HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >

Discussion

ben's chili bowl

  • k

what happened to the website? anyone have a clue, it says it has exceeded it's bandwith. is it due to the inaugural activities, etc. and/or having a big celebration so that there are may flash or media additions to the website.???

thanks.

also, how are the slices of sweet potato cake and red velvet cake. thanks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. I have no doubt it is due to all the extra "hits" it got once the news got out that Obama ate there.

    36 Replies
    1. re: charmedgirl

      And because Anthony Bourdain aired his DC episode last night and this one one of the places he dined.

      1. re: MrsWheatie

        Dined? It's a hot dog/chili joint.

        I've eaten here before and it's a greasy spoon that serves comfort junk food.

        I did read that the owners are opening up a high end restaurant and the executive chef will be Rock from Hell's Kitchen show.

          1. re: MrsWheatie

            it's just semantics and perspective folks.

            although when I've been, I've 'wolfed'.

          2. re: Chownut

            Pretty sure Ben's Next Door isn't going to be high-end, but more of a lounge with similar fare as the original. And a liquor license.

            1. re: monkeyrotica

              I personally have never been....yet...to Ben's Chilli bowl...and I am anxious to try it! I just want to say that quite often the greasy spoons are as satisfying (if not more so) than the new, trendy, gourmet place. There is nothing like good basic food, (at times) IMO !

              1. re: chicken kabob

                Just don't get your expectations too high about the food. But - if you live around here you should go at least once. I did. 6 years ago or such.

                1. re: chicken kabob

                  Lowered expectations are the coin of the realm at Ben's. Some tourist waiting in the line that stretched around the block said he was there because he saw it on Food Network and heard it was "the best chili outside Texas." HIGH-larious! Ben's chili comes out of a can and is doctored with some "secret" spices. It's all about the natural casing made in Baltimore halfsmoke, the rough ground meat, grilled over low heat until the skin crisps and the fat inside burns your mouth. With mustard and onions and some of that plain old canned chili, there's nothing better on a cold day, or any old day.

                  1. re: chicken kabob

                    There is absolutely nothing special about the food at Ben's Chili Bowl. It's a fun experience, and it's more about pride of place than it is about eating something good. Three of the most important Chowhound holes-in-the wall are in this neighborhood,and you'd do better by supporting Oohs and Aahs, Queen Makeda, or Thai X-ing. If you're still hungry afterward, then by all emans gotoBen's - it will still be open.

                  2. re: monkeyrotica

                    I'd be shocked if it isn't at least posing as a high end joint.

                    For Rock, he'd be going from working with a 12 Michelin Star chef like Gordon Ramsey to a lower end lounge with a liquor license?

                    Not sure if that's the smartest career move.

                    1. re: Chownut

                      Next Door is open and Chef Rock Harper is there. Did anybody else witness the long, long, long lines over the Inauguration weekend? OMG - it was as though all the tour buses were told to head to U Street for a taste of the "real" DC.

                      Not sure what will be on the dinner menu, but at the bar, expect to find things like shrimp and grits, ribs, crabcakes, and yes, chili cheese dogs late into the night.

                      1. re: crackers

                        I'm from California, ate at Ben's when I was here last summer ... didn't know at the time that it was an institution. Anyway last night I went with some friends to Next Door (I'm in DC several times a year ...) the kitchen has only been open a few weeks so they are still getting their act together. All in all it was good. It is a totally different vibe (and menu) than Ben's. The bar area is huge but apparently they serve food up there too. The dining area is relatively intimate but noisy (noisy seems to be standard for all new restaurants; someday the iPod generation will understand what it's like for us middle aged guys with hearing loss but meantime I just have to turn up my hearing aid and read lips). I would say our server was a bit inexperienced, but attentive and prompt without hovering. They have about 10-12 beers on tap, a good selection, but she wasn't a beer drinker and couldn't describe any of them. But when I asked about some beers she knew nothing about, she brought samples - all was good with the world. The kitchen was trying out some new appetizers and sent samples to us for our opinion - the roasted onion marmalade was a bit bland, but the chicken salad was fantastic. Our appetizers were a crab cake (when in Rome ...) which was standard and good; and a roasted tomato with buffalo mozzarella - just right, roasted but not mushy, with just a sprinkle of seasoned bread crumbs. The hit of the night was the short ribs, brined in Guinness, served with a rich sweet potato mash. Tender and delicious. The salmon with crispy skin was perfectly cooked, on a bed of mashed potatoes and fried spinach. The chef came and chatted with us (I don't watch Hell's Kitchen so I didn't know who he is, but earnest and seems to know his food). I asked him the source of the salmon, and he said in a kind of embarrassed tone that they used farmed salmon because it's more consistent and the gaminess of wild salmon is too much for some people ... hmmmmm. Well it was really good though I'm anti-farmed salmon and generally find it bland, so he's buying from a good farm. Finally the fried chicken was a bit of a disappointment. It was boneless chicken breast but the server told us that due to the brining it is very moist. Nope. Very tasty, with mashed potatoes and kale (delicious) - but the chicken was pretty darn dry. Delicious apple pie and decent red velvet cake (I thought it quite good but my friends thought it was on the dry side). With 6 beers and two G&Ts the tab came to less than $200 before tip ... really not bad at all for a very good meal.

