A three-way with spaghetti, chili and cheddar cheese.
Those who assume the southwest area of the United States is the holy land for chili have never been to Cincinnati. The Ohio town, third largest in the state, is affectionately known as the “Chili Capital of the World.” And for good reason: Cincinnatians consume more than two million pounds of the stuff each year, topped with 850,000 pounds of cheese. Estimates suggest that more than 200 chili parlors have sprung up over the years, and a local politician called the dish “about as Cincinnati as anything can be.” Cincinnati-style chili is uniquely different from its Texas cousin, trading spice and thickness for a saucier product often infused with cocoa powder. This native dish is a must-try for any visitor stopping in the area. It’s a good bet that you’ll be able to track down a plate while in town.
When it comes to regional specialties, there can be disputes over the dish’s origin, with more than one institution claiming to the credit. In Cincinnati, however, recognition for the creation of the city’s famed chili usually goes to Tom Athanas Kiradjieff, a Greek immigrant who arrived in the area in 1922. Soon after, he opened a hot dog stand named Empress where he peddled some of his native specialties along with his sausages. His business struggled due to the fact that the area’s German descendants weren’t familiar with Greek food. In order to reach these customers, Kiradjieff used spices found in a traditional Greek stew such as cinnamon and cloves, substituted ground beef for lamb, and added spices such as chili powder. He served this unique sauce over spaghetti and called it “chili.” Kiradjieff is also credited with the idea of selling his new dish in “ways,” something that continues to this day.
If ever ordering chili in Cincinnati, make sure you are familiar with the different forms that this signature dish can be served. A “One-Way” is a plain bowl of chili and a “Two-Way” is chili ladled over spaghetti. A “Three-Way” adds a mound of shredded cheese, a “Four-Way” is topped with onion, and a “Five-Way” is finished with kidney beans. Another popular menu item is chili ladled over a hot dog in a bun, making what is known locally as a “Coney.” Try a plate or a couple of coneys at these locations around town:
Founded in 1949 by a Greek immigrant, Skyline Chili was named for the skyline view the first restaurant had of Cincinnati. Rated best chili by Cincinnati Magazine, it has over 70 locations in the area. It was named the “official chili” of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team, among others. www.skylinechili.com
Gold Star Chili
Calling itself “The Flavor of Cincinnati,” Gold Star Chili also has deemed Cincinnati as “Chilitown USA.” Established in 1965, the chain has nearly 100 restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. The franchise prides itself on being the “Official Chili of the Cincinnati Bengals.” www.goldstarchili.com
Camp Washington Chili
This parlor’s product, established in 1940, earned the James Beard Award as an “American Regional Classic.” The restaurant’s lone location is open 24-hours a day, six days a week and offers double-decker sandwiches in addition to its traditional chili selections. 3005 Colerain Ave. http://www.campwashingtonchili.com