The fried chicken at Hill Country Chicken in Manhattan was pretty good, so were the french fries and cole slaw. The chicken was fried to perfection, it would have been really great if they hadn’t sprinkled so much salty seasoning on it at the end. And I like a lot of salt.
The owner of Hill Country Chicken, Marc Glosserman, is a Texan whose grandfather was once the mayor of Lockhart. Glosserman also owns Hill Country Barbecue Market in Manhattan. I have never been to the barbecue place, but I couldn’t resist trying the chicken.
I took Sam Sifton, the restaurant critic of the New York Times, to Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in Roanoke when he visited Texas just before the Superbowl. In his article, Sifton wrote, “New York has nothing to compare with the excellence of Babe’s fried chicken.” New York was in the middle of a fried chicken fad, he told me and everybody up there was obsessing about chicken. His comments made me curious to try the NYC version.But a young food blogger names James Boo frowned on my choice of chicken joints. When I told him I was going to Hill Country Chicken for dinner, he grimaced and said something about foodies fetishizing honest foods and turning them into something precious. Charles Gabriel in Harlem turned out the only honest fried chicken in the city, in his opinion. The battle between fetishized foods and their authentic counterparts was much on the mind of young foodies in Brooklyn, Boo told me. Cupcakes, fried chicken, doughnuts, and barbecue were some of the foods being fetishized in NYC, he thought.
He was particularly disturbed by the Doughnut Plant, a place that dipped raised doughnuts in lavender, expensive chocolate and vanilla bean glazes. Boo is Korean-American from L.A. and he knew a lot of Korean-Americans who grew up working long hours in their parents’ doughnut shops to help the family survive. In light of their struggles, he found the yuppie doughnuts contemptible.
Boo wasn’t a big fan of New York’s BBQ joints either. In his treatise “Death by BBQ,” Boo described a solo cross country pilgrimage from D.C. to Austin looking for authentic BBQ. I was so impressed by Boo’s devotion to BBQ that I asked him to have a beer with me while I was in NYC last May.
The yuppification of blue collar eateries is a fascinating subject. We wrestled with the issue in building El Real Tex-Mex Cafe. I also addressed it in the Houston Press in a review titled “The Inkblot Test” in which I compared the venerable Triple A diner on Airline in Houston with a yuppie imitation of a diner downtown. (The downtown place is no longer in business while the Triple A is still around.)
I liked the Triple A, but my girlfriend at the time liked the yuppie place better. And she had a good point: Entering a greasy diner full of truck drivers was not the same experience for me as it was for an attractive blond in high heels. Her insights made me more sympathetic to the fact that we all see the world from a unique point of view.My next book, Texas Eats, is a cookbook full of folk recipes. In thinking about the design of the book, I discussed the fetishized versus authentic debate with Emily Timberlake, my editor. “There is such a thing as fetishizing authenticity too,” she observed. Hard to argue with that.
My ex-girlfriend would probably love Hill Country Chicken. The food is tasty, the place is cute, they’ve got Modelo in a can. For under $15, its a helluva cheap dinner in NYC. Maybe it isn’t Babe’s Chicken Dinner House or Barbecue Inn, but if they laid off the seasoning sprinkler a little, it would be a damn good imitation.