Noir at the Bar DC: There Can Be Only One


This Saturday I’ll be in D.C. joining this great line-up of writers reading our most hilarious shocking tales, battling for a prized sword… a blade of “dishonor” if you will.

Join us, it is sure to be a memorable evening.


In Memoriam

I last visited Arlington National Cemetery right before my friend John Milkewicz shipped off to Iraq. I am very thankful that he came home. Memorial Day is for those soldiers who did not.

It began after the Civil War as Decoration Day, for decorating the graves of soldiers. After World War II it became more commonplace. I know many veterans, family and friends. I am grateful that they came home. The only family member I know who died at war was Nicholas Pucci, who served in the Korean War.

Let us remember the dead today, and the true cost of war, which echoes through the generations. The lost promise, the families left gouged by their absence, and the burden those who made it home must carry.

American Civil War 625,000
World War II 405,399
World War I 116,516
Vietnam 58,151
Korean War 36,516
American Revolutionary War 25,000
War of 1812 15,000
Mexican American War 13,283
War on terror* present 6,717
Philippine–American War 4,196
The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Audie Murphy's grave
Audie Murphy’s grave
The Grave of Joe Louis
The Grave of Joe Louis
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Just one small corner.
Just one small corner.

Happy Halloween

Some photos from the Halloween party I went to at the Pourhouse in D.C., and my favorite costumes there.

 Our friends went as Holy Shit, “Peace” of Shit, Shit-Ton, Shit Hit the Fan, and… the Shit Show!

Our friends Paula and Dennis as Jules & Vincent from Pulp Fiction. I gave Paula the 3-slap “I’m-Not-Gay” hug because I didn’t recognize her.

 Godzilla and Mecha-Godzilla. They won the contest. Godzilla is eating a train.

 The band was in drag and played covers of all female bands like Blondie, the Go-Gos, Hole, Lady Gaga, Heart, Joan Jett, and many more. I was in heaven.

 Vincent meets a Mia Wallace!

 Jules and Vincent in… Slash Fiction! So wrong.

 Vincent was always a bit of a brown noser.

My Viking costume on the kitties.

 And… the scariest costume of the night, the singer without his Madonna cone breastplate on.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Firecracker and I went to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally this weekend in D.C. Neither of us are very political except for the basic American concept of leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone, but that seems long forgotten these days. I used to collect coins when I was a kid, and one of the first, known as the Fugio Cent, designed by Ben Franklin, read “Mind Your Business” instead of “In God We Trust.” That motto got on the currency after the not-so Civil War. But we don’t mind our business much anymore.

The show had a long warm-up by The Roots, John Legend, and the Mythbusters guys who had us do the wave all the way down the National Mall. It took almost a minute! The park service planned for 150,000 people to be there, and everyone seemed well behaved. There were a few political extremists and wackos on the fringes, but the center where we were consisted of fans and people tired of the hyperbole and news focusing on the fringe wackos. They had many, many guests. The Mall was shoulder to shoulder until a block from the Lincoln Memorial. Sanity defeats wackos, easily.
Yusuf “Cat Stevens” Islam and Ozzy Osbourne played dueling versions of “Peace Train” and “Crazy Train” until the O’Jays came out to play “Love Train” instead. Sam Waterston read a poem meant to inspire fear by Stephen Colbert which was hilarious. Tim Meadows did his P.K. Winsome act, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow did a duet, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar showed up to show us that we’ve cheered and loved a Muslim, who’s just like any other sports star. New estimates count 215,000 at the rally vs. Glenn Beck’s 96,000… mission accomplished.
Here are my photos from the rally.

Hitler is Hitler… one is enough

Adam Savage of Mythbusters

I love bacon

You’re entitled to your opinion but not your own spelling.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Ragtime’s Big Bayou Burger

The Burger Battle of the Best continues…
Ragtime, a nice Cajun pub in Arlington VA offers the Big Bayou Burger, “a burger made of ground beef, pork and shrimp, covered with swiss cheese, Creole gravy and three grilled shrimp.”

Oddly not as good as it sounds; burgers use ground beef because of the fat content, which makes them juicy. Remove too much, and it becomes dry; that’s why they’ll tell you to use 80% lean as the leanest for burgers, and 73% might be even better. Because fire melts all that fat and it drips off. When you take lean pork and shrimp and add them to the mix, you get some good flavor- the burger did have a shrimpy fish flavor- but you lose the familiar texture and juiciness. This would have been a lot better with just beef, and topping it with the shrimp.

Was it bad? Hell no. Just a lot different than I expected, and I’ve had shrimp burgers before at Joe’s Garage in Minneapolis; no idea what they cut them with to keep them moist, probably salmon, but they were very good. Here the jambalaya side was very good, the Cajun chicken pasta was well-received, and the mac ‘n cheese was killer. I had crawfish bisque that was a delicious starter, so the Big Bayou Burger was a bit of a disappointment. I guess I could have drowned it in ketchup, but I shouldn’t have to. Stick some onions in the mix, or leave the shrimp chunky and put chunks of cheese in too. Shrimp is all about texture, and grinding it takes that away. The garlic shrimp toppers were awesome. I should have just gotten shrimp etoufee! It’s a nice hangout for Louisiana transplants in the D.C. area, and serves a good beer selection.,+arlington+va&fb=1&split=1&gl=us&cid=0,0,13234301509519711599&ei=CfkqSsrcAoSitweDqIDKCA&ll=38.888962,-77.083426&spn=0.006295,0.006295&iwloc=A&output=embed
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A Burger & 500 Beers – the Brickskeller

You might think a hamburger with bacon and salami is overkill, but then you might think a beer menu with 500 selections was crazy too. If you are one of us, who think bacon and salami burgers are fine and dandy, and 500 beers is “a good start,” then The Brickskeller saloon in Dupont Circle is a place you should visit when in D.C.

