The bad thing about a neighborhood restaurant is what happens when you leave the neighborhood. Depending on how far you go, it gets harder and harder to make your way back. But if the place is good and they treat you well, you’d travel from anywhere.
Such was the case with Chili My Soul in Encino. When we lived there, I would stop by quite often, dining in or getting a quart to go. I loved the feel of the place… and tasting everything on the menu that day, and snacking on Tootsie Rolls and Bit O Honeys from the bowl they out, while I waited for my order… Well, it was a bit of chili heaven. Yeah, I took a few more than I should have… but how did they know to have two of my favorite candies there?
Before I started going to Chili My Soul, my chili repertoire was slim. It was beans or no beans, turkey or beef… and usually of the canned Hormel variety. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hormel, as much as one can like chili from a can… and it does provide me with fond memories of afternoons after High School with my friends Rich and Harry, but Chili My Soul had real chili… stick to your guts, tantalize your palate, make your mouth water chili. The problem was that their Habanero Mango Chicken was so dang good, I hardly got anything else. As sad as I would be when it wasn’t on the menu… they would rotate flavors in and out… it forced me to try something else, like the Gunslinger, Irish Whiskey, Durango and yes, even the Demon! I can still feel the burn on that one.
Everything Randy Hoffman made was fantastic. And it was Randy who got me to not only try, but love pumpkin seeds, capers and yes, even chocolate chips in my chili. Randy was a jovial, kind man, and he expanded my palate in ways I would never have come up with on my own. I find it hard to eat chili now without wanting to dice in some scallions, or pumpkin seeds or salsa or yes, chocolate. And Randy got me into hot sauces… Between him and my friend Rich D (California friend, not High School), I became a hot sauce connoisseur. I still am. I love good heat as long as it has good flavor… and Randy knew that better than anyone.
Today I went by there, because my friend told me Randy had passed away. Literally, as I was driving over to the shop. I could not believe it, and had to see it for myself. This happened in June, so obviously I had not been there for a while, which of course racked me with guilt and sadness… And as I walked up to the darkened shop, I had the realization that I might not ever have those amazing chilis again.
I may have to beg for that recipe… the Habanero Mango Chicken that provided my taste buds with such immense pleasure… and truly, without pun or joke, warmed my soul… This would be with the assurance that I will never share it with another soul… another chili soul of course. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
Like I said, it’s hard when you leave the neighborhood but even harder when one of your favorite spots leaves; and of course harder still when one of your neighbors really leaves… leaves for good.
I don’t claim to be a friend of Randy’s, but I always enjoyed seeing him and knowing he was there. His restaurant was a wonderful, fantastic little place. He was a good soul… and the soul behind Chili My Soul. He will be missed and so will his fabulous chili!