I am very lucky to be able to travel to professional conferences in different cities once in a while. My profession has two major annual conferences: a huge national one in July and a smaller Southeastern conference in the spring. In a really good year, I get to attend both. Some years, my employer doesn’t have the budget to send me to either. But each and every conference I attend is a gift. I love them, because I get to visit and explore new cities, attend programs to help me improve at my job, learn from the best people in our field, catch up with my frolleagues (colleagues who have become friends), and eat at new restaurants along the way.
Our latest conference was in Washington D.C., and people are always shocked when I told them I’ve never been to our nation’s capital before. Well, better late than never! Even though this was a particularly busy conference, I was able to arrive a day early to play tourist.
That first day in D.C. was long and exhausting, but I credit a big breakfast at Reagan International Airport for giving me the strength to make it through. I arrived so early, I figured I should kill a little time before even taking the Metro to check into my hotel. And instead of the usual airport chains, I found a location of the Washington D.C. institution Ben’s Chili Bowl (https://www.benschilibowl.com/), a favorite of locals, tourists, celebrities, and even President Obama.
Of course, most people opt for the historic location on U Street, founded by Ben and Virginia Ali in 1958. While that would have been a lot more atmospheric, I couldn’t beat the convenience of passing right by it on my way out of the airport. And I had wanted to try Ben’s anyway, so it worked out perfectly.
So this was my healthy, balanced breakfast, around 9 AM after getting three hours of sleep the night before:
A spicy chili half-smoke sausage, grilled and served on a warm steamed bun with mustard, onions and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce. The tomato-based chili con carne was very thin, with finely-ground beef — a pretty-standard hot dog chili, but that’s the best kind to put on a dog.
The sausage itself had a nice bit of heat, but best of all was the snappiness it had, due to what was probably a natural casing. This is definitely the kind of thing to eat with a knife and fork, but of course I didn’t. Here’s a cross-section:
My long-time readers know I order onion rings whenever I can, to see if they match my very high standards. It’s a little recurring feature I like to call
RING THE ALARM!
For maybe the first time ever, I was a little disappointed that Ben’s served such a large portion of onion rings. I never eat breakfast, I was still tired, and I was steeling myself for a really busy, physical day, so I knew I couldn’t eat them all, and I would make myself sick trying. Luckily, they weren’t my absolute favorite kind of onion ring — instead of the golden beer battered rings I always seek, these had a crispy bread crumb coating that peeled off pretty easily. Not awful by any means, but not my favorite onion rings ever. I didn’t feel too guilty leaving some of them behind, since I knew they wouldn’t be worth dragging back to my hotel room to eat cold later.
And since this meal came with a huge, early morning blast of fat, salt, spice, and grease, I ordered a pineapple milkshake too, because I love pineapple anything, and I figured it would be cool and soothing after the spicy sausage, chili, and rings. It was very thick and refreshing, but I wish it had been more pineappley. It might have saved me from getting some acid reflux later on, so no regrets from me.
After that, I never made it to the original Ben’s Chili Bowl location for that historic D.C. dining experience, but I was content. I had always heard great things about Ben’s, and I’m glad I got to try the food for myself, even if it was in an airport location. This wasn’t bad at all, but the meals I ate in Washington D.C. only got better from here.