Bad Things Always Make the Great Things Better!

How much do you know about Cincinnati Style Chili? Have you ever tried it?…. Cincinnati USA is the Chili Capital of the United States and, likely, the world.  With National Chili Day arriving Thursday February 28th. all eyes are focused on our wieners and spaghetti, onions and shredded cheese.    There’s something about the smell of a chili dog that’s just amazing, a mixture of traditional hot dog in a steamed bun with a scoop of chili on top means the day just got much better. You’ll find them at summertime fairs, or along Main St in just about any American town, or even being prepared by MOM in your kitchen for dinner. The only thing better than a chili dog or bowl of chili….Is chili buried under a mountain of melting cheddar cheese. as Albert R. said, “more bad piled on top of bad only makes everything much, much better.”  #Fact   Cincinnati Chili is produced in small batches, sold by the bowl or coney and consumed at home, in cars, at work or at the parlor where it was concocted that day. Cincinnati chili is our own style of chilli It’s probably not the chili you are accustomed to or the way you think of it.   Our Chili is very different from its western cousin “chunky red-pooh in a kettle”. In fact, about the only relation it has are meat (beef, not horse) cumin and chili powder. After that, the recipe takes an interesting twist that includes chocolate, cinnamon. In general, you won’t find it far outside the greater Cincinnati area, the exceptions being N. Florida and Detroit, Mi.  Cincinnati has more chili parlors per capita and square mile than any other city on the continent. Between Skyline ChiliGoldstar and 140 other Cincinnati chili joints,  Cincinnati-ans(?) eat more than 2 million pounds of chili each year topped by 850,000 pounds of shredded cheddar cheese.

 But, why?

In 1922, a Macedonian (?) immigrant, Tom Athanas Kiradjieff settled in Cincinnati with his brother, John. Together they opened a hot dog stand named ‘Empress’ and boring full of pig-bits called hot dogs, and occasionally a little Greek food. He did a lousy business, John nearly starved to death in 1925.  At that time, the  majority of the inhabitants were of German heritage, and noone in the area knew anything about Greek food or thrilled with his dogs either. Tom would not to be defeated. He took a Greek stew, maintained the Mediterranean spices of Cinnamon and Cloves, changed the meat to ground beef, and added other spices, such as chili powder, to the mix and began to sell this stew over spaghetti and called it ‘Chili.’ It proved to be a successful experiment. He also came up with the idea of selling his Chili in ‘ways’, and chili dogs, which is also unique to the area.

 When you stop in your first Cincinnati chili parlor order a 2-3-4 or 5 way, but keep your shorts on, it’s NOT that kind of “way”  you must also have a ‘Coney.’ OR chili dog.  The history of this quasi sandwich is somewhat vague, but Uncle Tom also gets the credit for this one. Seems, en route to Cincinnati; he passed through the Coney Island area of New York. Later when he decided to cover one of his hot dogs on a bun with yellow mustard, Cincinnati Chili, and onions, then topped with finely grated Cheddar Cheese, he named it a ‘Coney Island’ and the name sticks to this day. ‘Coneys’, as the locals call them, are now made with a hot dog that is a bit smaller and shorter than a regular wiener, to allow more room for the chili and other goodies that go on top.

Today the largest Cincinnati Chili parlor chain in Cincinnati AND the world is Goldstar Chili.  Goldstar’s Customer Service line informed me that Gold Star serves 1,000,000 pounds of cheese and 3,000,000 pounds of chili a year. Another fun fact: the largest Coney ever made was 102 feet long and weighed over 180 pounds! Goldstar Chili has around 100 stores in the Greater Cincinnati area.

The next largest chain is Skyline Chili with 59 stores in the area. Cincinnati has numerous little, one-store operations selling this amazing concoction of Greek heritage, in spite of the giant size and output of Goldstar and Skyline, there is one tiny Chili parlor that has out-shined them all, Camp Washington Chili. In 1985, Camp Washington Chili was featured on the CBS Morning News as the best-rated Chili in the nation. And the reputation is well earned. For 60 years, the same, single little restaurant has been owned and operated by the same Greek family, who by the way, still close down the parlor every July, for a month to go in vacation.

I’ve lived in the Cincinnati area all my life and have eaten enough coneys, bowls and Four Ways to kill a normal human. Whether it’s 1pm for lunch or 1 am on the way home from the bar, it’s pure comfort food!

That’s the abridged version of Cincinnati Chili that isn’t a Chili as you may usually think of Chili. If you find yourself in the area, stop and have a ‘Four Way’ (my favorite) and a Coney on the side.  Fair Warning, don’t make the mistake of asking for a ‘Three Way’ in other regions of the country….you might just end up with something quite different!

How many coneys can you eat at one time? My record’s 5.

Matt’s an Ohio licensed Realtor with 20+ years experience in residential and investment real estate sales, leasing, property management, and offering pre-purchase consultations and BPO’s for investors and lending institutions. Matt currently works as the Sales Manger at Real Property Management. You can contact Matt at 866.500.6200, via email ([email protected]) or DM on twitter @CincySalesGuy 

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