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D.C. Chowhounds Gotts So Much Soul

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In December I made several post requesting places that serve fried chicken, shrimp & grits, and Soul food in general. I also did the required research of older post. My Thanks to the D.C. Hounds for a great tour of a town with So much Soul.

At Ben’s Chili Bowl we were able to squeeze past the line of people near the front and join in at the end of the line near the middle of the place. Two counter seats opened as we were moving back toward the front so we quickly sat down in front of the sign that states Cosby and Obama eat free at Ben’s. We have enjoyed chili cheese fries at the popular places in Los Angeles and Chicago but now Ben’s is our all-time fav for this dish. I admit that at first I did not notice anything special about the chili. I always begin eating the components of a combined dish, such as chili, fries, and cheese, separately so I can sample each item alone from the others. It was not until the 3rd spoon of chili that something took my attention. The flavor is Soul food and no doubt about it. That deep flavor is just under the chili flavor and once you sense the deep flavor it holds your attention just like some good smoked links hold your attention. There is also something different going on with the cheese. It is not cheese wiz but maybe some of that is in here along with something more. Those flavors of the chili and cheese blend very well together. The fries are good and when combined with the chili and cheese this is a large meal that can fill two people. I ordered the half –smoke split down the middle and fried to a blackened crusty casing and moist inside – perfect. Next time I will ask that the half-smoke be laid on top of the chili fries and skip the bun. The bun was soft and fresh but we are talking lots of food here already and the bun is really not needed.

Ben’s Chili Bowl (Must share a chili cheese fries and have a chili dog or split half-smoke)
1213 U Street NW
Washington DC
http://www.benschilibowl.com/
directly across the street from the U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo stop on the Green Line. Exit towards 13th street and look across U Street from the escalators.

We had lunch at Oohs and Aahs about 3:00 and since the portions were so large that turned out to be our last meal of the day. We sat at the first two (of four) counter seats next to the door/window and in view of the sign that politely warns you to have patience because this is not fast food but rather it is Soul Food. We were told that tables were open upstars but we wanted to see the cooking in front of our eyes. I had the “grilled shrimp.” Actually these shrimp are cooked on a griddle and not over a fire on a grill. They also offer “fired shrimp” which are deep-fried. Once the shrimp are nearly done cooking a large handful of sliced onion and bell peppers are added to the pile of shrimp and all the flavors join well as the meal continues to simmer. The shrimp was very fresh and had a very good flavor. My date had the lemon pepper wings and was in bliss. We both watched as the wings were put into the deep fry. Next the cook began working on another project and put a large deep pan over the stove and began to mix some good looking stuff together as it all simmered into a sauce. The best part was when we realized that the fried wings were added to the sauce in the pot and mixed together to become the order of wings She loves wings and orders them in every city she has been to and when she began eating these she looked up and made eye contact with the cook and re3peated several times, “OMG, these are really good, OMG.” I had one and agreed that these wings are made with love. We both had had the rice & gravy and mac & cheese as our sides. From the counter seat I could see that most of the take-out orders (many as we sat there and it appears that most people order take-out) had the same two sides scooped into the boxes and that indicated to me that these are the most popular sides and the way to go. I was correct. The gravy was very good and I will add that I had no after taste following me the rest of the night – a big plus. The mac and cheese should be called cheese w/ mac because cheese is the first and last thing you notice when eating this dish. So much good thick cheese and both of us agreed it was the most moist mac & cheese we ever had. I must have seen them fill two dozen take-out orders while I sat there and each had the same moist and steaming mac & cheese scooped in. Ah, about the “peach cobbler.” It was more like a mushy bread pudding with a few small bites of peach – fogetaboutit!

Oohs and Aahs (Soul Food, grilled shrimp, rice & gravy, lemon pepper wings, mac & cheese, maybe even Chicken and Waffles on Fri and Sat afternoon/night).
1005 U St NW Washington DC
202) 667-7142
Metro Green Line to the U st African American Civil War Memorial / Cadozo Stop. Walk to the 10th St exit and look accross U St from the African American Civil War Memorial.

