Flatiron Lunch: Hill Country Chicken Is No Bargain, But It’s Damn Good
Clearly this is the season for new food in the Flatiron. It seems like every week we’re seeing a new place open its doors. The other day it was Eataly and it sounds like FoodParc is opening next week. This week it’s Hill Country Chicken, the fried chicken spinoff of the Texas barbecue spot that I really wish was priced in ML range. Naturally, the first couple days have been swamped, so as a service to you guys, I braved the crowds so you wouldn’t have to. See what it’s all about after the jump.
First and foremost, anyone who has been to Hill Country should know that they make great food, but it’s not cheap. And even though you are much more likely to a score a filling meal for under $10 at Hill Country Chicken, don’t expect the prices to compare to, say, 2 Bros or the now shuttered Piece of Chicken. (Seriously, don’t.)
That said, if you want some really good chicken and are willing to shell out loot for it – and still stay under $10, you can do it and still manage to fill yourself up. Not surprisingly, the line was out the door opening day. I stood behind Jeffrey Steingarten while he grilled the staff at the door to find out if any of his connections were there to let him skip the line entirely. They weren’t, so he bailed. I, on the other hand, persevered and was surprised at how quickly the line moved. Compared to the line at Shake Shack down the block, it was positively speedy. Within 20 minutes of getting on line I was sitting down with my full order.
While standing on line, you can catch up on a quick glossary of the different recipes of chicken they have and a little background on some of the main attractions. There are two recipes for their fried chicken, although both are soaked in a buttermilk brine to keep the flavor and juiciness of the chicken intact.
The Hill Country Classic recipe is floured twice and finished with a sprinkling of their in-house seasoning. The other recipe is Mama El’s, named after the chef’s grandmother, which is dipped in a crunchy batter and, more controversially (to me, at least) is skinless. I was put off immediately, until I got close enough to see it in person. The pieces were huge and looked so crispy and delicious that it helped ease the blow of looking up at the price list.
As you can see, chicken is ordered by the piece instead of in combos. Wings (whole, not Korean style drumettes) are $1.75, drumsticks are $2.25, thighs are $3.50 and breasts come in at $5.50(!) I’ll leave it to you guys to make the pricey boob jokes.
In the name of research (y’know, for science!) I ordered well over a single helping just to make sure I could get a sample of a the different recipes, a side, a biscuit and their homemade strawberry lemonade (very good). This broke the ML-budget at $16, but given that I would never recommend that any of you eat all of this (and I couldn’t finish it myself), I’m going to put this up as a warning:
Don’t order here as you would elsewhere. The pieces are bigger, fatter, crispier and more filling. My standard 3 piece fried chicken order nearly ruptured me.
I had one drumstick of the Hill Country Classic recipe. It had the skin on it and a think crust around it. The meat was moist and it was very good.
But sitting on my plate next to this vision of pure crunch, I found I couldn’t concentrate on it as much. The Mama El’s recipe has a layer of breading that rivals any chicken skin you’re likely to find nearby. It’s crisp and made up of thousands of tiny bits of fried batter fragments.
My side, the cheesy fried mashed potatoes (all sides $2.50 for a small, $5 for a large) were the only real disappointment of the meal. More smashed than mashed, the potato chunks weren’t soft enough to warrant the name. Also, even though it was laden with cheddar cheese and had the skin on, which I always appreciate, I found the charred bits to clash with the bitterness of the cheese and not make for a very good dish.
Dave Cook of Eating in Translation tweeted a complaint that the the staff seemed to be undertrained and that they didn’t make nearly enough biscuits for the demand. I found the staff to be remarkably on point for an opening day and did manage to get a biscuit, but if there was any shortage of them that day, it might have something to do with folks like this guy who went and ordered a pile of them. I mean, they were good, but share the wealth, dude!
After I tried the amazing biscuits ($1) I saw where this guy was coming from. Imagine biting into a crispy, chewy, slightly flaky stick of butter. If I’d had a little honey butter with me, I think I might have wept.
Speaking of rich deliciousness, the other specialty of the house is pie. They’ve got a lot of it. I didn’t try any of it, but I was told by a friend that one of the daily specials is a milkshake that is made by tossing pie into the blender with the ice cream. And every day it’s a different pie. It’s descriptively call the pie shake and I will certainly be trying it on my next visit..
In the end, I expect to come back to Hill Country chicken many times to savor some tasty chicken. I won’t come looking for a bargain, but sometimes that’s ok.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- The expensive, organic Bell & Evans chickens make me feel like this fried chicken is healthy. It’s also plump, tender and delicious.
- Pie, in a milkshake!
- I’m happy to stick with the cheaper dark meat.
- There’s a lot more meat here than at any of the Korean Fried Chicken joints.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- $5.50 for ONE Chicken breast? Are you f**king kidding me?
- Skinless fried chicken doesn’t make any sense to me, the skin is the best part!
- I’ll stick with Popeye’s thank you very much.
Hill Country Chicken, 1123 Broadway (btw 25+26th) 212-257-6446