Hard Eight BBQ, Coppell, TX

Hard Eight BBQ

Meaty, Smoky Goodness

This was not my first visit to Hard Eight Pit Bar-B-Q.  I was tipped off to Hard Eight a year ago by a colleague in the Dallas area.  Since then, I’m always sure to visit whenever I’m in town.  Hard Eight is simply the best barbecue I have ever had.  When you enter Hard Eight, you pass by racks of hardwood logs and a fleet of immense smokers, finally ending up at the hot box from which you’re served your choice(s) of smoky, meaty goodness.

On this visit, I chose some brisket, spicy sausage, a chicken popper, and a serving of mac & cheese.  The brisket has that beautiful pink smoke ring that heralds barbecue greatness and it just falls apart in your mouth.  I’ve never had a juicer, more tender barbecue brisket.  The spicy sausage had a creamy texture and smoky flavor, with just enough spicy kick at the end to let you know it’s been there but without so much that you can’t taste the rest of your meal.  The chicken popper is a chunk of chicken breast and jalapeño wrapped in bacon and cooked in the smoker.  It was a nice and unusual combination, and it didn’t fail to please.  The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the mac & cheese, and this might be a regional difference.  Hard Eight’s mac & cheese consists of overcooked elbows swimming in a liquid cheese sauce that lacks any depth of flavor.

I wholeheartedly and strongly recommend Hard Eight BBQ to any lover of meat who may find themselves in Dallas or on a long layover at DFW (they’re just a few minutes north of the airport).

Hard Eight BBQ can be found here, and unlike many barbecue spots in and around Dallas, they’re open fairly late…

688 Freeport Parkway
Coppell, TX 75019
972-471-5462
http://www.hardeightbbq.com/

Hot Doug’s

Duck fat fries, duck sausage with foie gras, Chicago dog

Hard to beat this.

I’ve seen and read many recommendations for Hot Doug’s in Chicago over the past few years.  Since my sister lives in Chicago and I have relatively frequent business there, it was only a matter of time before I made sure I got a chance to sample Doug’s encased meats.

The restaurant is fairly off the beaten path, being a good distance from the downtown and tourist areas of the city and in a largely industrial area.  Thanks to the quality of their products, TV appearances and numerous magazine writeups, the place is enjoying some well-deserved popularity.  I arrived at 12:30 PM on a Saturday and found the line wrapping around the block.  It took an hour and a half to get to the front of the line, but it was well worth it.

I ordered “the dog,” a standard Chicago-style hot dog, although Doug’s dog had grilled onions, but didn’t have the peppers I’ve become accustomed to on a Chicago dog.  The dog itself was high quality product grilled just right.   The bun was soft and tasty, coming apart just before the last bite.

With everything I’ve heard about the place, the main thing on my mind was duck.  In addition to “the dog” I had the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage, served with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel.  The flavor of the duck was prominent and the sausage was well spiced.  I’m not usually a fan of foie gras, but here it added a welcome creaminess where the sausage might have otherwise been just slightly dry.

In addition to the dogs, I had the duck fat fries .  That is exactly what it sounds like.  French fries cooked in rendered duck fat.  The taste is like a normal fry but with a unique twist that I can’t quite describe. I ate the first several plain, but when I tried them with ketchup, the unique flavor still shined through.

The staff is very attentive and helpful.  The restaurant is clean, well maintained, and full of hot dog/sausage memorabilia and artwork.  Make sure to have a look at the restroom signage and the encased meats timeline.

I consider Hot Doug’s a must for a Chicago visit.  These encased meat purveyors are masters of their craft.

You can find Hot Doug’s here:
3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
Phone: (773) 279-9550
http://www.hotdougs.com/

Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel

Hilton Dulles

A perfect bookend for this trip.

I have been working in the suburbs of Washington D.C. this week.  When I booked my trip, my usual hotel in the area was full, so I thought that the Hilton at Dulles would be a good alternative.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My Room

When I went to shower on the first morning of my stay, I found pubic hairs and rust stains in the bathtub.  As I hadn’t gotten moving as early as I’d have liked, I simply rinsed the tub with very hot water and hoped for the best.  The furniture, carpets and linens while appearing clean, were heavily worn and just in poor shape.

The Restaurant

The hotel has two restaurants.  The Old Ox Grille, seemingly the formal restaurant, remained closed for the duration of my stay.  The hotel’s bar and lounge was the only dinner option on the property.  The prices were comparable to a diner with the highest priced menu item around $20 and most entrées around $15.  I gave the bar three chances this week to serve me something worthwhile.  They failed.

