In New York and much of the rest of the country, ranch dressing is the white zinfandel of condiments. Most often found in squeezable bottles or individual packets for not-quite-healthy salads, the tangy, creamy dressing seems to have been spawned in a factory. Not made with love in the homes of hardworking Americans.
But homemade ranch dressing is a point of pride deep in the heart of Texas. There’s even a petition to rename ranch dressing “American dressing.” Sure, it may make the occasional appearance at a wedding in the form of a glorious white-trash fountain. But Texans hold the real ranch close to their potentially clogged hearts. So, why, in New York, a city currently obsessed with down-home cooking, is good ranch as hidden as the valley from whence it came?
Instead of living in a state of salad-dressing malaise, we decided to pit three Texas-themed establishments — Dallas BBQ, Hill Country Chicken, and SouthWestNY — against each other in a fight for the crown of buttermilky goodness.
Dallas BBQ (261 Eighth Avenue, 212-462-0001)
Despite the fact that Dallas, Texas, isn’t even known for its barbecue, locals seem to like it. The side of Cool Ranch dressing served here was brought out in a saucer with a spoon: a sign that the restaurant is confident you might want to spread it over your entire meal. The creamy consistency and blend of spices provided the perfect coating and dunk-ability for both the hot wings and salad.
Hill Country Chicken (1123 Broadway, 212-257-6446)
Every transplanted Texan has been to the original Hill Country probably more times than they care to admit. The Buttermilk Ranch at Hill Country Chicken, however, wasn’t quite right. Good ranch should contain two key fats: buttermilk and real mayo. This one tasted more like sour cream than buttermilk, and was more reminiscent of tartar sauce than Texas.
SouthWestNY (225 Liberty Street, 212-945-052)
Nestled way down in the south (of Manhattan), in the Financial District, this restaurant has a chef who’s a tried-and-true Texan, a heartening detail. The Cowboy Ranch Dressing embraced the richness and spices of the original recipe, but with an added cayenne kick any cowboy would love. A healthy slathering of it lovingly complemented both the Cobb salad and Mile High Cheese Fries.
Both Dallas BBQ and SouthWestNY offered the good ranch Texans who live in New York often find themselves pining for. Dallas BBQ delivered on the initial challenge of getting as close to the original dressing as possible. However, SouthWestNY’s ranch soared ahead with the added and much-welcomed heat, so SouthWestNY is declared the winner. Yee-haw.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 7, 2010