                        1. re: Bobierto

                          This is today, 2009.
                          Agreed
                          But compared to 1960"s on up, Ben's which was NEVER a major half smoke destination, Day light or night life, except for Bill cosby, for Traditional DC Half Smokes. It is a nice place for other fare, like the pancake house on 450 in Maryland near 410. I have had them as far away as San Francisco, Dotties.
                          You could find them every where in DC, I grew up here, better than Ben's. Honest. As times have changed and we, local DC folks from back in the day, have no alternatives, that have gone to Ben's have noticed, Ben's had dropped in quality for the past 3 or 4 years. Today they are a tourist trap deal, but all that you can find, locally, of the old DC. Not the best, or close, just all that remains in town. Like the Florida ave. Grill, not the same but still there.

                          Those of you from afar, enjoy, but this is not the "Half Smoke" DC experience. Alas It may be all there is, but it is a money maker none the less. it was a hole in the wall meal, found every where, while you waited on the bus, not one had a car and the Bus was king, like the chinese Yum's, Dannys, etc are found today. And in those days, that is where you found Mumbo sauce. Not the Chinse joints. And oh yeah, Vegas Lounge was a strip club; With Mumbo sauce. So, enjoy today, it has no connection to the real DC flavor High school driven half smoke/ fries/shake culture pushed at Ben's. But I will admit, it was good when it was good. But not now. Peace

                          1. re: RobertM

                            I'm sorry but Ben's then and Ben's now is much more than just a half smoke with chili. To the best of my knowledge Wings and Things on 14th just south of U originated Mumbo sauce in D. C. This is a recent post of mine from another board:

                            I worked at the Safeway at 14th and U in 1963 when I had just turned 16 and was going to Blair in Silver Spring. It was a very different world then. I know that excepting the manager (a separate story) I was the only white who worked at that store. I also know that I was sort of a "curiosity" on my first visits to Ben's and Wings and Things across the street. Living in the suburbs only added to my seeming to not fit in.

                            Over time I was accepted, over time I became good friends with a student who then was in his first or second year at Howard. Because of my friendship with him I felt comfortable going to Ben's once every couple of weeks as well as the Howard Theatre. At some point I bought a car and usually parked next to a club called "The Spa" at 14th and Swann. At the time the neighborhood had begun to acquire a reputation, at least with the D. C. police who regularly busted working girls who strolled next to where I would park.

                            I thought about all of this last Monday when I walked on the Mall, the day before Obama's inauguration. I thought about this when I watched CNN replay Martin Luther King's speech. In 45 years this really is a different world. Ben's is still there. The place had great character, great personality in the early '60's. And a mediocre halfsmoke with what has always tasted like canned or, at best, cheap chili. But Ben's was never about that. It was about stopping in after a visit to the Howard or Bohemian Caverns or the Republic theater. At one in the morning or later. There was a time, after '68, that I couldn't do this. Nor could I have worked at that Safeway which eventually was torn down.

                            While the restaurant really hasn't changed there has been an education outside it's door. While, for me, Ben's food has never got any better D. C.-and much of America-have taken small but positive steps. There is so much that I can say, so much that I still remember. But I doubt if many really understand what Martin Luther King meant then. What it meant when he was killed. What it meant when so much of America burned after. Few of us then really understood. I think even fewer today have any idea. Working at that Safeway was, for me, my own education.

