My wife and I were in Fairfax county (No VA.) Tuesday evening and I convinced Picky Peggy (aka The Wife)to at least look at the menu for Hard Times Cafe. We found the cafe on Elden Street in Herndon, Va w/o a lot of trouble, they had a large delivery van parked out front by the street. The Cafe sits back in a large strip mall. Turns out it is a combo beer joint, pool parlour and cafe.
I had read about the cafe here, over in the chili section I believe. It sounded good, roadside food for sure. When we got there I asked to see a menu first, so that the wife could confirm that they had at least something that she would try. Decent menu selection so we stayed.
They had the fairly ususal chalk board "Specials" menu out and I thought, Cool! 1 dollar beers! and they had chicken fried steak. I like a cold beer every now and again... and at a buck apiece! They even had Rolling Rock, my current favorite. I love CFS and try it wherever we go. Peggy decided on a sirloin steak.
The server was Melissa and she was very pleasent. Peggy ordered a steak, medium, and it came with a salad. I ordered the CFS and a small bowl of Texas style chili. They had corn bread on the menu so we requested 4 extra pieces to be brought with butter as soon as possible, ala appitizer. We both like fresh warm corn bread.
Melissa brought our drinks and bread, we tried the corn bread and it was so-so. Nothing special. We had ordered iced tea and it was good. I had passed on ordering a beer, it had been a very long day for me and I still had a 2 hour drive home, once we headed home.
The place was noisy, mostly because of the dad and his his 2 kids sitting across the aisle from us. But it was also pretty dark in there. They had the lights dialed down pretty low.
Melissa brought the salads and I proceed to tear into mine, only to find out that it is full of red bell pepper and small pieces of cucumber. Ok, I like the taste of bell pepper and cucumber but it doesn't like me later on. So I have to put them aside to avoid trouble later. Only in the low light condition it is hard to tell the red peppers from the diced tomato and it is hard to find the cukes mixed in with the lettuce. Salad, Ok but too fancy for a roadfood cafe. I'll give it a 4 outa 10. The Blue Cheese dressing gets a 7. Peggy picked out a couple pieces of iceberg lettuce and dips them into the dressing. Her usual. She did pick the chunks of blue cheese out and ate them.
Some guy brings our dinners out, he asks "who has the tender foot" I tell him I don't know what that is. He tells me it's a small Texas chili, mine! He sets down Peggy's steak and my CFS. My chicken fried steak came with french(freedom?) fries, I was expecting mashed. So did Peggy's sirloin. The CFS was a nice portion, covered in gravy. It was tender and pretty tasty. I'll give it a 6.5, the fries a 4. They were limp and a bit burned looking.
The chili was as billed, coarse ground beef in a chili sauce and a lot of oil/grease. Back of the mouth, delayed reaction burn. Not real hot but you knew it was there. After 3 or 4 bites I dumped the rest onto the fries and added some ketchup. Perked the fries right up.
Peggy's steak was closer to med-rare but still edible. It had good flavor and was tender. The fries, same as mine.
For some reason Peggy decides we should take the oldest daughter home some ribs, so I order a slab to go. Melissa does well again and brings them to the table just as we finish. By the time we get home it's almost 10PM and the daughter has already eaten. I ate them the next day for lunch. I won't be too critical of leftovers, but...
Melissa really shines, as I'm getting up to visit the facilities I notice the noisy dad next door is slipping his 4ish year old some beer out of his glass. Ok, not something you do in public, if at all. Melissa comes around the corner right then, bringing us the bill, and spots him too. She politely tells him he can't do that and if she sees it again she'll have to confiscate the beer and call the cops. Well done on her part!
Overall, this place was so-so. There are so many other places to eat in Fairfax that I don't see us going back. We spent 50 bucks on 3 dinners and a banana colada for the wife.
We didn't go away hungry but we weren't impressed. Sorry Hard Times
guys! Nothing really stood out, good or bad, just so-so.