Monday, February 19, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Food with a history at Ben's Chili Bowl

 When researching places I had to eat in Washington, DC, one that kept coming up was Ben's Chili Bowl. A DC staple since 1958, Ben's holds a special place in the city's African American community and the civil rights movement.

The original location is on U street, in a traditionally African American community that is changing with gentrification. Ben's donated food to MLK's March on Washington in 1963 and stayed open during the DC riots of 1969 serving food to everyone. It's been visited by many famous faces -- I sat at the Obama table.

They have a few locations now, but I went to the original on U Street which is thankfully Metro-adjacent. It certainly has that old, historic diner feel. You order at the counter and then they bring it to your table.

In addition to chili, Ben's is also known for the half smoke. According to Wikipedia, it's a DC regional hot dog (I love regional hot dog specialties) that is "Larger, spicier, and with more coarsely-ground meat than a regular hot dog, the sausage is often half-pork and half-beef, smoked." 

Definitely sounded better to me than a Seattle dog...

I ordered a small bowl of chili con carne, with sour cream, onion and cheddar cheese, as well as a half smoke chili dog and a soda. This came, to my surprise when they brought it to me, with a bag of chips -- I dipped them in the chili which was probably the idea.

The chili was excellent and I could easily see why it's renowned. Rich, flavourful, complex, meaty -- I could easily have eaten a large. But I wanted to save space for my chili half smoke. It was good, but it was hard to judge the uniqueness of the hot dog when it's smothered in chili.

Glad I got to try this DC landmark and would definitely go back. Chili to warm the soul.

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Eating all the calories at Shahe Shack

Right now I am am averaging about one visit to Shake Shack a year, since they are only in the United States. I went a year ago November in New York City, and this past December during a trip to Washington, DC. 

It's good they're so far away because they are both so good and so bad for me. I hear they may be coming to Toronto though, and that would be bad news for my diet.

But until such a day they're a rare treat, and one I gladly walked several blocks on a chilly DC day to have for a late lunch. They're also not cheap; part of this could be the exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollars not being swell.

Anyways, I went to the kiosk and ordered a double bacon cheeseburger, crinkle fries with cheese, and one of their limited time Trolls shakes -- the Cinnamon Roll Shake. That's a lot but hey, once a year amiright?

Holy crap it was so good. The burger was greasy cheesy goodness. Every bite you know it's bad for you but it just tastes so good. The cheese sauce makes the fries delicious. And the shake, I love cinnamon and it was just delicious. I may or may not have had a nap before going to the hockey game that night.

I do still want to try In and Out, the California rival to Shake Shack, one more time to settle the rivalry for my own view once and for all. But Shake Shack will be tough to beat. And if they do come to Toronto, tough to resist.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Bougie breakfast at KŌST in Toronto

 During a trip a little while back to downtown Toronto, I found myself in the market for a leisurely breakfast/brunch. Not feeling the local greasy spoons, which, to be honest, aren't exactly cheap anyways, we decided to lean in to the bougie breakfast and try KŌST.

Located inside the also bougie (based on the lobby, anyways) Bisha Hotel, KŌST is on the 44th floor and offers a very nice view of the CN Tower and downtown Toronto with floor to ceiling windows. The patio looks like a hot summer hangout, but we were there on a chilly almost winter day so were glad for the indoor heating.

There's a well-curated breakfast and brunch menu, and, of course, some boozy breakfast cocktails. I decided to put together my own breakfast by combining a few of the sides, ordering the chorizo sausage, the naturally smoked bacon, and some sourdough toast with butter.

It was all delicious. The highlight and best value was definitely the chorizo sausage. Two full-sized sausages (I had demolished half of one when I remembered to take the photo) for $10 is comparable to sausage cart pricing. And this is quality, locally-sourced butcher sausage. The side of bacon was also $10; not as good value as the sausage but still sinfully delicious. The bread was fresh and the butter quality.

Definitely recommend this spot if you're in the mood for a bougie breakfast with a view in downtown Toronto.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Eating off the Hill: Restaurant Moccione in Montreal

My favourite meal in Montreal probably came on my last night. During my  pre-trip research, Restaurant Moccione had come up a few times as one of the better restaurants in the city -- an unassuming spot in the PM's riding of Papineau. A bit of a subway trip from downtown, but I thought I would give it a try.

I'm glad I did. It's a small spot in a quiet neighborhood, tucked into a corner, but a cozy spot with an impressive walk-in wine cellar.

I wish I had come slightly hungrier, as the menu looked all good, but I did have smoked meat earlier in the day. So I decided to not go crazy and order a nice pasta dish: Agnolotti stuffed with beef, mushrooms, jus de viande,  parmigiano.

It was truly excellent. Every bite rich and flavourful. The pasta cooked perfectly, the mushrooms delish, the meaty sauce rich and flavourful, the parm a nice bit of salt to complement. And it was the perfect size for my limited appetite. 

I don't often order pasta when dining out, but pasta done right is a real treat and this hit the spot.

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Eating off the Hill: First visit to the iconic Schwartz's Deli

Every other time I've been to Montreal it has either been for sports, like a Habs or Expos game, or for political, like a Liberal conference. This was the first trip where I had the time to just tool around the city, and so it was the first time I made it to a Montreal landmark: Schwartz's Deli.

There's one other reason I had never made it, and don't come at be y'all. But I'm not the biggest smoke meat guy. It's OK, just not a huge fan. But I had plenty of time this trip and it was high time to knock a Montreal institution off the list.

I ventured uptown on transit, and while I was trying to avoid the lunch rush I was already greeted with a line. I joined the que but was quickly pulled put and ushered in as a solo diner, with a seat having opened at the counter.

One other confession that will horrify the purists: I don't like mustard. No mustard for me. Also don't like pickles. I know you're all shaking your fists at me behind your phones.

So I ordered a smoked meat sandwich, no mustard, no side pickles. And a Diet Coke -- while I was tempted by the Black Cherry cola, I was and am trying to avoid sugar.

It was...fine. A lot of meat, rye bread was fresh. But it was dry and kind of one note. I fully accept that's largely my fault since I held the mustard. I learned later that I I could have ordered it with fattier, juicier meat (wet, in the parlance of Texas BBQ) and would have been a less dry sandwich.

Still, I enjoyed the experience and am glad to have had this quintessential Montreal experience.

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