We are in Washington D.C. for the serious business of remembering
the many debts we owe for all we have and to remember one in
1st Lieutenant Neil Keltner, recipient of The Distinguished
Service Cross and two Purple Hearts, as he is laid to rest in the
hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. While this little
project is all about food it would be remiss and disingenuous to not
realize or mention how insignificant this all is compared to the
sacrifices represented by the monuments in our Nationís Capitol.
Think what you want of war, or politics past and present; walk past
the names on the Viet Nam Wall, the fountains and stars of the World
War II Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns or any of the other
touchstones and you realize how often and selflessly our fellow
citizens have put boots to ground to allow our lives to include
things like this silly website. To those who have served, my sincere
gratitude. There, I feel better.
How many times have I seen Benís Chili Bowl on T.V.? It seems to be
a rite of passage for hosts of food shows and knowing some of the
history holds itís place in the fabric of Washington for a reason.
Already established Benís served as a refuge for all in a time of
intense strife. Now it is associated with a string of presidents,
local dignitaries, and Hollywood in addition to the locals. We got
to the counter and ordered a couple of the original chili
half-smokes, a half-smoke with ketchup and mustard, a chili dog,
cheese fries, chili cheese fries, cole slaw, potato salad, chili and
a vanilla milk shake. While you order at the counter they deliver
your order to whatever table you can find. The servers and cooks and
counter folk all feel very familyesqe and it doesnít take much to
imagine yourself a distant relative at a cookout. One of my favorite
moments was when one of the servers paraded his mother through the
dining room asking people to tell her he was their friendÖ ďI want
her to know I have lots of them.Ē Öhe said laughing.
Everywhere You Look...
...There Are Familiar Smiling Faces
The Simple Bounty...
May Always Bring The Lines
While sitting with people shod from wingtips to sandals two trays
arrived carrying Benís Bounty. I will be up front and honest in
saying the chili doesnít make the top of my list. It is
unapologetically spicy (which I appreciate) beaned blend that has an
oily sheen from fresh peppers and heavy spices. Itís distinctive and
good. It pairs well with the mustard and onion. There are just
several others I would prefer. The half-smoke itself was much better, a
smoked 50/50 split of beef and pork, the sausage has a light
kielbasa spice profile, light snap and is sufficiently juicy. The
all beef hotdog was also really good and both managed to stand up to
the serious chili. Once again I found myself preferring the mustard
ketchup combo on the half smoke by a small margin over the houses
more famous topping. I understand Mr. Cosbyís fondness for this
place. I was instantly fond of it myself. For all that it
represents, it also delivers solid food. Just like
Jib Jab, if I had
grown up with it, it would probably be my favorite taste in the
All Beef Dawg And Spicy Chili
Chililess Half Smoke Let Sausage Shine
The Cosby Classic
Juicy And Forward Flavors
The fries were tasty! The nacho cheese looked spectacular in all of
itís bright orange glory, cascading down the potato planks. It
promised gooey saltiness which it didnít quite deliver. The
gooeyness was perfect the salt or other flavor just didnít
materialize. The chili helped deliver a punch to the cheese in the
other boat. The menu says this about the homemade coleslaw and
potato saladÖďWould we spend time making it from scratch if it
wasnít good?Ē The potato salad is incredibly good, refreshingly
simple with a light dressing more just announcing the potato rather
than smothering it. The coleslaw was less successful but still
pretty good with a dose of celery seed and some unknown addition
resulting in a idiosyncratic flavor.
The Bowl. Good, But Won't Be Dreaming Of It.
Saturated With Cheese...If Only There Was More To The Cheese
Some Chili Helped
Whoda Thunk It? Vanilla Rules!
What was really superior, to my surprise, was the vanilla shake.
This creamy and powerfully vanilla treat was up there with some of
the best I have had, sitting in itís little paper cup. In some ways
it is representative of the place overall. The quality of the
people, interested in their community as much as the bottom line,
provide something all the fancy trappings of three Michelin stars
couldnít hope to accomplish. Worthy people, serious eats, the weight
of history, Iím actually a little proud to have patronized the
place, but will still be honest about my impressions. I would like
to return, if I get a chance I will. Iím curious how I would feel
about the chili on a Benís Chili Burger Sub.