Jump to content

Next Door, Next Door to Ben's Chili Bowl - Featuring a 53-Foot Bar and 9 Flat-Screen TVs


Recommended Posts

One evening about a year ago, I was at a tiny dinner party out in the exurbs of Virginia, having nothing to do with the restaurant world, and in walked a couple I'd never met. I was introduced to the gentleman, who was named Nizam, and we began chatting politely.

At one point, the inevitable "so what do you do" came up, and he said that he owned a restaurant.

"Really? What's the name of the restaurant?"

"It's a place in Washington called Ben's Chili Bowl."

I looked at him like he was crazy. "Ben's Chili Bowl?"

"Yeah."

I said, "You've got to be kidding me."

He looked at me like I was crazy. "Why?"

"Are you Nizam Ali?"

He looked at me, again, like I was crazy. "Yes, how do you know me?"

"You've got to be kidding me."

And as it turns out, he knew who I was also. His charming wife had joined in the conversation, and said, "Are you by any chance related to a Mrs. Rockwell who worked at Cannon Road Elementary School?"

"That's my mom."

"She was my second-grade teacher!"

---

A friendship was formed, and Nizam and I have kept in touch over the months via email, though we're both so busy that we haven't had a chance to get together.

That evening, he told me about his plans to build a restaurant next door to Ben's. And in recent weeks, he's been asking me to come down and say hello.

Two nights ago, that's just what I did. The moment I walked into Next Door, I was pretty much blown away. What I thought would be an extension of Ben's was anything but: I felt like I had walked into Bourbon Steak, or maybe Gibson.

The bar itself is 53-feet long, and I don't know if I've ever seen a longer one. The atmosphere is polished but understated, and the only hints that this is related to Ben's are some photos on the wall (that Nizam had just put up that afternoon), and a retro-vat of chili and cheese sauce behind the bar.

I'm not a fan of Heineken, but the Heineken tap is extraordinary, and Nizam urged me to try a glass. Sure enough, the beer in my glass transcended the brand - despite Next Door having numerous excellent beers, I will absolutely get another Heineken the next time I come.

Chef Rock Harper is rolling out his dinner menu tomorrow, Friday, for the first time (up until now, Next Door has only been serving the smallest of bar menus).

Anticipate a wildly busy restaurant from tomorrow night, through the Inauguration. Tom Joyner is hosting his morning show from Ben's on Sunday morning, and Black Entertainment Television will broadcast live from Next Door on Inaguration Day, from 11-4 PM.

Bill Cosby has apparently been calling at random, hectoring them about giving President-elect Obama a free hot dog.

Nizam and I have talked from time-to-time about him doing a chat on this website. As recently as a week ago, he told me that he'd love to.

My response? "You have no idea how busy you're about to become," but I think he's now starting to realize it. There's no way I could ask him to do it right now, as much as I'd love to. Next Door is going to be hopping, effective immediately, and so is he.

Click here for updates, and if you get caught in the crowd crush, don't say I didn't warn you.

As I sat at the bar waiting for Nizam to come out from his office, I had a huge smile on my face, and felt like I was a small part of something important. When he came out, we chatted for awhile, and I said to him, "Do you know what the most important thing about this restaurant is?" He said no, and awaited my response.

"You didn't screw up Ben's! You complemented it!" I was genuinely happy when I said that, and I meant it.

And he knew exactly what I was saying, too. He nodded his head, and quietly replied, "Thank you, that means a lot to me," and he meant it.

Cheers,
Rocks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was there several nights last week, and I had a blast. They were so busy they ran out of the bar-menu food (shrimp and grits, scallops, ribs, hand-cut fries, crabcakes --technically, it was supposed to be a soft opening), but the chili cheese dogs were available all night. Next door is warm and welcoming, and even though I was a newcomer, Nizam, his wife, and their staff treated me like I was an old friend. I'm excited to have such a special place so close to home, and look forward to trying the items that will be available on the full menu.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is there a separate link for the "Next Door" menu? When I went to the website it just had info on Ben's Chilli Bowl.

Elyssa, as of three days ago, Next Door's menu didn't exist. So probably not yet, but it's going to be "comfort food" for lack of a better term.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tonight DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson had his "victory" party in the rear of Next Door--victory being a rather relative term when you are expected to get at least 85% of the vote. This was a surprisingly (to me) small affair--most of these things are in hotel ballrooms. Also surprising to me was the quality of the food on offer. It was the best I've ever had at a political event, bar none. It was so good, that I questioned the staff about its origins and was given a menu to peruse.

All of it came from the Appetizer section of the menu and was served in a series of sterno-heated metal serving dishes. Obviously, I can't speak to the value of the regular menu because I don't know how they portion stuff out individually.  Nevertheless, the ribs, the mac and cheese, and the cole slaw were just excellent. Also, the spinach and artichoke dip was delicious as was the Brie and Apple flatbread. There were also three different kinds of chicken wings, which I didn't try, and something else served with rice that I also didn't try.

The service was also very friendly--even before they knew we were with the party in the back room.  There were TVs all over the place--just so's ya know--those in the front part were turned to the Wizards game and those in the back (where we were) were turned to CNN and News Channel 8. Duh.

I just want to give a shout-out to this place and suggest that if any of you are looking for a more modest place, away from the 14th Street mad house, particularly if you are attending an event at the Lincoln Theater, this wouldn't be the worst place to get a meal and a drink.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

...... Also surprising to me was the quality of the food on offer. It was the best I've ever had at a political event, bar none. It was so good, that I questioned the staff about its origins and was given a menu to peruse.

All of it came from the Appetizer section of the menu and was served in a series of sterno-heated metal serving dishes. Obviously, I can't speak to the value of the regular menu because I don't know how they portion stuff out individually.  Nevertheless, the ribs, the mac and cheese, and the cole slaw were just excellent. Also, the spinach and artichoke dip was delicious as was the Brie and Apple flatbread. There were also three different kinds of chicken wings, which I didn't try, and something else served with rice that I also didn't try.

The service was also very friendly--even before they knew we were with the party in the back room.  There were TVs all over the place--just so's ya know--those in the front part were turned to the Wizards game and those in the back (where we were) were turned to CNN and News Channel 8. Duh.

I just want to give a shout-out to this place and suggest that if any of you are looking for a more modest place, away from the 14th Street mad house, particularly if you are attending an event at the Lincoln Theater, this wouldn't be the worst place to get a meal and a drink.

I find Next Door to be thoroughly enjoyable either in the back room, a table at the front or along its dramatically long bar.  Of recent I've always found it friendly, with great service, and food ranging from good to very good.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just want to give a shout-out to this place and suggest that if any of you are looking for a more modest place, away from the 14th Street mad house, particularly if you are attending an event at the Lincoln Theater, this wouldn't be the worst place to get a meal and a drink.

I have done a couple of events there, and you're right, they really do a great job on events.

I have also dined at the bar with generally good results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...