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Urban Bar-B-Que‘s David Calkins calls his smokehouse version the Two Step Chili because the ingredients come in pairs, sort of like the Noah’s Ark of stews. Two different kinds of meat (ground chuck, chopped brisket), two styles of beans (pintos, black), and two sources of heat (chipotle, jalapeno).
What Urban’s chili lacks in presentation — my most recent “bowl” was served in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon — it more than makes up in flavor. By Calkins’ own estimation the chili is prepared with about 25 different ingredients, but the most important one, arguably, is the chopped brisket.
Now, you might think it madness to waste smoked brisket on a dish in which less fussed-over meats can more than suffice. But before you judge, you should know the mechanics of smoking brisket: There’s a lot of wastage inherent in the process. In particular, the section of the brisket called the deckle or “point” rarely, if ever, sees your plate in a commercial smokehouse. It’s just too fatty for most diners.
But it’s perfect for chili. Urban’s version benefits not only from the deckle’s high fat content, but also from its smoke. And if that weren’t enough, the chili is prepared with house-made beef stock, too, not just water drawn straight from the tap. All told, it makes for a spicy stew with a depth of flavor that you don’t find in many bowls around these parts.
Of course, the chili can also be liquidy, even though Urban’s cooks are supposed to thicken the stew with cornmeal. I mention this to Calkins, who invokes a truism that keeps all good restaurateurs up at night: Eateries are human endeavors; mistakes happen. In this case, it’s a mistake that’s easily overlooked.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery