Reviewed by: Stuart Malone (Dallas, Texas)
OK, as promised, and as I mentioned at lunch the other day, I'm sorry I never responded to your original email below, but frankly I was wasn't really comfortable reviewing Hard 8 on one meal since we were basically the last call that one night, it was almost deserted, and I was pretty tired (of course that never stops me from eating my weight in brisket, but...you know).
So, I went back recently on a Sunday afternoon and two Saturday afternoons to get some fresh bbq "hot off the presses". Like I mentioned overall it's 50/50 - it was pretty decent half the time and pretty bad the other half. In each case Helen and I arrived right at 12:30 (they open at 10:30AM on Sundays). We stayed until almost 2 hanging out and sampling the goods. I'm not sure if it was b/c of the cold weather we've been having recently, the recession or what, but on all except the last trip (which was two weeks ago) it was still very quiet despite being the middle of the lunch hour on the weekend. Decent sized crowd, but nothing like I was expecting given the size of the place.
I'm going to have to put the overall atmosphere at 8.5 (OK). I'm putting the ambiance slightly higher at 9 based on all the Texas kitsch. Tacky...sure. Appropriate...you bet! Service was fine at a 9.5. Given that's it's primarily a self-service operation, they can't really screw that one up.
We ate a lot (imagine that). We sampled the brisket, pork ribs, hot and regular sausage, chicken, poppers (chicken breast chunks with jalapenos wrapped in bacon), coleslaw,and beans.
Brisket - Sucked (sorry Duke if you ever read this). I had a hard time with this, especially since I remember it was quite good from the first time I went. Despite getting what was in all likelihood the first batch of the day, the brisket was very dry with very little flavor. Granted, there were pockets of lovely moist meat with great looking smoke rings, but too few and too far in between. I'm going to average my four times there to give a cumulative 8.
Pork ribs - I'll go a little bit higher on the ribs with a 8.25 on the high end of the OK scale. It's the same story as the brisket (most of their food really) - every now and then you get a really tasty bite, but without any consistency. Most of the ribs were overdone and far too salty.
Prime Rib - N/A (I've never had a good experience with smoked prime rib, so I just stopped eating it a few years ago)
Sausage - 8 (don't bother)
Overall Experience - 8.75
FYI although not on your list below, the best thing I ate was the poppers (chicken breast chunks (maybe some thigh in there too) with jalapenos wrapped in bacon). They were super tasty - I'd put those at a 9.75! Also, for fans of cabrito (grilled kid...that's baby goat) Hard 8 is well worth the drive - 9.5.