Ah New Year’s Day. I broke all traditions today. I left my house today before the First Footer crossed the threshold, there’s a pile of laundry a mile high in my closet and I didn’t eat a single black eyed pea (blech!). Instead, I headed out with my family and my boyfriend to a favorite eatery of mine in the District, Ben’s Next Door.
Ben’s Next Door, with prime real estate on U Street, is directly across from the U Street Metro Station. I consider Ben’s to be the sassy younger sibling to the giant next door, which is Ben’s Chili Bowl, the DC staple. (Brief side note, for many years, the only person to eat for free at Ben’s Chili Bowl was Bill Cosby, whose likeness is painted on the bricks of the building. But very recently, a second person was added, President Barack Obama!)
But I digress. Ben’s Next Door is the total package of restaurant and bar. The moment you enter, you’re greeted with 53 feet of full bar and bright lights twinkling above the plethora of drink options. I had a reservation for 11AM sharp, which is when the New Year’s Day Brunch began, and even though my family members were a full hour late, the hostesses were nice enough to let us hold the reservation, for which I was grateful. About 30 minutes into my hour wait, however, my boyfriend and I were at the bar, partaking of the $15 bottomless mimosas and watching ESPN on the huge flat screen TVs.
As this is my first Grub On restaurant review, allow me a brief intro to the Taste and See methodology. We’ve got a 5 point system for our Grub On reviews based on the following: Taste, Ambiance, Service, Theme and Exhibition. We then rank each establishment 1-5, 5 being the best overall in taste and experience and a 1 being piss-poor service and a horrible dining debacle. So how did Ben’s Next Door add up?
When my kin arrived, we took our glasses from the bar and walked into the dining area in the back of the restaurant, which has a slightly different feel from the bar in the front. Neo soul music played softly in the background and we were seated at short mahogany wood tables. I love the warm atmosphere here, it always gives me the feeling of being at home in the South.
In terms of food, I didn’t even need to look at the menu. The Chicken and Waffles here are spectacular. The chicken is brined for the gods and the waffles are melt in your mouth sweet. My chicken was fried a little deeper than usual, but I attribute it to the holiday and chefs who probably took the day off. But the plating is immaculate: there’s whipped cream and warm syrup on the side and the waffles are sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. They’ve thought of everything here. My boyfriend ordered the Filet Mignon and Eggs with provolone cheese. He never got the provolone, but I think the $17 Filet Mignon was enough to keep him quiet. The waiter was very friendly, but I was displeased that I saw the bottom of my bottomless mimosa twice during our visit. Altogether I wasn’t put off–I’ve been here enough times to know that’s not always the case.
I usually come to this restaurant knowing that I’m going to spend a little more than your average U Street fare, but it’s well worth it. They truly keep the Ben’s tradition alive here and it was a great way to bring in the New Year!
Score: 4 out of 5