Ben's Chili Bowl - D.C.

April 09 2009 - 11:59 PM

Recently, I was in D.C. for a visit and thought to stop by Ben's Chili Bowl. A prominent Washington establishment in business since 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl got an additional splash of publicity at the beginning of the year when (you guessed it) President Obama stopped by for lunch. Unfortunately, while there he inadvertently ruffled some feathers by asking "What's a half-smoke?" Ah Mr. President, if only you'd consulted your Blackberry before stepping foot into the city's most famous purveyor of half-smokes.

To explain, the half-smoke is a plump hot dog that has a spicy kick and is often made from equal parts pork and beef. It is found primarily in D.C., where it can be easily obtained from hot dog carts and street vendors. Curious, I showed up at Ben's one sunny Saturday afternoon, and was dismayed to find a lengthy Hot Doug's-worthy line wrapping around the building. However, with a much simpler menu, the line at Ben's moves about twice as fast. After about 25 minutes of waiting, I made it to the counter and dutifully ordered the chili half-smoke for lunch. Dozens of charred half-smokes lay on the adjacent grill and staff members shouted and sang as they bustled in the open kitchen. My meal was ready within a few minutes, a gloriously sloppy sausage topped with chili and served with chips.You can also opt to get fries instead, doused with cheese, chili or both.

Most amusing as you wait in line is a sign displayed in the kitchen that reads, "Who Eats Free at Ben's: Bill Cosby, The Obama Family." However, underneath "The Obama Family," someone had scrawled in, "But he paid!" It is good to know that even our commander-in-chief forked over for his lunch, though I suspect he was spared the indignity/joy of waiting in line like the rest of us plebeians.