While Ben’s Chili Bowl is a must-go for foodies- and if you’re a foodie who can’t appreciate a masterful chili dog, go choke on a slice of Iberico ham, you Philistine- the Brickskeller is a must-go for us lovers of that ancient and heavenly libation known as beer. While even chain restaurants are bragging about carrying beers from every country in the U.N., how about a dozen from Russia alone? 117 from England, 200+ from Belgium, 80 from Germany. 16 from New Jersey (though Ramstein is criminally absent).

The burger was pretty standard pub fare- tasty, but nothing spectacular. Salami, bacon and sharp cheese is a nice combo, and that made the burger. Better were their stuffed potato skins, made from red potatoes, stuffed with molten cheddar and crisp bacon. They were a nice change from the usual white potatoes, and easier finger food. But the beers! They had Abita Pecan Harvest Ale, one of our faves. Unfortunately they were out of Samichlaus– a strong Austrian lager- at 14% the strongest lager-style beer in the world. I had a Paulaner Salvator because I was overwhelmed with the choices, and so many of my picks were out of stock or season. I’m sure I could have found an obscure beer to drink, but after a while I felt like I was at the Cheese Shop from that Monty Python sketch.

If you live here, it would be a great haunt, because I assume eventually the items I looked for would be in stock. But it seems disingenuous to claim the largest beer selection when you don’t keep them all in the cellar. It’s worth stopping by if you’re visiting D.C., but don’t eye their online beer menu and expect to knock off all the beers you’ve been wanting to try, you may just be disappointed.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Now, when someone says “chili dog,” I bet you think they are all the same. They might be good on a summer day with a beer, or at a ball game, but they can’t be as amazing as let’s say, a good steak. And I’m going to tell you flat out, that you are mistaken. Unless you’ve had a chili half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in Washington D.C., you might think a chili dog could be bland, or even gross. But once you’ve tried one, you’ll understand that a chili dog can have nuance of flavor, levels of spiciness and smokiness working together to create the perfect combination of flavors.

Firecracker and I were visiting pals Maggie and Patrick in our nation’s capital, and when they asked what my “must do” things were, I said “we’ve got to go to Ben’s Chili Bowl.” I’d heard such great things, and I’d already seen the museums and memorials more than once. We went to the Spy Museum, which while interesting, isn’t worth the $18 price tag in my opinion. I liked seeing an Enigma machine, and real Cold War spy gadgets. If you love that era of history, it’s a must see. After waiting outside in line on a chilly day, Ben’s Chili Bowl was the obvious choice for lunch that day.
So we hopped on the Metro. Ben’s is right across the street from U Street Station on the Green Line, with a cozy old storefront that speaks to its 50 years of service. It’s practically a neighborhood monument, and everyone goes there, from Joe Senator to Joe Sixpack. We got there just in time, as the line from the counter doubled back. A short while later it was out the door. And it was worth every minute. The wait wasn’t too bad, perhaps 15 minutes from getting off the train to first bite. I was surprised by their extensive menu- if chili dogs ain’t your thing, there’s plenty to choose from. I’d heard great things about the “half smoke,” a kielbasa-sized spicy sausage popular in the D.C. area, so I had to have one. The name is shrouded in mystery for they are not smoked. Waiting in line gives a good feel for the neighborhood. We were all entertained by a sign in back that read “List of Who Eats Free at Ben’s: Bill Cosby. No One Else!”

When a cook took my order- 2 chili dogs, 1 chili half-smoke, chili cheese fries, and a chocolate shake for me & Firecracker to feast on- he said the shake would take a minute, and he delivered it to our table. If you have 6 or more, you can order from the back. We were just three- Pat missed out on this culinary extravaganza, but he had taken us to Old Ebbett’s Grill for fantastic sweet oysters, and terrific American classic entrees, so he deserved some rest. The three of us were all amazed at the depth and flavor of Ben’s chili. There’s a reason it’s called Ben’s Chili Bowl and not “Ben’s half smokes and hot dogs.” The chili is fantastic, rich and spicy in flavor with a deep smokiness that speaks to some serious simmering on the stove.
Saying they slather the dogs and half-smokes with chili is an understatement. They masterfully pool the chili in the hefty bun atop the link, getting as much as physically possible without overflowing. They’ve got it down to a science. It is perfection. This is the best chili dog I have yet tasted, and I defy you to name one better. The Spicy Redneck at Crif Dog may still reign as the best hot dog, but this is the best chili dog. Nothing else I’ve had is even close. How does the rest emasure up? They also know how to make chili cheese fries that are both crisp and soggy at the same time. I don’t know how they did it. Soaked in cheese and chili, some at the bottom were still crisp. And the shake may have been a tad too thick but the flavor was tops.
So if you visit D.C. for business or to visit our nation’s heritage, you owe it to yourself to stop by U street for a chili half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl. You will not regret it. Just remember, unless you are Bill Cosby, you will have to pay. We got 2 dogs, a smoke, a large chili cheese fries and drinks for $21. A bit pricy but these aren’t little Sabrett’s, just look at the photos. And they are worth every cent!

Not sure if he’s visited yet!