Yes, Hill Country is a restaurant, but no hostess will seat you and no server will come by to take your order. Instead, arriving patrons are given a meal ticket, which they carry into a Texas-style market. At one counter, they order meats by weight, watching as pitmasters pull their selection from smoking pits fueled with Texas post oak and the menus of lesser barbecue restaurants. The menu includes the signature moist brisket—juicy, fatty morsels that New York Times’ reporter Pete Wells is said to order a pound of every time because it shows “Hill Country’s rotisserie barbecue pits at their finest.” Whatever meat guests choose, it’s carved onto sturdy sheets of butcher paper they carry with them as they stop at additional counters to collect sides and desserts.
Though all meat is served with white bread or crackers, a lineup of sides includes corn pudding, Longhorn cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, and sweet potato bourbon mash. The dessert case displays temptations such as banana pudding, which Wells gushed is “built upon a custard so thick with eggs and cream it brings Paris to mind.” Guests can return to the counters as many times as they like; each item ordered is noted on their ticket, which they turn in to the cashier at the end of the meal. The menu has some devoted culinary fans—renowned food critic Frank Bruni named Hill Country one of his five favorite restaurants, for instance—but the eatery attracts a musically inclined audience as well. Downstairs in the Boot Bar, a state-of-the-art stage hosts nationally touring blues, alt-country, and honky-tonk acts that have included Dale Wilson and Roseanne Cash. The shows take place Tuesday–Saturday nights, and are often free of charge.
Beyond Madiba Restaurant's metal-plated storefront, South African music dances through the air, and hanging masks beam down on an eclectic assortment of chairs and tables. Designed by South African native Mark Henegan and his wife Jenny, the dining room evokes the lively, communal ambiance of a South African shebeen—an informal dining hall where locals gather to eat, drink, and socialize. A chandelier of vintage coke bottles illuminates the mismatched assortment of tabletops, plates, mason jars of water, and bottles of house wine.
In the kitchen, Henegan and his kitchen staff whip up authentic platters assembled with imported and local ingredients that garnered praise from Time Out New York and Gourmet magazine. As slow-cooked oxtail stew simmers in a cast-iron pot, cooks baste meats in the apricot, red wine, tomato, and raisin medley that makes up their signature sauce. Chefs whip up a range of seafood entrees and curries, using fish imported directly from South Africa after granting sets of wishes to three local fishermen.
The restaurant hosts a variety of live events throughout the week, from local South African bands to DJ dance parties. Madiba divvies up a percentage of its profits to benefit several community-outreach programs, aiding people locally and internationally with funds for education, urban farming and renewal, and equal rights.
During New York's golden age, when big-band music filled the streets and Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie reigned supreme in regal zoot suits, Ellsworth Statler held court at the Hotel Pennsylvania. Known as much for its delicious food as it was for its swanky shows, the hotel became the standard of swingin' cool by which all others were measured. Today, the same spirit that propelled Ellsworth Statler to greatness inhabits his namesake: the Statler Grill. Using classic midcentury charm and more than four decades of experience in the restaurant business, the owners of Statler Grill reanimate the New York of decades past, time-warping diners as they sit at tables cloaked in white linens amid muted lighting. Artwork festoons the walls, adding warm hues and a jubilant air while frosted glass and earth-toned walls segment the dining room for more romantic dining and more covert fantasy baseball meetings. An adjoining bar serves up a similar sophistication, with a menu of light fare appropriate for an after-work snack, or after a game, being located across the street from Madison Square Garden.
For dinner, the kitchen lines classic new york prime sirloins and porterhouses with the marks of the char grill. Seafood arrives fresh daily to offer the best flavors of the deep blue, including Prince Edward Island mussels, Long Island clams, and fried calamari. The chefs' traditional and inventive American fare complements every meal of the day, from eggs benedict for brunch to filet mignon for supper and Maryland crab cakes for late night sleep eating. All of this fancy fare doesn't get in the way of friendly service, though; the restaurant's friendly waitstaff and knowledgable bartenders earned glowing praise from the foodies at Midtown Lunch.
Proprietor Nick Kotrides’s open-kitchen concept offers Empire Grill patrons a low-flying bird’s-eye view of chefs plating hand-cut 12-ounce steaks and Cajun shrimp alfredo. Modern light fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows keep the two-story diner bright and welcoming, and semicircle booths surround a stocked bar. Flat-screen high-definition televisions and free WiFi let patrons tweet their most up-to-date thoughts on big games and sated stomachs inhibiting their ability to digest the importance of big games.
When it comes to wine, David and Tasia Verno follow the same philosophy as Goldilocks: Why settle for one when you could try three? Trios of wines from across the world are thus a mainstay of their menu at Flight Wine Bar. These samplers come with themed names—Instant Zen and California Retreat, for example—and incorporate wines from Italy, Chile, France, and Germany in addition to the United States. There's the Bubbly Flight for sparkling wine enthusiasts, the alluring scents of Aroma Therapy, and Sweet Emotion, which matches a Red Newt riesling with a Bigi Orvieto Classico and an Elmo Pio moscato.
Of course, Flight Wine Bar also has wines available by the glass or bottle. In addition, the staff furnishes tables with artisanal snacks. Guests can order imported cheeses, such as the sycamore-leaf-wrapped Spanish valdeón. The dessert chocolates are all handcrafted, and the truffles are all handpicked from the secret truffle tree that you should absolutely not tell anyone about.
Rarely do two burgers at Burke's Restaurant and Bar ever look the same. Not only do diners get to choose from four buns?including pretzel buns and english muffins?but they can also crown their burgers with more than 16 toppings, such as chipotle mayo and Irish bacon. Burgers, however, are just one of many options available at Burke's, whose remaining menu sports everything from chicken parm sliders to Irish chicken curry. Bartenders complement hearty feasts with myriad libations, from 19 draft beers to liquor-spiked milk shakes, which visitors can sip while watching games on 14 flat-screen TVs and two widescreen projectors.