Review: Hard Times Cafe

by Cate on September 22, 2011

DC - Outside of Hard Times
When my friend Chris was planning our recent trip to the DC area, the highlights, after the White House and assorted monuments, centered largely around food. Although his favorite go-to home-cooked meal is tater tots and applesauce (sorry for calling you out, Chris!), he *does* know where to GET a good meal, and we are forever grateful because it included an introduction to the Hard Times Cafe. No sooner did we arrive at his apartment, did we throw our bags down and head out to their Alexandria (Old Town) location.

The Old Town section is a very quaint part of Alexandria. Since parking is a bit of a challenge, we parked on the outskirts and walked the few blocks to the restaurant. The Main Street section is filled with boutiques, eateries, gift shops, bars, street musicians, and, of course, the requisite tourist traps. There is a free trolley that runs from one end of the town to the other and, as we left the area the next night, gave the kids their first trolley ride.

The restaurant is two stories tall, with seating on both levels. A hostess stand greets you when you walk in, along with a very amicable hostess. The wait was short, giving us just a few minutes to check out the juke box in the back of the restaurant, by the bar.

Hard Times - Interior

Hard Times - Beer Wall

DC - Music
We were seated on the second floor which, because it doesn’t have a bar area, was quite a bit quieter, and perfect for the kids. Even better that our table was perfectly situated within close proximity of the restroom. A must when traveling with any three-and-a-half year old. Mystic would have been thrilled too. I have never met any one who makes more pit stops than he does. My mom has since given up her title.

DC - Red Sign
The waitress we had was super. After finding out that the kids and I hadn’t been to a Hard Times Cafe before, she brought out a sampler of their four different chilis. I can’t remember Nick ever expressing interest in chili before, but he all but inhaled two versions of it. Madeline had crayons and was in a “I’m not eating” phase. That and this super large, formerly alive animal head hanging on the wall was way more interesting.

Hard Times - Chili Sampler

Hard Times - Nick

DC - Hard Times Cafe
I couldn’t decide what to order. And their menu is one of those that, the more you look, the more you change your mind. I ended up going with the Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger. Truth be told, put a strong cheese on or in anything, and it’s incredibly hard to pass up. When I ordered it, the waitress nodded her approval.

“It’s a good choice?” I asked.

Excellent. One of my favorites. How do you want it cooked?

“Medium rare.”


Hard Times _ Bleu Cheese Burger

I spied fried pickles on the list of appetizers, and we ordered that as well. An opportunity to try something new (although I’ve had them once before, I figured they’d be fun for the kids) and decidedly Southern.
Hard Times - Fried Pickles

Chris went with the Chili Cheese Dog, and does it look amazing or what? If we were close to home, I totally would have tried it. Because there is no way my insides would have been happy after ingesting it. Chris, on the other hand, has a iron stomach and the metabolism to go with it.

Hard Times - Chili Cheese Dog

The pickles? Warm on the inside, slightly crispy on the outside and not greasy at all. Delicious, especially when dunked in the cool dipping sauce.

DC - Friday Dinner

The burger? The bacon was crispy, the bleu cheese abundant, and the meat was juicy and perfectly cooked.

The staff, including the manager that came by, was friendly and outgoing. They readily answered questions about the menu, refilled our drinks umpteen times without prompting, came to check on us without hovering, and were downright pleasant.

They have a ton of locations in the Maryland and Virginia area, so if you happen to be there or passing through, do check them out. Read their story right here; pretty awesome history, if you ask me.  And make sure you try the chili. We *almost* stopped there again before heading home to bring back chili for Mystic and my Dad, but got some from another location instead. But that, my friends, is a review for another day.  I spied their chili recipe on their web site, so have grand plans of making a batch of it this weekend.

Hard Times Cafe
Alexandria – Old Town
1404 King Street
Alexandria VA 22314
P: 703 837 0050
F: 703 837 0057
Follow them on Twitter here
Like them on Facebook here

I *will* be popping in here tomorrow to talk Play-Doh, so we’re not done yet.

PS – Notice the gorgeous lighting on the hot dog and burger photos?  That is courtesy of a Lightscoop.  If you’re a fellow photography fiend and don’t have one yet, drop $30 on it.  Absolutely, positively worth the investment, and now two years in, still going strong.

September 22, 2011 – Bonus Photos
Last night was Back-to-School night for Nick, and Mystic’s daughter babysat the kids. After an exuberant pre-bedtime dance-off, the night ended up with a very twisted ankle for Taylor. A night of ibuprofen, rest, and hoping it got better unfortunately didn’t do the trick, and Madeline and I took her to the ER this afternoon. She is now the proud recipient of the Sprained Ankle Gift Set, with her very own air cast and crutches. Poor thing. Having been through that myself back in May, I know how much it totally sucks. Mine still isn’t right. And unfortunately for Taylor, it’s her right ankle.
Taylor and Maddie

Nap Time

Ready to Go

Ok, so I need to catch you up on what’s been going on with the canine population in our household. Unfortunately, Mocha is no longer a member of our family. It’s not a decision I take lightly, and as incredibly hard as it was for me and especially the kids, we realized that she was not the right match for us and she went back to the shelter. (Happily, she actually got adopted literally moments after we left, and that was over a week ago, so she is completely happy).

A couple days ago, we went back to the shelter to check out the other dogs. We had zeroed in on another dog, Farrah, and although she was adorable with a kind heart and the kids loved her (though, heck, they love ALL dogs), the manager didn’t feel she was a good fit for us since she had a few issues to work through. Over the past few weeks, we had been working with a golden retriever rescue group, and as we were leaving the shelter earlier this week, they called and had found the perfect match for us. Were we interested? Timing is a funny thing.

This dog would be the third dog we were seriously looking at, and I’d like to think that good things come in threes. That is what they say, isn’t it? While we were at the hospital this afternoon, getting ready to check out, two women came in with a dog.

“Would you like a visit from our pet therapy dog, Tinsel?”

Tinsel the Pet Therapy Dog

Of course!

What kind of dog was it?

A golden retriever.

(Madeline peeking in on the dog at work)

I already had a good feeling about the rescue that was coming over to visit us tonight, and the fact that the pet therapy dog was a golden retriever too…? Well, I just like to believe in signs. And as desperate as the kids were for a dog, I have held fast to the rule that we will find the right dog for us, and everything will work out.

And it does. Sometimes not how we want it to. Or when. But it does.

Meet Maxwell (Max for short).
Meet Maxwell O'Malley

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

mandy September 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm

My heart just soared reading that you now have a golden from a rescue. Congrats! Goldens are such awesome dogs and so great with kids. My golden lets kids roll all over her and is especially fond of cuddling like a big teddy bear. Hope Max is fantastic for all of you!


Joanne September 23, 2011 at 6:23 am

maxwell is BEAUTIFUL! I couldn’t be happier for you guys! Especially since I now realize just how much Maddie wanted a dog (I mean…that has to be why she insists on petting every single one in a five mile radius…right? :P)


Sarah Caron September 23, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Max has such a sweet, gentle, kind face. Hope he’s a perfect fit.


Jenny November 1, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Very Cool choice of restaurant!!! The particular one is right down the street from me! (Yes, Old Town is a bear to park in). Hard Times is a awesomely run and TASTY restaurant. I am one of the luckiest teachers in the world; the kids of Mr. Kelly (the owner) attend my school and he brings his chili in my classroom for Career Day each year. Hope you enjoyed some awesome shopping in O-town as well. Did you check out the beautiful harbor?


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: