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God knows that I’ve eaten my share of half-smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl after I’ve had a few beers—-but never while drinking one. Until last night, that is.
I finally stopped by Next Door Restaurant + Bar, the Ali family’s first foray into the full-service hospitality biz, and parked myself on a stool at the backend of the 53-foot-long bar. The vibe is pure smoove here. Low lighting, dark woods, classic black-and-white photos, relaxed R&B tunes on the sound system, a fully stocked bar with a good number of taps. If Ben’s is old-school Otis sitting on the dock of the bay, then Next Door is sex-kitten Beyonce all glammed for the Grammys.
I had been waiting for this moment almost from the day I arrived in D.C., nearly eight years ago, and discovered that I couldn’t order a brew with my sausage. I consulted with the bartender on a beer and went with The Raven, a special amber lager produced in Baltimore. It proved to be a good mate to the spicy half-smoke, which arrived dark and blistered, a fact that surprised me. A source had told me that Next Door was putting its half-smokes on hot dog rollers, which I thought was blasphemous. I was relieved to see that wasn’t true. Even better, I was delighted to taste that char, which was strong enough to poke through the thick, semi-spicy chili on top.
The beer, with its sweet caramel flavor and light hops, provided all the contrast I needed. They were a pair made for each other. I just don’t understand why it took 50 years to bring beer and Ben’s half-smoke together.