Another day, another supposed catch-up... and another couple of hours spent skimming through photos when I should really have been working. Whoops.
During the Boston trip last year - as in the last post - I popped down to DC for a few days for another feature. As I'd discovered the year before, DC is far easier to negotiate via internal flights than international ones. People take the mickey out of Luton and Gatwick being classified as "London" airports but hell, at least you can get sensibly priced public transport into "proper" London. Dulles is bloody miles and an expensive cab ride from the city.
Anyway, that's not important right now. What is more important is that the food in DC is some of the best I've found in the US. Over the last few years, more and more people have moved back into the city and that's inspired an impressive renaissance in the restaurant scene. One of these days I might write a post on some of the newer places I visited (including Kapnos, possibly the best laid out restaurant I've ever seen). I might write something on the brilliant Burger Tap & Shake (two visits to DC, four visits to BTS should tell you something). But, with thoughts of Charlie's still on my mind, it's one of DC's more vintage / legendary spots that's prompted this post - and, happily, unlike Charlie's, it's unlikely to close anytime soon.
Ben's Chilli Bowl is a DC fixture. The counter, booths and stalls date from opening day in 1958 and the chilli is still made to founder Ben Ali's recipe. It's a fantastic example of a place that doesn't do anything spectacularly clever but does what it does brilliantly. Bill Cosby has been a fan for years and his favourite - the original chilli half smoke - carries his name and was the "must have" dish recommended by the customers either side of me. For a long time, Cosby was the only name on the restaurant's "List of Who Eats Free", a piece of A4 taped to the wall. In 2008 though, he was joined by President Obama and his family. It's a policy reflected in the rather brilliant mural outside.
It was, inevitably, bloody marvellous. The chilli is rich, with a little bite and the sausage - half pork, half beef - had a textbook snap and a hint of smoke. The plan had been couple of bites, move on - and, contrary to appearances, I'm actually pretty disciplined on these various food research trips. The reality was I inhaled the thing and walked the two miles or so back to my hotel to try and justify it.