Only July 4, perhaps the only thing more American than inebriation and the smell of smoking charcoal is potato salad, the kind that comes enshrouded in mayonnaise and basks in the sun, tempting passersby with the promise of starch and food-borne illness. Whether you love it or loathe it, chances are you won’t be able to escape it. Owing to a few too many underwhelming specimens, we personally aren’t its biggest fans, but recognize that some places do it proud. Those places tend to be barbecue restaurants, and since R.U.B. BBQ and Hill Country Barbecue sit within a few blocks of one another, we decided to compare the merits of their spuds.
First we went to Hill Country, where $4.30 buys you 8 ounces of PTL potato salad. The salad is actually a potato/egg salad hybrid, as segments of hard-boiled eggs mingle with tender chunks of skin-on potatoes and confetti-sized bits of red onions and red and green peppers. Everything’s coated in an orange-hued dijon mustard-mayonnaise dressing, but it’s applied with a light hand. The flavor is robust and slightly spicy, and the crunchy vegetables prevent the texture from becoming one-note mush. Their colors also make it aesthetically pleasing — this is not the potato salad that images of lumpen, off-white mounds lead us to believe is our nation’s heritage. “PTL,” incidentally, stands for “Praise the Lord,” and that pretty much summed up our feelings when we were eating this salad.
Encouraged, we walked west to R.U.B., where a small styrofoam container of potato salad will set you back $3.75. Like Hill Country, R.U.B. employs a mustard-mayo dressing and a light touch — there’s just enough there to hold everything together. “Everything” in this case is potatoes mixed with celery bits and disembodied ribbons of potato skin. The salad glowed a pale yellow that we found oddly comforting, but its taste was slightly unnerving. This was partially due to the celery, which we hate with a passion, and partially because of its oddly sweet flavor. While we expect many things of potato salad — mushiness, mayonnaise deluge, carb gut — sweetness isn’t one of them.
Unsurprisingly, then, Hill Country emerged as the victor in this battle. True to its name, the PTL potato salad has made us believers.
Hill Country Barbecue
30 West 26th Street
208 West 23rd Street
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