Legendary local chili connoisseur Walt Bodine knows the story behind that photo. "It was taken at the old Dixon's Chili joint at 15th and Olive streets," Bodine says. "Truman and his motorcade were driving toward the old Municipal Airport when the chili sign caught Truman's eye. He whispered to the Secret Service agent that he wanted to stop, so they turned off the siren, turned the car around and pulled in the parking lot so Truman could get some chili. But Dixon's didn't serve beer, so someone had to run out and get one for the president.
"I wish I had been there that night," adds Bodine, who can remember when downtown Kansas City was practically jumping with chili beaneries. DiCapo's sleekly designed venue, one of the first new joints in ages, is located inside the new parking garage across the street from several government buildings. The hardworking entrepreneur wanted the ground-floor location. "There are 14,000 people working in a 1-mile radius," DiCapo says, "and they all want a good cheap lunch."
Cheapness is part of the Chili Shack's allure. A meaty bowl of beef chili (served with saltine crackers) costs a mere $2.99. "And it's a damn fine bowl of chili, too," says Bodine, who's eaten plenty of that particular dish over the last eight decades. There are other inexpensive options as well, including Frito pie, chili dogs, tacos, and an herb-roasted Italian beef sandwich topped with a fiery pickled giardiniera mixture (chopped jalapeños, Sicilian olives, celery and red bell peppers) that sells for five bucks and can easily feed two.
My own detour to the place one recent afternoon involved samples of chili, an Italian beef sandwich, the spaghetti red, and a taco. It was an outrageous lunch, one that required late-afternoon solace in a fizzing glass of Alka-Seltzer. Starting this week, patrons can find their own frothy solace inside the Chili Shack, over a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer during a new happy hour until 6 p.m.
And you won't have to send a Secret Service agent out for the brew.