Well, after reading the great post from Tom and the gang's recent visit, I felt I had to go check it out. The restaurant was bright and clean with a nice "Southern meets California" feel. At 8:30pm the crowd was pretty light with only a couple of tables full. Tony was there and welcomed us wholeheartedly. We were told that the Gumbo was on the menu as a special, so my friend and I opted to split a bowl to try it out. Based on the descriptions of my fellow hounds, I ordered the oxtails and my friend had the country fried steak.
After tucking into the gumbo, which Tony had conveniently split for us, I was pleased to detect that a dark roux was used and it was studded with plenty of nice smokey Andouille sausage. The flavor was excellent and the shrimp appeared to have been sauteed separately as they had more than a bit of browning. With a couple of generous shakes of Crystal's Louisiana Hot Sauce, it was a great start to the meal.
The oxtails were very generously portioned with four segments and large helpings of the red beans and rice, and collard greens that I had ordered on the side. The beans and rice were a bit on the bland side as compared to my own which simmer for a good long time with big smokey hamhocks. However, I very much enjoyed the greens which still tasted fresh and not overcooked. The oxtails themselves were cooked until just hanging onto the bone. All of the connective tissue was gloriously melted to a rich softness that even released the end caps with little provoking.
My friend's country fried steak was also a very large meal and his black-eyed peas and rice were tastier than my red beans and rice, but the steak itself was a bit saltier than I like, but still tasty. However, I heard no such complaints from his side of the table as he devoured as much as he could following the hearty gumbo.
Paired with fresh, I mean really fresh, lemonade with lots of juicy pulp and a pile (half a dozen!) of equally fresh corn muffins, Hard Knox Cafe was definitely a bargain. The service was fantastic and quite attentive, although I did mention that I heard about it from Chowhound, so it might've been just that little bit better than usual.
All in all, Hard Knox Cafe is a great addition to the neighborhood and offers up plenty of "rib-sticking" hearty Southern fare. I will definitely go back to try the catfish po-boy and the porkchop breakfast. BTW, the gumbo is not available everyday, so you may want to check with them first. Thanks for the tip Tom et al., I enjoyed talking to Tony as well.
Hard Knox Cafe
2526 Third St. (between 22nd and 23rd streets)