                            Ben's Chili Bowl is testimony to a different time in this city when many in Hybla Valley and Woodbridge had a Southern tinged accent almost fifty years ago and temporary buildings lined the Mall left over from World War II. It is a great restaurant, a landmark but not because of its food. Rather because of what it meant for the community then and its role today.

                            President Obama will find a better hot dog in Chicago but at Ben's it's really not about a half smoke or chili.

                            1. re: Joe H

                              Joe, I think you nailed it. Excellent post.

                              1. re: Joe H

                                Wish I could've gone once to Wings N' Things. I heard an impromptu call-in years back on the radio by Bill Cosby who said that it was his favorite place. He said that when coming back to perform on stage, he'd go there and get take-out and take it back to the hotel (some related story about the elevator rides with others while holding this). He mentioned the sauce, and then said that his favorite part was the Things, rather than the Wings.

                                There's a place off Security Blvd in B-More, behind the Panera, with the same name. There's no chance anyone has a line on this place? And I'm assuming there's no chance that it's related in any way to the place no longer existing in DC?

                                1. re: Joe H

                                  I used to get half-smokes at a little newsstand across from Hofberg's on Eastern Ave. Would you remember the name of the place or the fellow that ran it?

                                  1. re: Joe H

                                    There used to be wing shops all over the city. Why do you say Mumbo Sauce originated with Wings n Things?

                                    In 1976, My favorite place was Sonny's Wings on 15th St, SE just north of Mass Ave. Right next to a liquor store. You could go in and all they had was wings. The sign had a price for one wing, two wings ..... counting all the way up to fifty wings (or so). Sonny was a legend, but on a different side of town.

                                    Now, it's been a very long time since I've had wings with Mumbo Sauce. If you've had them anywhere more recently, what did you think? Anyone?

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Yums on 14th used to have the best wings/mambo sauce. I'm pretty sure they're the original, but I haven't been since I lived in the neighborhood. I tend to get mine at "Evil" Danny's on H NE, across the street from Horace & Dickies. Cheap and fried hard. They're also one of the few carryout places that still sells fried gizzards. $5 with frenchfries. They also serve halfsmokes but I've never ordered them and never see anyone else order them as well. This is the place with the notorious steak-and-cheese-and-onion-and-ham-and-bacon sub. Although, my current favorite wings are at Magic Wok in Bel Haven. Meaty, crispy, not greasy. The problem is that most Chinese carryouts don't fry at a high enough temperature, so the skin doesn't blister and the meat absorbs the grease. The mambo sauce is kinda tricky; some places do a modified bbq sauce which is too sweet, or a food-dyed cough syrup sauce that's too cherry-esque. Anyway, definitely need something sweet to cut the saltiness/oil of the wings.

                                      -----
                                      Danny's Carryout
                                      1251 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002

                                      Magic Wok Cafe
                                      1508 Belle View Blvd, Alexandria, VA 22307

                                      1. re: Steve

                                        Steve, the first time I went to Wings and Things on 14th street was in 1963. The guys at the Safeway used to make a big deal out of them-this was the only place that they went to and ordered them. I could be wrong but I just assumed that it was because it was the first.

                                      2. re: Joe H

                                        I always liked Polack Johnny's in Lexington Market. That was my standard for half smokes and polish sausages going back decades. Had one last year and still liked it but again, half of it is memory lane like Ben's being a landmark destination rather than a food destination, but you know I think that about White House too. ;-)

                                        1. re: Ellen

                                          The very first day that I turned 16 I drove from Silver Spring to Baltimore, lied and sat in the front row of the Gayety on E. Baltimore street. At that time "the Block" was actually about five blocks. Over the next two years friends of mine and I from high school made similar treks to Baltimore, similarly lied about our age and unhesitatingly, mannishly, perhaps stupidly sat in the front row. On several trips when the show was over I noted that some of the very same "performers" we saw on stage could be found at Polock Johnny's after the theatre closed wolfing down Polocks "all the way."

                                          Neon light makes a difference in one's perception.

                                          1. re: Joe H

                                            Actually, my dad took me to the first Polack Johnny's on the Block. I was shocked. Shocked! But it was during the day and then I had a half smoke and understood why he took me there, along with Hausners and all these roughneck little crab places he took me in the industrial district that are probably long gone too. He also took us to some interesting places in NYC and Philly that most fathers would never dream of taking their kids just to eat the food. Dad was a serious chow hound long before it was called that. But he was just as happy eating pigs feet and head cheese as whatever goodies Chef Tell came up with.

