Here’s a foodcentric round-up of what’s happening in the ‘hood:

Finally, Uncle Brutha's!

Finally, Uncle Brutha's!

I had noticed that Ben’s Next Door served my favorite hot sauce, by Uncle Brutha’s, which immediately earned the restaurant credibility in my book. However, when I recently ran out of my supply, I beleaguered the fact that I couldn’t find another hot sauce that stood up to it, and was having trouble locating the stuff since their store closed at Eastern Market. Then I saw PoP’s post on Uncle Brutha’s, saying they’d opened a temporary store in Adams Morgan. Great! However, I walked over there and it turns out the temporary store has closed. Sizing up my options and considering buying on the Internet, I saw that Uncle Brutha’s website had been updated to tell me that Next Door not only serves their hot sauce, they sell it as well.

Score!

I went in after work today, to stock up on my Uncle Brutha’s. I don’t think anyone else had come in to buy it, but they were helpful and courteous as they got the sauce and wrung me up. So hot sauce fiends, here’s a tip: buy your Uncle Brutha’s at Next Door.

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…)

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.

Ben's Next Door, open

Ben's Next Door, open

After hearing from my roommate that she’d spent part of New Year’s Eve at Ben’s Next Door (and being incredibly jealous) I had to check it out and see if it was open. It is, sort of: it’s had its soft opening; there is a full bar and some small plates from the chef as well as Ben’s classics re-thought. A full menu will be available in a week or so. I also learned from friendly Rob that there is a possibility of them serving BRUNCH on the weekends. That got me very excited.

The place was relatively crowded for a bar that hadn’t even opened yet. I have a feeling it will be packed on weekends. There were a few glitches to be expected from a place that had just opened: I sat at a high table near the bar with a companion and it wasn’t quite clear if we were supposed to order from the bar or if a server would attend to us. The management staff though was very attentive, stopping by often to see how our experience was.

The menu itself is small for now – small plates from the chef (who was also walking around and introducing himself to diners, as well as giving autographs) and a few classics from Ben’s, but more upscale. The beer menu is extensive (prices ranged from $5 for a Bud to $10 for Chimay), and well priced: Delirium, on tap, was $7. Wine is available by the glass ($6 to $14), and champagne by the bottle as well as glass.

I wish I hadn’t eaten dinner before I went or I would have more room to taste some of the dishes. I plan to be back real soon to offer a more detailed report. More pictures from Next Door after the jump. (more…)

The Washington Post informs us that Hell’s Kitchen winner, Alexandria native Rahman Harper will be the chef at Next Door. Apparently the original concept for Next Door is changing – once meant to be a relaxed place to get a beer with a half smoke, in the past few weeks the Ali family has decided to make it more “upscale” – while half smokes will still be on the menu, so will ravioli stuffed with turkey, marscapone, and sweet potato.

I don’t know about this. I know it would be silly for Next Door to have a copy cat of Ben’s menu with beer. And I like that the the inside has a different look than Ben’s: cool, inviting, warm, with all of the wood. And I’m fine with changing the menu to offer some other dishes, it only makes sense. But bringing in a quasi-celebrity chef? I’m skeptical.

As some might have guessed by my banner on the blog, I’m a devoted Ben’s Chili Bowl fan. I love the food, the atmosphere, and the history of the place. I was one of the most excited to hear that Ben’s had bought the empty retail space next door and was turning it into everyone’s dream, Ben’s with alcohol. If you’ve walked by, you can tell it’s very close to opening, all the furniture is there, even the beer taps are in the bar. Prince of Petworth was able to get a sneak peak into the bar, he says:

The space is very warm and comfortable and a bit more upscale than the original shop next door. Nizam [the co-owner] was sure to explain that “we love Ben’s exactly like it is.” He explained that the new spot is “a chance for the second generation to do something ourselves while paying tribute to Ben’s and keeping Ben’s exactly the way it is.” He also emphasized that Next Door will be a comfortable spot with the same atmosphere as the original Ben’s. “It’s not going to be a trendy place it is going to be about service, friendliness and fun,” said Nizam… While the menu is not finalized, in addition to the traditional Ben’s fare, you’ll likely be able to find wings, nachos, bigger burgers, salads and the possibility of “getting some veggie.s” Nizam explains, “we don’t want to be ‘bougie’ high end, everything at Ben’s is tasty we it to be the same thing here.”

Solid. I’m looking forward to it. It should be open before or a little after the new year.