Chili flights from last year's cook off

Saint Ex is having its third annual Chili Cook Off on Monday. If you’re in town – do stop on by, if I recall $10 will buy you a sampler of the chilis. There will also be face painting and wash-off tattoos for the kids, and a  lemonade stand for all.  The event goes from 12 to 4 pm – all of the proceeds benefit Garrison Elementary. See you there!

12 Chili Flights, yum!

12 Chili Flights, yum!

On Memorial Day, St. Ex hosted a chili cook off with all proceeds going to Ross Elementary’s cafeteria. For $3 you got a chili flights of 6 chilis and for $5 a big bowl of chili. There was face painting and lemonade as well. Metrocurean, who was a judge to determine the winner, tells us that the chef and manager of St. Ex and Bar Pilar ended up winning in a blind taste test. I didn’t end up staying around for the judging but went on the earlier side to avoid lines. It was a good time, and a nice neighborhood reach-out for a restaurant who has had some issues with the neighbors lately.

Half smoke benedict

Half smoke benedict

I noticed last weekend that while Ben’s Next Door was advertising that they were showing March Madness games, and they were also serving brunch. Score! I went in on Sunday and was thrilled to see an awesome, chili/half smoke inspired brunch menu. The food was great, my companions and I tried the half smoke benedict, Ben’s omelet, and the Belgian waffles. We liked it all. My one food complaint were the eggs in the benedict were a little over cooked for me, there were no runny yolks.

The other problem was, and the waiter/manager noted this, the food did take a while to come out. They’re still working out the kinks, and I don’t think they had enough people working there to get the food out in a quick manner. But the food was great. Thumbs up for that. And I confirmed that they’ll continue brunch after March Madness is over.

Pictures of the menu after the jump.

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Ben's amended sign

Ben's amended sign

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Ben’s has amended its sign regarding who eats for free.

Fabulous crab cake from Next Door

Fabulous crab cake from Next Door

Last night I was able to eat dinner at Ben’s Next Door. If you remember, I was skeptical about the “celebrity” chef they had brought in. But man, I was proven wrong. This was southern soul food done well. Nothing too fussy or fancy, just good.

First, they have their full menu available now. I’m not certain when this happened, but it’s good to see that the kitchen is in full swing. Here’s a taste of the menu (pictures of it after the jump) – appetizers range from $6 to $13, with spicy buffalo wings, crab cakes, soup, salad, and Savannah dry rubbed ribs. Entrees are a bit pricey, from $17 to $24, with fried chicken, duck fricasse, and braised beef short ribs. Sides are $5 to $8 and include fries and mac and cheese.

My two companions and I ordered an assortment of everything: spicy buffalo wings, crab cakes, roast tomato soup, mac and cheese, and fried chicken. The spicy buffalo wings were very good: spicy, but also complex, I swear I tasted some teriyaki in there. Man, the crab cake (as there was only one for $13) was out of this world. Very good, nearly all crab, I didn’t see any filler. Well cooked, at least an inch thick, it was good. The table of women next to us, who admitted to being a little drunk, said that the crab cake was the best they’d ever had in their lives. I might agree with that statement.

The roast tomato soup was fine, but nothing that blew me out of the water. The mac and cheese was very good, creamy and cheesy. The fried chicken was also great, but the “perfect” mashed potatoes they came with were not my standard of perfect, it didn’t seem like any cream or butter had been added to them, and they were a little bland. A down note on a good dinner.

For dessert the options were apple caramel pie, chocolate coconut pecan pie, and coconut cake, all for $8. We wanted the coconut cake, but were informed they were all out, so we split an apple caramel pie and a chocolate coconut pecan pie. The apple pie was good, the chocolate coconut pecan pie was too sweet for my taste.

The service was fine, though it did seem like our waitress had a waitress in training following her around, which was a little odd. We got seated right away at 8 on a Saturday night, which was great, the restaurant was full but there didn’t seem to be a wait.

I was very impressed with the food and will totally be back. One note though: the Ben’s inspired food – you can only order it at the bar.

More photos after the jump. (more…)

Line out the door at Ben's 1/20, courtesy of Andrew Bossi (Flickr)

Line out the door at Ben's 1/20, courtesy of Andrew Bossi (Flickr)

After a year and a half of living around the corner from Ben’s Chili Bowl, I’ve only seen a line out the door and in the alley a handful of times. The first time was their 50th anniversary celebration in August of 2008, and all of the subsequent times have been in the past week. It’s insane. In a given day, I walk by Ben’s a few times getting to and from where I need to go, and nearly every time I’ve walked by since last Saturday, there’s been a line out the door. I thought it had finally gotten less busy on Friday when around 8 pm there was no line out the door, but today when I walked by around 2 pm there was a freakin’ line out the door AGAIN.

What gives? I know that Barack Obama’s visit has risen the profile of Ben’s, but surely all of the inauguration tourists have headed home by now. And it’s not like Ben’s was unbusy before President Obama visited, but you could go in at say, 5 pm on a Tuesday and have 2 people in line in front of you instead of 300. I don’t really understand where all of these people are coming from, did people who live in the area decide it’d been too long since they’d been and all head out at the same time? I don’t know.

I just hope that these long lines will dissipate and that people from the ‘hood like me can still go without waiting for 2 hours on a random afternoon. I’m glad Ben’s is doing great business (can you imagine how much money they’ve made in the last week?) but I do hope it dies down a bit so when I have a hankering for a half smoke or chili cheese fries I don’t have to wait outside in the cold for hours to get it.

Ben's Next Door's new sign

Ben's Next Door's new sign

Just yesterday, Ben’s Next Door got it’s own sweet new sign. I also noticed that while it wasn’t lit up last night, it is lit up now. I dig it a lot.