You can thank the Chinese for the chili cookhouse sitting on the corner of South Street and Graham Avenue. Outsourcing, you see, forced Alan Herrington, proprietor of this mustard-colored devil's soup kitchen, to abandon a career as an electronic parts broker and become a chili czar. And while he fashions his chili inside a small space with no indoor seating, Herrington's flavorful concoctions and his friendly and welcoming disposition are garnering a big following for the eatery. As much as you want the guy to make it big and expand operations, there's something uniquely charming about the place as it currently stands ' the walk-up window and plastic patio furniture; the tray of Anaheims, anchos, guajillos, arbols and pequins used to make homemade pepper powders and hot sauces; the old smoker off to the side. Herrington uses the smoker to sear cubes of sirloin over a charcoal fire, then slow-simmers them in his own special chili powder blend to concoct his 'private reserveâ?� chili ($6 cup; $8 bowl; $11 pint; $20 quart).
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to sample any; the smoker is only fired up on sunny days. With the spell of bad weather raining on my chili parade, I looked to the handful of other meaty mélanges Herrington had available. Patrons have the option of enjoying their chili straight up ($4 cup; $6 bowl; $8 pint; $16 quart), or over jasmine rice ($3 cup; $4.50 bowl; $6 pint; $12 quart), though it's better if you order your chili straight up and get a pint ($1) or quart ($1.50) of rice. On this particularly rainy day, I was looking forward to going home and enjoying a bowl of the Thai basil chicken chili over a mound of jasmine rice. Fusing traditional chili seasonings with those common in Thai cooking made for a singular bowl of chili, one that even withstood the test of time (two days, to be exact). Like a burger from Five Guys, the Angus brisket from Four Rivers or a chipotle cheesesteak from Jersey Mike's, Chili Daddy's Thai basil chili is one of those meals I'll drive from anywhere to get to when I crave it. The water chestnuts and bamboo shoots added a nice crunch to the mix. The mango chili may not have been of the same caliber as the Thai basil, but it was still good: subtle notes of sweetness mingled with diced white and dark-meat chicken (or ground pork, if you so choose) in a ruddy, beanless sauce.
If you're worried about spice levels, don't be. All chilis here are made mild ' if you want the heat, consider adding a sprinkle of fresh-ground pequin peppers or a splash of red-jalapeño hot sauce. The pepper and hot sauce served the classic Texas-style red very well (as did some onions), though this chili of finely minced beef and pinto beans was ordinary compared to the others we sampled. I would've much preferred to try the private reserve, had it been available.
Herrington is eager to provide free samples to customers before purchase, so take him up on the offer. He's also promising more varieties in the near future (a seafood and a vegetarian chili, to name a couple). You'll need to bring cash for now, as he's not set up to take debit/credit cards. The styrofoam containers need to go, and it'd be nice if the place stayed open past 6:30 p.m. â?¦ for those late-night cravings.