Thu 22 Oct 2009
There are some food-focused TV shows we love, like Top Chef, No Reservations, and America’s Test Kitchen. And there are others whose premise we’re not entirely on board with…Bizarre Foods, I’m looking at you.
Until recently, Man versus Food fell squarely into that second category. There was something about the idea of a guy repeatedly taking on “big eater” type challenges that seemed unnecessary at best and unhealthy at worst.
But then I actually bothered to watch an episode or two (okay, it may have been a marathon) and found a show that was part travelogue, part comedy…and part “big eater” challenge. It was more than I had guessed it would be, and I found myself liking host Adam Richman’s enthusiasm, humor and outsized personality. He was more than just a host; he came across as a cheerleader for wherever he was visiting.
In each episode, Richman takes viewers to a couple of honest-to-goodness local establishments before taking on his challenge. It may be a lunch counter or a burger joint, but it’s always the kind of place that locals hate to see revealed on national television.
And then I heard Man v. Food would be filming in DC – and in our neighborhood, no less! The epsiode aired last night, and we tuned in to see a couple of Washington’s landmark dining spots.
Details on the episode and highlights from Ben’s Chili Bowl and Horace & Dickies after the jump.
The episode begins, as so many other food-travel shows have, with a visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl. In fact, the entire episode was dedicated to founder Ben Ali, who passed away two weeks ago. Knowing that Ben’s was going to be in the spotlight yet again, I reached out to Nizam Ali, the “Keeper of the Legacy” as he’s described on the show. During the episode, Nizam makes a batch of Ben’s famous chili with host Adam Richman and then sits with him in the now-famous Obama Booth as Richman snaps into a chili half smoke.
The requisite reference to superfan Bill Cosby (complete with a game attempt at a Cosby impression by Richman) served as a reminder that Ben’s Chili Bowl is likely to see a number of celebrities over the next few days. Starting tomorrow, Ben’s will provide open mic time for comics who are in town performing in the Bentzen Ball, a comedy festival taking place around town this weekend. According to Nizam, Ben’s was happy to participate, but they had a couple of stipulations…the events needed to be free, open to the public, and exclusively clean language. If you couldn’t get tickets to see Patton Oswalt or Sarah Silverman, you might just be able to catch them doing late-night sets at Ben’s.
And perhaps the most eagerly anticipated celebrity is the Cos himself. Next Monday night, Bill Cosby will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in a sold-out awards ceremony that will feature comedians like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld as well as other entertainers paying tribute to Cosby. Knowing his love for Ben’s, it’s a pretty safe bet he’ll stop in for a bite (and to pay his respects to the Ali family) while he’s in town.
Nizam said he was hopeful that the Man v. Food appearance would bring more guests to the restaurant’s website, where they could check out the online store. Fans from across the country will be able to order half-smokes, chili, apparel and even gift cards online and have a little bit of Ben’s delivered right to their doors. As Nizam said, “We want to be a great choice for our customers for gifts and holiday shopping. Make it easy, ship some Ben’s!”
After spending time at Ben’s, Richman left U Street and headed for H Street, Northeast. He paid a visit to Horace & Dickie’s, a neighborhood fish joint that has been serving the H Street Corridor for almost twenty years now. This is one of those neighborhood staples that almost everyone around town has heard of, but surprisingly few people from other neighborhoods actually visit.
Located around the corner from the original Taylor Gourmet, Horace & Dickie’s is almost always recognized by its line out the door. The space inside is tight, with a long counter running down the left side of shop and separating the customers from the fryers and other cooking surfaces. A few coolers along the right-hand wall hold sodas and delicious homemade pies in classic flavors like sweet potato and bean.
Richman’s visit to Horace & Dickie’s took place during the day shift – so be sure to make a special trip for lunch if you want to meet “Big Mama” Marshall. Marshall worked with Richman to fry up a batch of whiting and assemble a jumbo fish sandwich that features six filets, cole slaw, hot sauce, tartar sauce, and eight slices of bread. It’s a mammoth meal, especially considering the fact that the standard sandwich features four filets and is more than enough food for two people on its own. In addition to the fish sandwiches, Horace & Dickie’s serves up an array of soul food favorites as side dishes, including collard greens and creamy macaroni and cheese.
In preparation for last night’s episode, we paid a visit to Horace & Dickies and picked up a fish sandwich of our own. We were impressed with the light breading – which we learned from the show was a result of their not using any binding agents to coat the fish with their spiced cornmeal crust. And the fact that the fish was fried as we ordered it allowed us to get it home and still have the filets glistening with oil and scalding hot. The flavors weren’t quite as bold as we had hoped, but the hot sauce that came with the fish added to the taste significantly. We finished off our meal-sized sandwich and tried a homemade sweet potato pie for dessert. It was rich, with strong flavors of vanilla and spice and a buttery crust.
We ate really well at Horace & Dickie’s and still walked away with change for our $10. We might not have been blown away by the fish itself, but the history of the establishment and the overall experience definitely make it an H Street tradition worth holding onto. We actually found ourselves grateful to Adam Richman for giving it some national attention.
And although his gluttonous challenges still make me cringe a bit, I definitely enjoyed the episode.