Young and Hungry

Just Like Mom: When Busy, Hill Country Resorts to French’s Fried Onions

My friend was quite surprised when I invited her to lunch at the pork-loving Hill Country. The New York transplant features Texas-style barbecue (particularly Austin barbecue), alive with true Pitmasters carving up lots of smoked pork. But for my vegetarian tendencies, I carved out my own meal with a few meat-free sides.

The Texas Black-Eyed Caviar, probably the only vegan item on the menu, provided the meal's protein, but also a refreshing lightness. With a dressing of red wine vinegar and oil, punctuated with onion, garlic, and bell peppers, the cold black eyed pea dish promotes the right amount of tang.

You'll need that clean flavor to combat the seductive green bean casserole. That's right, I called this poster child of tacky Americana, seductive. The thing is, when a dish like this is made from fresh ingredients, it makes a huge difference. Hill Country Pitmaster Robert Sonderman assures me that his personal top choice is no Campbell's soup-derived monster. "It's my favorite, hands down and I eat it every day. It's classic, American comfort food and we execute it really well."

He admits that it's one of those dishes that has taken a beating when in the wrong hands. "It's a Thanksgiving dish that mom messes up sometimes. My mom makes it pretty good, but we make it better here."

Hill Country's version starts with button mushrooms sauteed in oil and butter with garlic and onions, then it's mixed with heavy cream to transform into a cream of mushroom soup base. Green beans are tossed in and fried onions sit atop the composed casserole before it sits under the broiler to finish.

Generic American Mom's green bean dish finishes with French's French Fried Onions to smiles of nostalgia and/or groans of an epicure's enlightenment. At this downtown kitchen, sliced Spanish onions are dusted in flour, then fried and sprinkled with salt before topping the green beans and mushrooms.

This busy operation welcomes enough customers that dishes aren't sitting out forever. Sonderman explains, "We don't make all the sides and leave them up all day. We make that dish every 20 minutes." But what happens when they're just too busy? "If we run out, we use French's crispy onions from the bag."

Maybe it is just like mom.

  • Rich

    What are you talking about pork for? Yes, they have some pork items but it is all about beef brisket.

  • Biggie

    You failed to mention the inflated price

  • Roger

    Damn, Biggie. I had no idea until I just checked the menu. That place is ridiculously overpriced, no matter how good the 'cue actually is. $7 for a DFH 60 Minute confirms the ridiculosity of the joint. Do they think they're actually inside the Verizon Center?

  • muckraker

    I am a veg and went there thinking I would have slim choices. (I fully realized that this was not a restaurant aimed at me but was with friends.) But I was pleasantly surprised. The staffer at the sides counter pointed out what was veggie (mac and cheese) and what was not (the corn bread). Agree that it was crazy expensive, but loved, loved that mac and cheese!