One morning on our way to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center we stopped at the 29 Diner out in Fairfax. This proved to be what we were looking for, a real diner from a time gone-by. Being from Calif., we did not expect to see ash trays on every table but that added to the authentic old-time ambiance. The smoke from the cigarettes at the tables near us really took our taste buds back in time as the flavor of good bacon competed for our attention. The eggs were made to our order and were perfect and the grits were moist and good. I would repeat this stop again if just for the joy of being inside this place. Moreover, the cook (a very nice lady) poised with us for a picture and it has become our fav photo of the trip. Somehow this was a good stop (step backward in time) before standing next to the Enola Gay an hour later.
29 Diner
10536 Lee Hwy (the 29
)Fairfax, VA 22037
(703) 591-6762
http://www.29diner.com/

After the Udvar-Hazy Center we headed for Coastal Flats. I had the goat cheese and pecan salad. The candied pecans were really good. I wished they sold them by the pound but they don’t – I asked. These pecans reminded me of those candied walnuts that were popular during Christmas years ago but only better being made with pecans. The greens were very fresh and the fried goat cheese patty was special on the side of the salad. Those fresh baked hot rolls and butter were something to talk about during dinner also. In L.A., I know a place that makes the same bread but it comes to your table as a small loaf. These small rolls are better because the ratio of light crust to inside bread is higher and that results in a better flavor / texture, or maybe it is because more butter goes into the little rolls than on a slice of bread. In the bread basket there was also a slice of jalapeno cheese bread. I never expected to find such a good version of jalapeno cheese bread in the east when it is so had to find out west. For dinner I had that large portion of shrimp & grits. More shrimp than I expected for the price and the two triangle grits patties were very good just by themselves. The sauce for the meal was, IMO, very good and seemed like a cross between the texture of Alfredo and the color and flavors of a more traditional seafood pasta sauce with onion and other sliced veggies. So many flavors were going on here. My date, however, had the meal of the trip – a Filet Mignon. This steak was so tender that once it was in your mouth it had the texture of mashed potatoes. I can say that because I added the potatoes to my mouthful of Filet Mignon because I wanted to see, feel it, for sure. The only difference was the perfect wood char on the surface of the Filet Mignon and the great beef flavor. I thought to myself that this meat might be so tender you could cut it with a fork. Yep! I tried it and it was that tender. To top it all off I ordered the banana pudding. Maybe one of the best dessert deals anyplace for the price point of around $6 to $7 (just think what a ice cream cone cost now-a-days). A sliced banana covered with a smooth caramel sauce surrounds the stack of firm pudding covered in a really good chocolate sauce, and all topped with real whipped cream. Oh yes, we will return someday for this meal.

Coastal Flats (Shrimp & Grits, warm goat cheese and pecan salad, Filet Mignon, cauliflower mush, banana pudding, rolls & butter
)11901 Grand Commons Ave ("Fairfax Corner")
Fairfax, VA 22030
(571) 522-6300


One night we decided to see what B Smith's place was about and found a truly nice dining room at the far end of Union Station. I had shrimp and grits and the meal was high class – fer sure. The grits patties were round and appeared firm but came apart with a slight nudge. The sauce was almost too strong. Well, ok – too strong. The three shrimp were very large and very fresh. I think it was over $26 and I would not do this meal again for that price even if it is a great room to eat in. My date ordered the smothered fried chicken and that is a meal we would both do again. The crust was so good because the seasoning is made with a love for food. The portion was a large breast (center breast maybe) of juicy chicken. Very good

B Smith's in Union Station (Fried Chicken)

We had to stop at a pub and so Murphy's of D.C. was the place. We both ordered meat and potato pie and were stuffed after this meal. It was a large slice with a good flavored ground beef and a great crust on the pie. I took a chance and ordered the pecan pie and it was very good. The ratio of pecans to syrup filling was at least 50/50 (maybe a little more pecans on top of pecans) – great! The pecans were fresh and the tops were a little toasted. The pie crust was very good and the whipped cream was added to the slice of pie at the bar – real whipped cream. Nice local group watching the game.

