Smoke Signals

Exporting Texas barbecue to the East Coast is the Lord’s work, and Marc Glosserman is the man for the job

by Hannah J. Phillips
Photographs by Isaac Anthony, Justin Aharoni and Dan Rubenstein
Hill Country

As a Texan walking around New York City, certain scenes feel familiar from films and song lyrics: buskers on a crowded A train, the flurry of feet in Grand Central Station, the dazzling Empire State building. But walking through the doors of Brooklyn’s Hill Country Food Park is a different kind of familiar; for a Texan, it feels like home. An amphitheater-style arrangement of food trucks welcomes you into the converted warehouse space, decorated with emblems from the Lone Star State and filled with the unmistakable aroma of smoked meat.

For Hill Country’s founder, Marc Glosserman, it all started with childhood trips to visit relatives in Lockhart, officially designated “the Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1999. Although he was born on the East Coast, Glosserman’s Texas roots run deep: His great-grandfather emigrated to Lockhart from Poland around 1900, selling fruit from a food cart before opening a small grocery. His grandfather Sam later served as mayor of Lockhart from 1954 to 1964. Glosserman’s earliest memories are of summers spent in the small town with extended family.

“All of my cultural enrichment, my pride in place came from my cousins,” he says. “They were always beaming with Texas pride.”

The first stop from the airport was always a rendezvous at the legendary Kreuz Market for a barbecue feast with his grandparents. Fast-forward to about 2004, and Glosserman recalls revisiting Lockhart for a wedding, somewhat naively asking Rick Schmidt — owner of Kreuz Market and a close family friend — if he had ever considered expanding the business.

Glosserman’s extended family in 1975 celebrating Passover in Lockhart.

“That deep-rooted barbecue tradition doesn’t exist outside of smalltown Texas,” says Glosserman, “but it’s about as identifiable with Texas as anything I can think of. And I wondered if you could export not just the barbecue, but that whole Texas experience.”

The thought sent Glosserman on a journey, developing a plan and gathering support to open a Central Texas barbecue joint in Manhattan. With a background in finance but no restaurant experience, he spent several years networking with restauranteurs and pitmasters before finally taking the leap in 2006. Hill Country Barbecue Market opened in 2007, aiming not just to bring the Texan style of smoked meat to New York, but to reproduce the whole pitmaster culture as well.

Glosserman and his wife Kristen make regular visits to the Hill Country to check in with their barbeque roots.

“As much as I love the meat, I also wanted to recreate that feeling of standing in line and having the guy behind the counter carve it to order. That, to me, is the pure DNA of Texas barbecue,” Glosserman says.

Glosserman has worked to perfect that particularly Texan recipe ever since, replicating details down to the lighting and architecture of old Lockhart buildings, designed at the turn of the 20th century. And he’s had some help along the way: In 2009, when then-governor Rick Perry visited Hill Country Barbecue Market for lunch, Perry learned that New York’s Environmental Protection Agency was working to ban all cross-border shipments of firewood. The next day, Perry’s chief of staff emailed Glosserman, connecting him to the Texas Department of Agriculture and ultimately navigating a solution with the EPA that allowed Hill Country to continue importing the precious post oak that creates a unique Texas flavor.

Glosserman photographed by Isaac Anthony at Hill Country Food Park.

As for other imports, Hill Country was also the highest-selling outlet for Shiner Beer in the country in 2013, and Glosserman was instrumental in helping the brand start to distribute on the East Coast.

Like a pitmaster with a prized brisket technique, Glosserman tweaks and curates the formula for a Texas experience in each of his restaurants. After the success of Hill Country Barbecue Market, he opened Hill Country Chicken in 2010 as an homage to the home cooking of his mother and grandmother, followed by a second Hill Country Barbecue, in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Most recently, he brought Hill Country Food Park to Brooklyn in 2018 as what he calls a sort of “test lab” for new projects.

The concept is a nod to the Austin food truck scene, with trailers dedicated to different Texas staples, including breakfast tacos from King David Tacos at the South Congress-themed stall. Helmed by fellow Texans, King David boasts the only breakfast tacos in New York City made by a native Austinite, importing tortillas straight from Texas. Hill Country also recently joined forces with a local bar, Hank’s Saloon, which needed a new home and now hosts live music in the second-floor space at the Food Park. Glosserman attributes the success of the brand to his team and these types of partnerships.

Photograph by Laruen Volo

“We are in the ultimate people business,” he says, “not just with our guests, but with the people we work with. When you have the right people, success is sure to follow. Those are the lessons that have become more and more instilled in me as we keep growing.”

That mentality attracts everyone from East Coast locals, Texas transplants and visiting Texans like myself. In May, the Food Park hosts “The Tacos of Texas” authors Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo for a special screening of their new docuseries on seven regional tacos, followed by a conversation moderated by Bon Appétit contributor Rick Martinez. Plans to expand the brand revolve around building community around Texas food at these types of events.

“The main driver for me, and the reason we created Hill Country, is how much fun and joy we get out of sharing what we do with people,” says Glosserman, quick to note that he has no plans to come to Texas anytime soon.

“Texas may have enough barbecue already,” he laughs, “but we certainly make our pilgrimage to Texas at least once a year so we can continue being good ambassadors of all things Texas.”


Read More From the Food Issue | May 2019


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