Hill's Top BBQ in Bartlett is just a few minutes north of North Conway, on the same road as the outlets. While the building is small, the claim on the eye catching sign outside is huge: "Best BBQ North of Memphis." Inside, there's a homespun feel, with a small separate bar (about a half dozen seats) and a larger dining room filled with antique stoves and pig-related knick-knacks.
Barbecue is the name of the game here, with pork spare ribs, pulled pork, brisket and smoked chicken. the boneless meats are available on platters, sandwiches, salads and pizza. Combo plates feature two to four meats. Babybacks aren't on the regular menu, but on my visit they were a special. Wings make up a big part of the menu, with more than a dozen available flavors and a spicy wing challenge. Other appetizers include the predictable pub standards like mozzarella sticks, onion rings, chili, nachos and spinach artichoke dip, plus deep fried green beans,
A weekday lunch visit was the third stop on a crawl that included nearby Hillbilly's Southern BBQ and Moat Mountain Smokehouse before it.
Wings: Sadly, wings weren't available on my visit. It was the week between Christmas and New Year, so maybe they did boffo business the week before, or maybe the supplier cut down its holiday delivery schedule.
Onion Rings: Thick with a high batter-to-onion ratio, the rings ($5.99) had a slightly artificial look (which the camera couldn't capture) coupled with more-than-slightly artificial flavor. If you like Burger King's onion rings, you're in for a field day. If not, pass on these.
Pulled pork sandwich: The "Wicked Big BBQ" sandwich ($8.99) is a toasted triple-decker sub roll housing two separate layers of pork, each sitting on a thick spread of garlic butter and topped with cole slaw. There was some nice bark in there and some good color too, but the pork was overcooked well past soft and on the verge of mushy. Flavor was decent. Moisture came almost entirely from the condiments.
Brisket: Oddly pulled rather than sliced, the brisket on the 2-meat combo ($11.99) was my favorite of the three meats to hit the table. The delicate strings had a slightly smoky aroma and flavor, with a few pink tidbits peeking through the brown. I liked the moisture and the overall flavor that had beef singing lead, even if some of the strands were on the rubbery side. In the ultimate analysis, the brisket was probably average.
Ribs: My first thought as the rib plate was lowered on to the table was that they were a reheat that wasn't heated all of the way, because the congealed fat from refrigeration hadn't been melted. This accounted for the pale crust that certainly didn't advance the would-be appearance score. Looks aside, the ribs had an agreeable flavor, with a light smoke, much more rub presence than the brisket and a hammy overall feel. Moisture was faint. More than the other meats, the ribs gave me the impression that what I was served that day might not have been representative of the norm, and might get a noticeable upgrade on a night visit or during a busier time.
I liked the six sauces available in squeeze bottles at the table. There's a lot of overlap in four of them, but all of them—including a zippy, tangy white sauce—were homemade tasting and balanced.
Frozen and very plain but cooked perfectly, the fries had a crisp exterior contrasting a fluffy interior. Potato salad and cole slaw were overly dressed and bland.
The Bottom Line
Although this mixed bag visit had as many downs as ups, I got the feeling (more so than at the two stops that preceded it) that this visit might not be indicative of what Hill's Top BBQ might offer on another day. The wings weren't available, the ribs might have been an abberation from a less-than-ideal reheat, and the A team might still have been on vacation. That's not to say that it's okay to mail it in with half-assed reheats and frozen product, but for now I'm giving Hill's Top BBQ an "Incomplete."
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