Murphy's of D.C. (meat and potato pie, pecan pie)
2609 24th St. NW,
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 462-7171

In Charlottesville we had the fried chicken dinner at Michie Tavern. All-you-can-eat chicken and buttermilk rolls. The chicken is like a cross between Mrs; Knotts fried chicken in Cal and KFC which is to say it is good. Still, what holds my attention from Michie Tavern a week later is those stewed tomatoes. Next time I visit Monticello I will fill my plate a lot more with those stewed tomatoes and those buttermilk rolls. The peach cobbler is not something we will do again.

Michie Tavern (Fried Chicken, Hickory BBQ Pork)
683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville Virginia 22902
(434) 977-1234
11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
http://www.michietavern.com/index.cfm...


Oh, I want to say something about a place we saw in Union Station, and other spots around D.C. -- au bon pain. I cannot wait for this group to reach Los Angeles. It is as fast as Fast food, as good as homemade breakfast sandwiches (bagel w/ egg, cheese and bacon) and lunch sandwiches, the bagels are great (brought a dozen home in those boxes), the soup is good also, the Morning Blend coffee is very good and the prices are very reasonable. We ate at the Union station location several times for breakfast and took sandwiches to the zoo and for the plane ride home. After we changed planes in Memphis and opened our sandwiches, people seated next to us asked about them (chicken, jalapeno mayo, crisp fresh tomato and romaine on a fresh baked Focaccia bread). These places are a must stop. Although au bon pain (At the Good Bread) is a chain it is worth mention here because west coast Hounds may not yet know about it yet.

http://www.aubonpain.com/locations/al...

There were more places on our list but we rain out of time. The coco places we went to were both closed when we were there but Starbucks coco was inside our Hotel and that was a help.
My Thanks again,

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  1. Wow, thanks JeetJet for such a thorough and mouth-watering report. It's such a treat to get feedback, especially from out-of-town guests. Congrats, your DC soul food-fest was very well planned!

    1. Great, great report. I wish I knew you were considering B. Smith's! I would have recommended the Swamp Thang, a bowl of crawfish, scallops, and shrimp over greens in a mustard cream sauce. Very wicked, and a truly great dish.

      Also, if you love pecan pie, then have you ever tried it at Apple Pan?

      Is there a place that you know of out West that would be like Oohs and Aahs?

      Good for you, not too many visitors get to a true hole-in-the-wall.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Steve

        Thanks Steve. Also, thanks for the rec of that Swamp Thang -- love that name, "thang," at B. Smith's. We both love D,C. and will return again and again and will go back to B. Smith's. That dinning room is special and you just have to wonder how many power people have had dinner in that room over the years -- presidents and such. The service was tops and the ice tea was special also.

        As for hole-in-the-wall places, LA has many but most are mexican food joints. In fact, there is a recent post on the LA baord with the OP seeking "hole-in-the-wall" places on the Westside. Not to discuss L.A. places here but if you want to try some L.A. pecan pie next time your in town just see the link below. I made my favs known there.

        Please keep L.A. discussion on L.A. board
        L.A. area discussion on pecan pie
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/567867

        My fav L.A. hole-in-the-wall
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/586256#

      2. Thanks for the great feedback. This is one thing Californian CHers do so well--awesome reviews. My husband happens to be in Charlottesville right now and loves fried chicken so I've forwarded your review to him.

        1. Just an FYI on Au Bon Pain....many of the locations up here in NorCal have closed. They were mostly in malls or shopping areas. Thanks for the great report...makes me nostalgic for my days living in DC.