A little song to begin this review. A little ditty by Linda Ronstadt … I’ve been cheated …been mistreated …
That’s how Spoon and Fork felt while having our MUCH anticipated dinner at the new Hill Country restaurant, Hill Country Chicken. We had added Hill Country Chicken to our list of places we must try in December of 2009 and had been waiting (not so) patiently for it to open.
As those of you who follow the Cutlery around know, we absolutely love – no, adore – Hill Country. We dream about going there. The staff, the brisket, the food, the brisket, the service, the brisket. Hill Country Chicken? Not so much. We aren’t going to say we totally hated it, but we were seriously disappointed by so many things.
HCC is bright and airy. The colors are great. It had a great vibe – oh, until the fire alarm would sound. A high pitched, ear drum splitting beep that would last perhaps 10 seconds at a clip. Unlike Hill Country BBQ, you aren’t shown to a table. You don’t have a server who brings you drinks. You don’t get a card and pay after you eat. You first get in line, order your food, and then find a place to sit. There is seating on the main level and also downstairs. The tables aren’t crammed together, but you will be sitting with strangers as the restaurant fills up. And, as anyone who has been forced to sit with strangers knows, some people have the most inappropriate conversations in public. Do they really think they are in a Maxwell Smart Cone of Silence? There are some tables and chairs and some higher tables with stools – but, very comfy stools.
When you first step up to the counter there is beautiful chicken in cast iron skillets. Looks fabulous. We’re just not sure why it’s there. They don’t cook it that way, and they don’t serve it that way. But it does make for a pretty picture.
So we decided what we’d like to order and walked up to the counter. There are a lot of people behind the counter, most of whom ignore you. The young lady that helped us was pleasant enough. You have two choices of fried chicken, skin on or skin off. We asked for skin on, 2 thighs and 1 breast. We must have ordered in Serbo-Croatian. She took out one tray, placed one basket on it and looked at us. So we repeated – 2 thighs and 1 breast. She turned around and grabbed 1 thigh and 1 breast from the oven and put it in the basket. She stopped looked at it and said, “Oh, you wanted 2 thighs.” Took 1 breast, put it back in the oven and came back with a thigh. Now there was an almost indeterminable raised eyebrow between Spoon and Fork and we repeated – 2 thighs and 1 breast. (The fire alarm goes off again). And the penny dropped. She grabbed another tray, and another basket. Now we have the chicken.
We slide over and asked for 2 biscuits. May we have some butter for our biscuits? No, we don’t have any of that. No butter? Really? Pretty scary. (And there’s the fire alarm again)
We slide over a bit more for the sides. We ordered house made Fire and Ice Pickles, Cheesey Fried Mashed Potatoes, and Blistered Corn Salad. The salad and the pickles are all ready in containers. The mashed potatoes are in steam trays and they dish it when you order. (And there’s the fire alarm again). The young lady helping us only goes as far as the sides. Now you slide to the end of the counter and there are the pies. We ordered 2 pie cups, ordered our drinks and paid. You get the drinks yourself, as well as cutlery, napkins and condiments. There is only mint iced tea. Do you have iced tea without mint? Nope. There is also Strawberry Lemonade – so sour you can’t drink it. (And the fire alarm goes off again).
HCC was fairly empty at this time so seating was pretty easy. The iced tea needed a little citrus so Spoon went over to the counter and first asked the fellow behind the counter for some lemon. He became flustered. Spoon asked the manager for some lemon. Now, brace yourselves – HE SNICKERED. Yes, giggles and chuckles, he snickered (almost sneered) and stated they don’t have lemons, like Spoon was the dullest piece of cutlery in the drawer to even think such a thing. By the way, they make their own lemonade. Don’t they need LEMONS to do that? So far we are NOT happy, but we are starving and we have been waiting so long for HCC to open.
So where to start? Okay. The Cheesey Fried Mashed Potatoes. These are not fried mashed potatoes. These are mashed potatoes with some sort of unidentified fried topping. There is definitely cheese and it may have been bacon, it was a little crunchy, but the name alone made you think of perhaps balls of fried mashed potatoes with a cheesey filling. The mashed potatoes were so dry and so floury. They were cold. The topping was mediocre at best and there was no where near enough of it to make a difference.
(AND THE FIRE ALARM GOES OFF AGAIN)
Next, the Buttermilk Biscuits. They were dry. They were Sahara desert dry. A little butter would have helped. They don’t have butter, remember? They do have honey on the condiment table. But no amount of honey – or butter for that matter – was going to save these biscuits.
We were so unhappy. This place was such a major disappointment. (AND THE FIRE ALARM GOES OFF AGAIN)
Next the Blistered Corn Salad. The corn was mushy. Roasted corn has a certain snap to it. I make a great corn salad. The corn is always crisp, even when I have used frozen in a pinch. I don’t know what you do to corn to make it mushy, but they did it.
The Fire and Ice Pickles are really good. They need to be cold. But the spices are perfect. The flavor is great. The pickle slices are crisp.
(And the fire alarm has FINALLY stopped sounding) Someone please explain why the lights were being turned down and the music was now blaring. I mean, blaring to the point that you cannot possibly have a conversation. Are they trying to create an intimate ambiance in a place that serves like and is decorated like a southern cafeteria? Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautifully decorated cafeteria, but this isn’t one of those turn down the lights type of places. It’s just the decor is the antithesis of the intimate setting created by the lights. And the music was just ridiculous.
Now the chicken. Man, oh man, the chicken. This is DAMN good friend chicken. This is totally worth the bad server, the snotty manager, the terrible mashed potatoes, the dry biscuits and the mushy corn. Don’t eat the sides, eat the chicken. Fork and Spoon both agreed that in the future we will go back, just to take out the chicken. The breast and the thigh were unbelievably moist and tender.
The flavor of the chicken itself was outstanding. This isn’t a thick, shattering crust type fried chicken, but the seasoning is absolutely perfect. You just want more and more of the chicken. As a matter of fact, Fork may be going up there today to pick up chicken to bring home for dinner.
Now off to dessert. We ordered 2 pie cups. One was the Double Cherry Pie. The filling was really good. Not too gloppy. Not too sweet or sour, just perfect. The crumb topping was really crunchy and cinnamon-y. The crust, sadly, was lacking. It was lacking butter. So, perhaps they don’t have butter. The size is perfect. Enough for a couple of bites each when cut in half.
The other pie was a Cowboy Pie. It’s really a magic bar stuck into a pie plate. It has the same graham cracker crust as a magic bar. Lots of butter in the graham cracker crust. Oh, wait, they DO have butter! Fancy that. The Cowboy Pie is really very sweet, almost too sweet. between the butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts, it’s difficult to cut into. It just so dense, but it really was very good.
A young man and his mother sat at the end of our table for a few minutes, asked how we were enjoying our dinner. When we mentioned the chicken was great, but the sides were iffy. The young man mentioned he read a number of reviews that said the sides were vile while the chicken was wonderful. And all of those reviews are exactly right.
The last bone of contention, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin for us, was the rest room. This was 5:30. The place was empty when we arrived. This was between the lunch and dinner rush. Every one was prepping for the hordes to come later. Chairs were being pushed under tables, baskets with napkins being refilled, table tops being wiped down. But, the waste paper basket in the rest room was over flowing onto the floor. So unattractive. Isn’t checking the rest rooms part of any restaurants check list of get ready for service? Not a major issue after the food issues, but just another thing to make our trip to HCC so sad.
We’ll be back - but only for chicken – and only to take the chicken home.
Hill Country Chicken ~ 1123 Broadway ~ New York, New York ~ 212.257.6646
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