambush at Best Buy while the party came replete with food and drink at Hill Country, the barbeque joint that hails from Joanna’s homestate Texas. 

Even though we met on a Monday, there is a definite festive, if casual cafeteria vibe in Hill Country.  I guess the scent of wood-smoked meats and sight of ravenous diners chowing down do induce a celebratory atmosphere.

Heavy eaters are likely to do well with the $30 all-you-can-eat deal on Monday nights, but the really good stuff like fatty brisket, sausage and beef ribs are not on that menu. Also, how many sides can you legitimately eat before feeling sick? Thus, my advice would be to steer away from the buffet and head towards ala carte, since someone with a regular appetite would be hardpressed to eat up to $30. The massive pitmaster combo meals which a few friends ordered are also a good way to go, and offers a bite of almost everything for a few dollars less than AYCE.  

As for myself, I shot for a half pound mix of lean and fatty brisket and the kreuz jalapeno cheese sausage, with a side of cornbread and baked beans. Between the two types of brisket, it was clear that the fatty version won out in terms of texture and flavor. Some fat is good, and if you’re already at a bbq place, you might as well go for gold. The sausage was nice too if not a little dry, with a good snap and a distinct spicy flavor from the jalepeno. Perhaps a little more oily bits would improve it. The beans were great, enhanced by smoky burnt ends. Surprise surprise, fat just makes everything taste better. I tasted the pork and chicken off Sarah’s brown paper package too and both were juicy and flavorful. While I did not taste the beef ribs, Jeremiah was happily gnawing away at his rib, which was a good sign. The sides that I sampled were pretty decent with the pickled cucumber being a standout, although the warm sides could probably benefit from a hotter steam table.

After dinner, we cut up a birthday cake for our birthday girl, and then left with a haze of eau de bbq surrounding us. Well that lovely wood-smoked meat scent does linger long after dinner and Joanna, as she went home on the subway, met a girl behind her at the turnstile that said to her friend “ugh what is that? smells like a sausage!” Oh well, pity for those who do not appreciate the lingering scent of good food!

Hill Country

30 W 26th St (Bet. Broadway & 6th Aves)

www.hillcountryny.com

I remember the day korean barbeque entered my life. It was a cold fall night in 2001, my college friends and I had a car at our disposal, for some reason I can no longer remember, and someone suggested we make the northward trek to the part of Chicago that housed many good Korean restaurants for something different. We complied, piled on the car and reached this standalone 24 hour shack that was sitting squarely across from a funeral home. We walked into the restaurant, bundled up in our woolen sweaters, for it was cold, and entered into a haze of smoke, smells and general cacophony. We left sated from the copious amounts of chewy kalbi, numerous small plates of banchan and with the garlic and soy scent stuck to our sweaters for the next week. From that moment on, my was I hooked and thank God K-town in New York is only 15 blocks away from home.
It wasn’t that difficult for me to like Korean food. I had grown up tasting soy sauce, dried shrimp, hot peppers and the other common Asian condiments that made up a Chinese or Korean meal. But many of my friends that went with me to Don’s Bogam did not grow up eating those foods and Korean bbq was a novel thing. Luckily, barbeque is not a foreign concept and people jumped on the opportunity to watch their own food cook.
Don’s Bogam, with its honeycombed window design and sleek white bar is very modern, and familiar to the new Korean diner. Kneeling during dinnertime can be an excruciating exercise, especially for those not used to it, so we sigh a breathe of relief upon finding out that the squat tables in the dining room were really faux squat tables with big holes beneath to allow diners to rest their feet in. Also absent on its walls were slips of writings in hangul that are common fixtures in restaurants catering to the native eater. This calms the non-Koreans diners, who may feel alienated otherwise, obsessing about potentially missing out on a particularly tasty special or that the paper was in fact a health warning that was concealed to them. Even more calming is the presence of Korean friends in the midst, who took charge of the ordering situation so all we needed to do was smile at the servers, raise our hands when we needed more OB beer (uncannily like a Bud in terms of bottle design), lift our chopsticks and dig in.
Our group of 10 ate heartily on surprisingly fresh and sweet seafood lightly grilled on the table, and different cuts of beef, both marinated and sauce-free. Being a flavor freak, I preferred the heavily sauced ones (yes I ought to be shot). Still, the chicken bbq at Shilla beat the beef cuts at Don’s Bogam by a long shot. We also had an order of bulgogi, thinly sliced beef cooked with vegetables, a lot of onions and garlic and a sweet sauce. The only disappointment for me was the jap chae, which like most restaurant cooked jap chae was a sweet sloppy mess. The restaurant served a variety of banchan, and it was interesting inducting new eaters into the delights of fish cake (or fish sausage as we like to call it), multiple types of kimchi and the spicy dried shrimp that unsurprisingly made some flinch. Oh well, a few more meals and we’ll have them down the tiny shrimp like the rest of us.
We rolled out of the restaurant reeking of smoke and garlic despite ominous warnings not to wear wool. But what can’t a little dry cleaning do?

Don’s Bogam
17 E 32rd St (bet Madison & 5th Ave)

The pig gig, as with any semi-important thing in life, like buying an air ticket, requires a certain level of commitment. First, you must be curious and eager enough to fork out $400, non-refundable, for the whole pig (because why go for half if you can get the whole thing?) at least 2 days in advance. Next, you have to assemble the crew of 12-15 friendly pork eaters to share your meal, and cajol/beg/threaten them not to ditch you at the last minute. But once you’ve followed through, you will, as I had last night, enjoy a close encounter with Mr. Pig, and make a really fine meal out of it.
Daisy May’s operated only as a take-out counter and a couple of food carts in the city, but they have expanded since to also include a sit down area, which resembles a mess hall more than it does a formal dining room. The service is largely DIY, but that doesn’t mean there was no service, as the chefs did their best to keep our raucous bunch happy, fashioning a makeshift bottle opener so that we had access to our beer (they don’t have a liquor license, thus we were supposed to bring our own alcohol and corkscrew etc), and carrying out the pig with some sense of solemnity and gravity, as we and the rest of the diners gaped at it.
Now to the pig. To be honest, I was a little let down, thinking that it was going to be bigger than it actually turned out to be. But as we started chomping our way through, it dawned on me that I didn’t need a pigger animal. That the suckling pig was deceptively meaty and that none of us would be going home hungry. We started out civilized, picking the meat using tongs, but heck, it was a lot more fun just ripping out the choice cuts with our bare hands (lovingly gloved in latex, to keep us from burning), and we were well acquainted with the different cuts by the end of the meal. The pig’s cheeks were lusciously fatty, the loin meaty and the ribs, so perfect, smoky and so good to chew on. So good in fact, that we couldn’t help but gnaw on it until the last drippy drop of meat juice had been sucked out. The sides were awesome too, from the tangy slaw, to the bacon-laden beans and the outrageously sweet watermelon that served as dessert. The evening was a resounding success, aided by liberal consumption of beer no doubt, and I have no experienced a night of corporate cheeriness in a while. Let it be known that eating pork boosts office morale!
I must admit the meal isn’t for the faint of heart, there were definitely people who looked a tad green in the beginning, and the restaurant does serve the pig headless, under request and heavy duress to accomodate diners. But I mean, seeing the head is part of the experience! But if you are really squeamish, don’t sit facing it! That works too =)

Daisy May’s
623 11th Ave (corner of 46th)