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Morgan Peterson of Hill Country Says Y’all More, Eats Barbecue Less

hill country

"We're very comfortable with our guests — there’s no pretense."Photo: Melissa Hom

Sure, Wildwood may be the new barbecue spot in town, with its Wii tournaments and its Jessica Simpson–endorsed T-shirts, but Hill Country remains our favorite. Where else can you devour a game hen that’s been smoked with a beer can in it while listening to a band play a country version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”? We asked Morgan Peterson why she prefers her job as a cocktail waitress and bartender there to her old one at Planet Hollywood.

So, are you a Texan?
I’m from Minnesota, but my family is from San Antonio so I spent my summers there. There’s a ton of front-of-house staff from Texas.

Were you trained in the ways of “southern hospitality” when you started work there?
I never said y’all before I started working here. Now I say it all the time. My friends are like, “Okay, we get it.” We’re very comfortable with our guests — there’s no pretense. If you’re Texan, the accent comes out, and since I’m around it every once in a while the accent comes out.

Do you get barbecue fatigue? Do you get sick of the smell?
I don’t even smell it anymore. People walk in and say, “It smells so good.” I’m like, okay, that’s awesome. I used to eat it every day. Now I try to eat it once or twice a week. But I dream about it still — the mouthwatering steam coming off the brisket…

Do you get people who are confused or indignant as to why the meat isn’t smeared in sauce?
Before they actually try the food, yes, but once the meat has hit their mouths, opinions are changed. We have the sauce on the side so it’s always an option, but Texas barbecue is cooked low and slow with dry rub. We use pepper and salt and thyme pepper. They rub that in and it's smoked for hours.

For those who aren’t from Texas, what’s Big Red soda?
It’s like a strawberry-bubble-gum-flavored cream soda. It's really, really red — very sweet. People who grew up in Texas love it.

Do people stiff you on tips, since the meat is self-serve?
It’s a pooled house. Since people check out at the cashier, I suppose some people can leave without tipping. It’s an honor system. We’re busing tables and giving you drinks and desserts so people tend to tip.

What are the most popular dishes since the new pitmaster Pete Daversa replaced Robbie Richter?
The food hasn’t changed at all — we’ve kept to the same recipes. We’ve added to the menu — there’s boar ribs, and every once in a while there are these pit-smoked lamb chops that are phenomenal. Now we have a late-night menu that has sliders, quesos, and a Frito pie which is delicious and awful at the same time.

How long is the wait for a table on the weekend? And for food?
If you come on a weekend at 8 p.m., there’s a chance there will be an hour and half wait. As for the counter, maybe ten minutes at the longest.

What’s your favorite band that plays there?
I think my favorite is The Harlem Blues Project. I love country and bluegrass, but whenever they play I’m so excited to be working.

Do you get to take home free meat at the end of the night?
We’re supposed to buy it, but sometimes we do if we smile really sweetly.

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