I went to an event sponsored by a Texas group on Wednesday, largely because it was billed as a barbecue. As I expected, it was catered by Hill Country BBQ Market here in DC, a place which has been a puzzle to me.
Others, including barbecue experts like my neighbor, Doug Jacobson, the Kansas City Barbecue Maven, have had uniformly good experiences at Hill Country. My own experience — and this was my fourth experience with Hill Country — has been mixed.
The first time I ate there (for lunch), I was appalled at spending $30 for a lunch of pretty bad brisket and bad sausage (with okay sides and a beer). The next time I went, a Texas group had taken over the place and, I suspect, brought their own people along: they had various sides and goodies that Hill Country normally does not serve. That time, the brisket was very good and the sausage was great. I went back for lunch a few months ago and had some brisket that had been sitting around for a while. It was dry and lacked flavor.
At the Wednesday event, they served potato salad, cole slaw, chopped brisket sliders (no sauce, just a touch of cole slaw), and sliced sausages with saltines. The brisket was good. It has a nice smoke flavor and a tasty bark, and the cole slaw kept it moist without interfering with the brisket flavor. The potato salad and cole slaw were pretty good. The sausages were lousy.
The caterers told me, when I asked, that as Hill Country always has advertised, the sausages were jalapeño cheese sausages from the Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. Now the jalapeño cheese sausages at the Kreuz Market in Lockhart are the best sausages in Texas. They are just a step below Conecuh Sausages, the best smoked sausages in the world. How can they be so bad at Hill Country? And how can Hill Country be so erratic?
I think I know. Hill Country is erratic because it is a poorly run restaurant. They often let the sliced meat sit around rather than slice it to order, and generally screw things up. The catering, on the other hand, depends less on their ongoing lackadaisical processes than on a single event. They can do an event well, especially, perhaps, an event for Texans. Think of the difference between the skill set needed for winning barbecue competitions and the skill set for running a barbecue restaurant.
And the sausage? The answer must be that the good folks at Kreuz Market hate Washington. When it comes down to it, most people seem to hate Washington: thus the otherwise inexplicable simultaneous rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And the good folks at the Kreuz Market express their loathing of Washington by sending some sort of reject sausages to Hill Country rather than their own sausage. The one time the sausages were good there — the time Texans took over the place and added things outside the menu — the event sponsors must have taken the precaution of bringing real Kreuz Market sausage with them to Washington. Or maybe some regular customers were going to be at the event and, not wanting to alienate their regulars, Kreuz Market sent the real deal for once.