                                        2. re: Joe H

                                          There was a chili parlor on E Street Northwest between 10th and 11th streets, It opened and closed during the first half of the 1970's. I THOUGHT that I liked greasy, hotter chili. This place featured very greasy hot, hotter and hottest bowls of chili. I couldn't handle even the mild.

                                          1. re: Joe120

                                            This sounds like the place my mom used to talk about. She'd take the streetcar downtown to shop at Woodies, then later the bus. She mentioned there used to be a chili parlor in the neighborhood. Any idea of the name?

                                            I know the original Hot Shoppes in Columbia Heights served chili. J. Willard Marriot worked as a cowboy and brought his chili recipes with him when he opened the Hot Shoppes.

                                            http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...

                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                              That is the original store on Park Road?

                                              1. re: RobertM

                                                Yes. The Hot Shoppes at Park Road and 14th Street was the first of the chain which later grew into the Marriot Hotel empire.

                                                I wish they still had A&W Rootbeer stands there.

                                                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriott...

                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                  My mom worked there in the 1950's and early 60's. The Georga Ave Hot Shop at Gallitan Street she would bring out Mighty Mo's, Teen Twist, and sometimes those hot fudge sunday's. I think we still have some of those hot shop plates. You couldn't break em. Anyway hope someone brings back the Mighty Mo.

                                        3. re: RobertM

                                          The original halfsmokes can still be had at Weenie Beenie and Burger Delight. And Mangers still makes them in Baltimore, and you can still buy them fresh at Canales Meats in Eastern Market to make at home. These are the same coarse grind, natural casing halfsmokes they serve at Ben's. Mild or spicy. I get a couple pounds each every few weeks.

                                          http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/di...

                                          -----
                                          Weenie Beenie
                                          2680 S Shirlington Rd, Arlington, VA 22206

                                          Burger Delite
                                          5650 Edsall Rd, Alexandria, VA

                                          Canales Quality Meats
                                          225 7th St SE, Washington, DC

                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                            That's a great article that appeared in the City Paper. Extensively researched, well written-even interviewed the most important people...me!!! (I was quoted in it. When I drove a cab while going to college I once gave the owner of Briggs a ride to his home off of River road in Potomac. We talked about food for almost the whole ride after he'd mentioned that he owned Briggs. I grew up eating half smokes with chili at Eddie's Variety Stand on Eastern across from Hofberg's ((mentioned above)) and felt like he was a real celebrity! Anyway, when we got to his house he asked me to wait, went inside and returned with my tip: a package of Briggs half smokes!

                                            In truth I always thought that Polock Johnny's on East Baltimore street was better. A "Polock all the way" was the definitive hot dog. for the Mid Atlantic in my opinion. But I could never tell anybody that in the D. C. area. I should also note that two of my best friends today grew up in Lynchburg in the '60's and they tell stories of the "Texas Tavern" which also had a location in Roanoke. The Texas Tavern in Roanoke dates to 1930; today it is known as the "Texas Inn." Sooner or later I'm going to stop in one of these and see how it compares to what I had in D. C. back then. I also wonder if there's any relationship to Hazel's Chili on U Street or the place in Falls Church and another in Arlington. The original chili at Hard Times was based on Hazel's which you could order "wet" and "extra wet," i.e. grease literally ladelled on top. The Texas Tavern/Inn: http://www.choppedonion.com/id50.html

                                            There is probably a book out somewhere that talks about small town chili parlors with "Texas" or "Texas Hots" in the name. Staunton had one, Shamokin, PA had one-I've seen them all over small towns in the Mid Atlantic with a number of them surviving today.

                                            1. re: Joe H

                                              I'm trying this one again - anyone know of any connection from the B-More Wings N' Things and the former one in DC?

                                              I'll also gladly read any reviews.

                                              1. re: Joe H

                                                Joe--If you ever write a book about growing up in DC, I want a copy.

                                                Do you consult for George Pelecanos?

                                2. re: MrsWheatie

                                  Ohhh. That's even more likely. Heh, I can't stand Bourdain and don't watch his show, so I didn't know. Good call Mrs. Wheatie.