I gather not much is known about Hard Knox Cafe. They don't advertise, they rely on word o' mouth, much like the infamous Cafe Lola nearby.
The clientelle is odd, Hard Knox relies on a lot of upscale loft-dwelling yuppies, so you won't find pools of lard (unfortunately) in your greens, and you'll find a lot of juices and bottled beverages you probably wouldn't find in true soul food joints. I always wince when I see "garden burger" so out of place next to the real sandwiches like "pork chop", "philly cheese steak" and "Hot Link". I also hate seeing a "Vegetable Plate" entree next to the "Turkey Wings" and "Catfish". Also, the interior is trendy as all get-out. There are red diner booths and funky yet industrial wall decorations. Both disheveled artists and loft-yuppies look quite at home here.
You'll walk out of there making yummy noises, groaning with pleasure. They've got a full breakfast, lunch, and entree menu. And all entrees come with two hot corn muffins and any two sides from a huge list, which includes everything from Rice & Gravy to Blackeyed Peas & Rice. My favorites are the Mac & Cheese, and the Mustard Greens.
Some of my favorite entrees:
Oxtails: huge fists of meat and bone that melt apart as soon as you point a fork at them. That meat is so tender, so perfectly seasoned ... apparantly they just won an award last week in some Soul Food cook-off down in Bayview/Hunters Point.
Short Ribs: peppery sauce. Meat is lucsiously tender, and again, falls right off the bones.
Smothered Pork chops--runs out early, as does the Smothered Chicken. Smothered Steak -- mmmm, well, I'm no expert on Texas Soul Food, but it sure hits the spot.
Famous Fried chicken. It's by far their most popular dish. They say the secret is in the seasonings.
Breakfast selections include my faves, Country Fried Steak and Liver n' Onions ... both meltingly wonderful.
Desserts: anyone will tell ya, the best are the Sweet Potato Pie and the Banana Pudding.
A public service announcement:
*****Hard Knox's Meatloaf makes you glad to be alive. It's a weekly special, and it runs out by lunchtime. It's gonna be on the menu tomorrow, you oughta go and experience it.*****
The owner, Tony, is a texan. He bought Hard Knox four years ago. He's fun to chat with, apparantly a lot of his friends are restauranteurs, so he'll drop random chowish references about Thanh Long crabs or the saltiness of oxtails at some other friend's restaurant casually.
Also, Tony's Chinese. He's a Chinese Texan. His soul food is crowd pleasing, his restaurant's decor is trendy industrial kitch, (red diner booths and all!), his clientele are funky yuppies. The only bit of jarring out-of-placeness might be that traditional-looking giant chinese buddha sitting behind the bar at the entrance. And yet, hey, I guess that works too--this is all about food and soul.
Hard Knox Homestyle Southern Cooking
2526 3rd Street (Between 22nd & 23rd)