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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 01/18/2011

Smoke Signals: The New Yorkers are coming!

By Jim Shahin
Marc Glosserman headshot 2_opt.jpg Marc Glosserman (Photo by Hill Country)

As Smoke Signals reported last week, things are about to heat up in the local barbecue scene.

At least three restaurants intend to open this year, with rumors of a fourth. Two are from New York, Hill Country Barbecue and Virgil’s Real Barbecue. A third, Pork Barrel BBQ, is co-owned by a couple of local guys and is currently slated to open in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood in February. The rumored fourth is Joe’s Coal and Ice House on H Street NE, for now just a gleam in mogul Joe Englert’s eye.

Virgil’s, it must be said, is also little more than a gleam at this point. But Jeffrey Bank, CEO of its parent company, Alicart Restaurant Group, is actively searching for a location in Penn Quarter, and he tells Smoke Signals that he intends to open by the end of the year.

For that matter, Hill Country may not open in March. It depends on the permitting process.

“In New York, there’s something like 83 different sign-offs you have to get,” Hill Country CEO and Bethesda native Marc Glosserman told Smoke Signals in a recent interview. “I don’t know what the number is in D.C., but it’s up there.”

Glosserman said the D.C. and New York restaurants will differ slightly – “no details on that yet” – but that they will be “85 percent the same.” When pressed, Glosserman said the changes would likely be primarily in side dishes but stressed that no decisions had been made.

As in New York, the District’s version of Hill Country will remain true to its Texas inspiration. Glosserman spent his summers in the small Central Texas town of Lockhart, where his father grew up. He fashioned Hill Country in the image of the town’s legendary Kreuz Market, founded as a meat market and grocery store in 1900.

Hill Country will smoke with post-oak wood imported from Central Texas, sell sausage from Kreuz Market, bring in the state’s classic ‘cue pairing, Big Red soda, and its beloved Blue Bell ice cream. It also will sell Austin’s Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Shiner Bock on tap. “I would also like to have some Texas wines when we open,” Glosserman said.

Like the original, the D.C. outlet will feature live roots-oriented music five nights a week. On Wednesdays at the New York outlet, Hill Country serves up a smoked whole hog. “We’ll probably do something similar in Washington,” Glosserman said.

Asked about branching out to North Carolina-style pulled pork or other styles, as is common in the Washington area, Glosserman said, ““We try to stick to one style of barbecue and do that as well as we can. I know what great Texas barbecue is like.”

Skeptics argue that Washington, unlike New York, falls within the zone of North Carolina pulled-pork influence and that a Texas-only menu will not succeed here. Chinatown’s Capital Q, which calls itself “Texan BBQ,” is Exhibit A: It serves pulled pork. Smoke Signals rebuts that there are plenty of places to get pulled pork, that Texas brisket has made enormous strides in the mid-Atlantic, that Capital Q may have helped create familiarity with beef-based (important note: not beef-exclusive) ‘cue and that if the food is good, a Texas-only barbecue joint can succeed.

The betting window is open.

The other barbecue behemoth from the North to eye the nation’s capital is Virgil’s. Operated by the same folks who brought you the gargantuan Carmine’s in Penn Quarter, Virgil’s is more in line with the something-for-everyone offerings that characterize this region’s barbecue – and then some.

Opened in Times Square in 1994, Virgil’s one-ups D.C. barbecue eclecticism. It serves Owensboro, Ky., lamb (actually, in Owensboro, it’s mutton, a fine distinction, but one worth making), something called Savannah Salad, Oklahoma State Fair Corn Dogs and Georgia Chicken Fried Steak. (Hey, chicken fried steak is Texas!)

In fact, although its Web site calls the restaurant “Virgil’s Real Barbecue,” Alicart's Bank downplayed that aspect when Smoke Signals asked him if there was room in this town for both Hill Country and Virgil’s.

“I think we’re different concepts,” Bank said. “Virgil’s is much more than barbecue. Just look at our menu, there’s a lot of Southern food.”

He’s got a point.

“Virgil’s is more of a regional Southern cuisine thing,” Bank said.

Bank said he has considered the space directly next door to Hill Country, which Wagamama, a Boston-based noodle restaurant, has been courting. But he said if the space became available and he landed it, he would put another Alicart restaurant, Artie’s Delicatessen, in there.

Bummer. Smoke Signals would have loved a South Philly-style Pat’s/Geno’s cheesesteak slugfest.

In the meantime, Virgil’s is opening this summer at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

Smoked out: Speaking of Kreuz Market, Smoke Signals has learned that longtime owner Rick Schmidt retired on Dec. 31. Schmidt’s son, Keith Schmidt, now runs the operation. Keith is also consulting on Lockhart Smokehouse, a new barbecue restaurant co-owned by pit master Tim McLaughlin and another Schmidt relative, Jill Bergus, and slated to open in Dallas later this month.

By Jim Shahin  | January 18, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags:  Jim Shahin  
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