March is right around the corner and things are heating up down here on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Temperatures are inching higher, spring break and the havoc it brings is coming soon and the 32nd Annual St. George Island Chili Cook-off is next Saturday, March 2.
Me and the Chili Posse have been in the fray off and on for the past seven or eight years and whether you are brewing a pot of competition chili or just walking around in the sunshine sampling all of it, believe me, it is a blast.
In my chili travels I have tasted some God awful chili. Chili that was served burnt from a cheap aluminum stockpot. Wise-guy chili, which is basically a generic bowl of red that has a bottle of fry-your-brain hot sauce added to it, or just plain bad chili that was concocted by somebody who has no clue.
On the other hand, I have sampled dome pretty darn good chili. To my cultured taste buds that means the perfect balance of spicy, sweet textured chili with a nice thickness.
Being from up North I can tell you chili heads are as devoted to the chili nation from Ohio, to Illinois to Colorado.
Texans pride themselves on their chili, in New Mexico they make green chili or chili verde and in Seattle the chili has a wisp of coffee in the recipe.
But nowhere on the planet is the chili served like it is in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Way back in 1922 a couple of immigrant brothers from Macedonia started brewing an unorthodox, (Or maybe being it was from Macedonia it was actually orthodox), that had a Middle Eastern flair to it.
Originally dubbed “Spaghetti Chili”, these guys started serving their brand of ethnic chili from a hot dog street cart located next to a strip joint on Vine St. called the Empress Burlesque Theater. Their chili proved more popular than the strippers and their pasties and “Empress Chili” was born. All they basically did was modify traditional chili with Middle Eastern spices and serve it over spaghetti.
Cincinnati Skyline Chile
1 Qt. Water
2 Lbs. Ground Chuck
2 Onions, Finely Chopped
4 Cloves Garlic, Smashed and Minced
1 15 Oz. Can Tomato Sauce
2 Tbs. Cider Vinegar
1 Tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs. Freshly Ground Black Pepper
3 Tbs. Ground Allspice
2 Tbs. Ground Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tsp. Cinnamon
1 Tbs. Cumin
½ Oz. Unsweetened Cocoa
Spaghetti, Cooked al dente
Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
Red Kidney Beans
Raw Diced Onion
Bring water to a boil in a large stock pot add the ground beef and reduce to a simmer. Add onions, garlic, tomato sauce, vinegar and what’s this here sauce. Stir to mix well. Add rest of ingredients, cover and let simmer for 3 hours.
Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. Skim fat and discard bay leaf.
In 1949 a disgruntled employee at The Empress started his own chili parlor called “Skyline Chili”, and the legend of Cincinnati Chili was born. Today the city has about 200 chili parlors scattered around and it is estimated that the Queen City chows down on over two million pounds of chili a year topped with close to a million pounds of shredded cheddar cheese.
If you get the chance, check out ChiliFest at Yeatman’s Cove on the Ohio every September.
Oh, and when ordering Cincinnati Chili keep this in mind. There are five ways to order it.
A “Bowl” is just chili in a bowl.
“Two-Way” is chili over spaghetti.
“Three-Way” is chili, spaghetti and cheese.
“Four-Way” is chili, spaghetti, cheese and onion while “Five-Way” is all of the above plus seasoned chili beans.
I’ll have my Cincinnati Chili “All-the-Way”.