On Monday, My waiter took ten minutes to acknowledge my presence while he conversed with the customer at the next table about getting training for a career change.  I would never begrudge someone the pursuit of a better life, but this waiter had a job to do, and could have easily had his conversation after taking my order.  When he finally did arrive at my table, I ordered a crab cake entrée.  I was quickly brought bread and a salad.  The salad contained the hard white parts of iceberg lettuce, topped with some aging diced tomato and cucumber, then covered in shredded cheddar cheese.  The entrée consisted of two two-inch crab cakes that I would swear had been frozen.  There was more cake than crab, and I found no less than three pieces of cartilage in them.  The cakes were swimming in mass-produced chipotle mayonnaise. The dish was topped off with undercooked asparagus spears with a somewhat astringent flavor and accompanied with a scoop of processed mashed potatoes. I expected better in an area famous for crab.

I had a big lunch on Wednesday and decided to go in for an appetizer and a couple of drinks.  I chose a fried shrimp and calamari plate and some Guinness.  I suppose I should have known better than to trust a hotel bar outside Ireland to pour a decent pint of Guinness.  What I got was so bitter, I wouldn’t have recognized it as Guinness.  The seafood did not taste or feel fresh and was both overcooked and soggy with grease to the point that the batter slid off. I sent the plate back.

Finally, on Friday night, I didn’t want to drive very far, and the only alternatives I could find nearby were fast food.  So I set my expectations low and ordered something that seemed simple and difficult to ruin.  I ordered strip steak with a baked potato and creamed spinach.  It was no surprise to find that even my lowered expectations weren’t met.  The steak was tough and full of gristle, with the silver skin still attached.  The accompanying béarnaise sauce tasted metallic.  The creamed spinach consisted of frozen spinach floating in cream with some raw garlic chips, and the baked potato was burned to the point that the skin was tough and leathery and the inside was dry.  Not wanting to risk the bad béarnaise, I chose to pepper my steak but found that the pepper mill on the table wasn’t working.  Being pretty hungry, I did eat the steak, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat the potato or spinach and sent them back.  The manager offered me a free dessert and ten percent off my bill, so they did at least make an effort to make good on the situation.  Unfortunately, the mass-produced pie I received had a burned crust.  At least they’re consistent.

Service

The employees I dealt with were cheerful and helpful, with one glaring exception. While I was having my bitter Guinness and soggy calamari, I was trying to get some work done on my laptop.  The hotel’s wi-fi service is on a 24-hour cycle.  My 24 hours ran out while I was at my table, and the login page in the bar was asking for a code rather than my name and room number.  I asked my server about this and was told I would have to go to the front desk to get a code, and then he walked away.  I had my work, food and beer spread out before me, and the front desk is no more than twenty feet from the door to the bar.  I was a bit annoyed that the server didn’t offer to get me a code.  Isn’t this a service industry?  Since the server wandered off and I didn’t want to leave my table unattended, I called the front desk from my cell phone, explained the situation and asked for a wi-fi code.  I was told that they would send an engineer. After an hour and fifteen minutes, I had finished my beer and done what work I could over my phone’s 3G connection, but I never saw an engineer.

Final Comments

On my final night, the fire alarm sounded and the hotel was evacuated, giving me the perfect photo to go along with this review. Thankfully, it seems there weren’t any significant damage or injuries as guests were let back into the hotel fifteen minutes after the fire department arrived.  The next morning, before I left for the airport, I found that the concierge lounge was serving stale croissants on the continental breakfast buffet.

Verdict

As you might guess, I cannot recommend this hotel.  I will not eat or sleep here again.  There are plenty of hotel options in the Herndon/Reston, VA area and I’ve had lovely experiences at some of them in the past.  I suspect this hotel gets away with having such low standards due to its proximity to Dulles airport.

I hope this review helps to prevent some terrible experiences.

New York Restaurant Week

We’re two days into New York Restaurant week, a great chance to try out many fine restaurants that you might have otherwise passed up.

The restaurant week deal is a $24.07 lunch or $35 dinner from a prix fixe menu.  The list of restaurants along with their Restaurant Week menus are all on the NYCgo website (link below).  As an added bonus, if you have an American Express card, you can sign up to receive a promotional bonus at the website.

Last night, I visited an old favorite – Brasserie Ruhlmann.  It’s a wonderful art deco space right in Rockefeller Plaza. I’ve never had a bad meal there, and last night was no exception.

This year, Restaurant week is really two weeks (July 11-24th), so I plan to revisit a few old favorites and try out a few new spots.

I hope this is helpful!

http://www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek (opens in new window)