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“I like mine all the way wet.”

The phrase has been part of D.C. chili parlor history well before Hard Times Cafe came along in 1980. Its origin dates back to the historic Texas Chili Parlor on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which is the subject of this week’s Young & Hungry column.

Hard Times’ co-founder Fred Parker borrowed the phrase from his beloved Texas Chili Parlor, where it was invoked when you wanted extra sauce (read: grease) ladled over your order of Texas chili mac. Texas Chili Parlor was run, in part, by the gruff, inscrutable Hazel Calloway, who died in 1971, and Parker created Hard Times as an homage to her. The phrase was part of the package.

Not everyone, however, was comfortable with the slogan. In the November 1983 issue of the Washingtonian, food critic Robert Shoffner noted:

“The legend on the back of the waitresses and bartenders’ T-shirts, ‘I like mine all the way wet,’ may give pause to the newcomer to the Hard Times Cafe…”

Still, Parker says that for years most diners understood the humor intended by the famous phrase. “The first 20 years, there was no reaction at all,” he says. But about four years ago, the more prudish among Hard Times’ diners started to rebel.

“They’d ask me, ‘Would you let your daughter wear a T-shirt with that on the back?'” Parker recalls. “So even though there weren’t that many complaints, we caved in.”

Hard Times officially changed the phrase to: “I like my Texas all the way wet.”

“Yeah, it sounds dirty,” Parker concedes about the original phrase, “but when you think about it, what could it mean?”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery