|The explosion of colorful signs juxtaposed against the neoclassical details of the|
building creates the kind of thrilling discord that makes our wacky tacky hearts
skip a beat...or maybe its just too many hot dogs and chili.
When discussing long-established Washington, D.C. institutions, The Smithsonian very quickly springs to mind. Well, after just two short days in the nation's capitol, it became clear that there are institutions and then there are INSTITUTIONS! Ben's Chili Bowl is a Washington INSTITUTION.
The founder of Ben's Chili Bowl, Ben Ali
In the same location since 1958, Ben's is a favorite of just about everyone. Among the usual monuments, museums, and mausoleums, nearly every recommendation we received for our trip included a stop for a "Half Smoke" at Ben's.
|The "Half Smoke," a smokey, grilled link in a natural casing,|
is clearly the favorite here . Only one sad, little row of regular
hot dogs populates the flat top grill.
There is definitely a well-heeded protocol at Ben's - NO NONSENSE. Like many culinary institutions of its kind, Ben's expects patrons to know their order before they even set foot in the ever-present line. The practice of curtness is one with which I've always experienced a measurable level of cognitive dissonance. On one hand, I love the tradition and the expectation that patrons won't create an undue delay by hemming and hawing and creating special orders; on the other hand, I wonder, "Would a sweet disposition and a smile be so terribly misplaced?" Just be warned, one thing you will not get at Ben's is a folksy welcome and a tolerance for indecision.
|What you might get is a celebrity sighting.|
Mr. President & Mr. Cosby - two of Ben's most famous patrons
|Why is it always the people who need it the least get all the freebies?|
A contrarian by nature, I have been accused of having difficulty "going with the flow." When any person, place, product becomes a "big thing," the overwhelming tendency is for me to turn up my nose and turn the other way. Knowing the code of conduct at Ben's, I overcame my ordinary obstinacy and ordered the standard Half Smoke like a regular.
Ben's famous "Half Smoke" comes with mustard, onions, the eponymous chili, and a side of Utz's potato Chips.
|Veggie Chili Cheese fries - shared among our crowd.|
I preferred the veggie chili to the beef option.
As always, I am happy to visit regional institutions and partake in their famous offerings. The Half Smoke was tasty but maybe didn't quite live up to the hype that it received. The funny thing is that it never occurred to me until now that ordering a bowl of chili was an option at Ben's Chili Bowl! I would say that next time I would order a bowl of veggie chili but Ben's felt more like a check mark than a return engagement - a definite must-see, must-eat, must-experience but one time only.
|I was hoping that the boomerang formica didn't prove|
some kind of ominous foreshadowing...I did not want
this meal repeating on me. It didn't.
Sometimes the best part about road trip food is the detox afterward. As tasty as chili dogs and french fries can be, there is such a renewal in fresh, unprocessed food. I say this from the safety of my home with a buffer of 2,500 miles between us; this kind of heresy would not be smiled upon by Ben's management (to say nothing of the dedicated patrons).
|I echo Ben's sentiments in saying, "Thank You...Come Again."|
Ben's Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW