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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Cincinnati Chili

    I'd like some information.

    I am assuming this dish goes well with bourbon and that this justifies its inclusion in this section of the forum. (How could chili NOT go well with bourbon?).

    My query is prompted by the Cincinnati chapter in Calvin Trillin's classic American Fried, a circa-1970 gambol down the byways and highways of American regional cooking, mostly of the fast food or communal eating category.

    In the book he lauds Cincinnati chili. He says it was popularised in the 1920's and is typically served by Greek-American restaurateurs. He says "a bowl of plain" is chili on spaghetti. If you want it "three ways", cheese is added. Four ways is with onions. Five is with beans, son. He says Cincinnatans stop there but he was told of establishments in Covington, KY (across the river) that make a 6- and 7-way version, adding things like eggs and franks.

    He said each neighborhood has a chili parlour and each one is the best!

    My questions: does this chili specialty still exist there?

    If so are there still neighborhood chili joints?

    Is it still called "bowl of plain" where nothing is added and three-way, four-way, etc. where other stuff is put on?

    Is Covington still trying to trump the classic Cinnci version?

    Finally: who makes the best chili in Cinnci?

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 10-30-2006 at 04:12.

  2. #2
    Mr. Anal Retentive Bourbon Drinker
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    I was just in Cincy airport and in the terminal there was a restaurant that sold nothing but Chili, including the 5 way.

  3. #3
    Taster
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    I am not familiar with the neighborhood chili parlors and will leave that for others. There are two big chains that specialize in Cinc. Chili-- Gold Star and Skyline. Wiki offers a lot of information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_chili

  4. #4
    Connoisseur
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    As a native Cincinnatian, and as someone who still visits there several times a year, even though I now live far away, I must answer this probing and vital inquiry. Yes, Cincinnati chili still exists, and yes, it is still awesome! But if you've never had it before, and you're yearning to try it, let me warn you - you must rid yourselves of all preconceptions as to what chili should be. Most people think of chili as a meaty, hearty thing, but Cincinnati chili is more like spaghetti sauce...thin and watery, with traces of weird ingredients like cinnamon and chocolate. This is not to say it's not good...on the contrary, it's great, but it's a world apart from what they call chili in places like Texas and New Mexico.

    Cincinnati chili is typically eaten in one of two ways: on top of a small hot dog in a bun, where it's called a "coney" (or a "chili sandwich" if you leave out the hot dog), or on top of spaghetti, and this is where the nomenclature comes in. The typical way of eating Cincinnati chili is the "three way". This is chili on top of spaghetti, topped with cheese. And if it's classic Cincinnati chili, the cheese is Velveeta, or something close to it. A four-way is a three way with either beans or onions added (you need to specify which, as in "I'll take a four-way with beans...and an Alka Seltzer"), and a five-way is chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans. The five way is an awesome meal, but I wouldn't recommend it right before a big date. And a "bowl of plain" is just that, a bowl of the chili alone, no spaghetti, no nothing, just a soupy bowl of chili. It's good, but it's rare for people to order that. As I said the chili is thin, like a soup, so it's best enjoyed when it's ladeled onto something, like spaghetti or a hot dog and bun.

    As for chili parlors, there are two big chili chains in Cincinnati: Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili. Both have their fans, but I am very partial to Skyline. There is a smaller chain called Empress Chili, which is also good. As for neighborhood chili parlors, yes, there used to be lots of them, but like so many other mom-and-pop businesses in this era of WalMart, many have disappeared. Still, the few that remain are well worth searching out.

    And as for Cincinnati chili being good with bourbon, well, I tend to think not. It's a heavy, spicy meal, and while delicious, a beer is probably more appropriate. Sorry. But as one of the few remaining truly unique local cuisines in this country, I must say that if you're ever in Cincinnati, it's well worth searching out the nearest Skyline and ordering that five-way! You won't regret it...at least for an hour.

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Excellent, many thanks!

    All other opinions received with interest.

    Has Covington given up its claims in the matter of chili a la Cinncinati..?

    Gary

  6. #6
    Enthusiast
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    Gary, Look who has a page on the Cinncy Chili,

    http://www.ellenjaye.com/worldcafe/04_chilicinc.htm
    Joe

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Thanks Joe, I had no idea his pages covered this.

    The person who introduced chili in the city in the 1920's is named in Trillin's book - I can't recall the exact spelling but Trillin says he was from Macedonia.

    The use of cinammon, allspice and chocolate as seasonings is interesting. I wouldn't discount a Mexican origin since chocolate is used as a seasoning in some dishes there (notably mole sauce for poultry) - and famously is of new world origin. I am not sure about cinammon and allspice but these may well have been brought by Spaniards to Mexico. In the 1500's and 1600's the use of these spices was widespread in parts of Europe as a holdover from medieval cookery. E.g. the Quebec "tourtiere", a ground meat pie with a topping of flaky pastry, uses cinammon and allspice and similar flavourings (nutmeg, etc.) and surely dates back to the 1600's. Although, these spices are also characteristic of some Greek cuisines, no question.

    Probably the dish was an amalgam of influences, in typical American fashion...

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 10-30-2006 at 07:31.

  8. #8
    Connoisseur
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    Cleveland Skyline

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman
    I can't recall the exact spelling but Trillin says he was from Macedonia.

    Gary
    Also interesting because Macedonia is between Cleveland and Akron and last year got it's first Skyline.
    Dale

    "All I want to know is who's the player on second base?"

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Dale, I forgot you are (now) an Ohioan!

    Do you like this kind of chili, can you get it in Akron?

    Gary

  10. #10
    Connoisseur
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    Skyline

    I do have a Skyline in the area.

    It is an acquired taste, which I have not obtained. I am familiar with the Mexican dishes using chocolate, etc and enjoy them, but this is different.


    A co-worker, from Cincy, goes every Tuesday for lunch. He always asks if anyone else want to go, but never gets takers. I pass the shop up on the way home and although it is not very easy to get to (back some side streets), it is visible from the highway and always seems to have a crowd. Perhaps there are a great number of Cincy transplants here. Or perhaps I misjudged the taste of the locals.

    PS As quoted by the Cincy guy: "The only reason Cincinnati calls it chili is because they can't spell spaghetti."
    Dale

    "All I want to know is who's the player on second base?"

 

 

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