This is my first attempt at one of the restaurant reviews. Please be gentle. :)
Hilltop Steakhouse is one of Boston’s many institutions. Its giant saguaro cactus sign is an icon of Route 1 and an indicator of a time gone by, when Massachusetts’ state highways had loud signs and bright lights to attract customers from far and wide. There used to be more Hilltops in Massachusetts (notably one in Springfield, MA, which was my first experience with Hilltop many years ago). They’re not known for being just restaurants – they have butcher shops attached. The same steak you eat at the Hilltop could be grilled by yours truly the next day if I so desired.
The restaurant has a schtick, of course – it’s the wild west steak and meat routine that most steakhouses do. Like most places, they manage to make a unique spin on the decor, but you generally won’t be surprised when walking in. Servers are generally good – it’s North Shore sensibility here, so don’t expect girls with low cut shirts. The tables have place mats showing you where each cut of meat comes from on Hilltop’s cows – informative, but sure to displease the vegetarians in your group.
This time my visit was for lunch, so I scoped out the luncheon menu. The daily lunch menu is reasonably priced and I would wager to be a good value. Included with any of your lunch choices are a potato choice, a vegetable choice, rolls and butter, and a non-alcoholic drink (soda, tea, coffee, water, etc). I went with sirloin tips cooked medium rare with steak fries and squash.
Hilltop’s rolls are small in the sense that they fit completely in your hand. Ours came out nice and hot, and tasted like they came right from the oven. They supply actual butter (not “spread,” although I’m sure if you needed something with less cholesterol they would supply it) and it makes for a good opener. Our basket came with six rolls, perhaps a bit too much for a party of two, but the generosity is noted nonetheless.
My steak tips arrived along with a bowl of steak fries and a bowl of maple butternut squash. The tips were grilled with peppers and onions, giving them a nice, deep flavor. The onions and peppers were crisp and not greasy, and combined with the juices of the steak created an excellent natural flavoring. Hilltop is nice enough to actually give you a “medium rare” steak when you ask for one, and it’s a rarity amongst restaurants these days. The amount of tips was enough for a lunch menu, though an additional tip would not have been refused. I also felt the balance went too much on the peppers and onions side – you definitely got plenty of those on the plate. Swapping another tip for less peppers and onions might have balanced the plate out a little more. Still, the actual tastes and flavors of these elements were excellent.
The steak fries are pretty good, with the crunchy outside and flavorful soft inside that you expect. There’s no wacky flavorings; just basic salt and potato flavor. Again, it’s well executed and good for nibbling inbetween bites of peppers and steak.
The standout was the butternut squash. Instead of taking plain old butternut squash and, well, squashing it, the Hilltop has gone with more of an applesauce-like dish. Flavored with maple and cinnamon, the sweet squash flavor combined well with the maple and cinnamon. It was surprising, to say the least, as I usually have squash that doesn’t taste much like that at all. Bonus tips to the chef on that one.
At the end of the day, for about $12 (after taxes and tip), a steak tip lunch at the Hilltop is certainly competitive with the likes of Ninety Nine and others, but with better food quality. Plus, when you’re done with your meal you can head into the butcher shop and pick up that same great meat to cook at home. What’s not to like?
Well, for one, it’s on Route 1. Getting in and out of the Hilltop on that part of route 1 can be an absolute chore. If you’re heading northbound on Route 1, you’ll have to flip around on one of the various roads to do a turnaround. Parking itself is not bad – they have plenty of it – but leaving the parking lot is an absolute pain. Route 1 is very busy both with local and through traffic. Expect to wait a while when you want to leave.
Second, the restaurant is very busy, and you might be waiting a long time in a line before you can take your seat. Fortunately, there are nice wooden benches to sit on while waiting your turn to be seated. Dinnertime can be very busy, so plan accordingly.