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Cincinnati-Style Chili on Spaghetti


jschyun
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I was *cough* at work just now and I came across the site for the venerable Skyline Chili Parlor

Skyline Chili

I can't believe this is still around. I read about it in Calvin Trillan's book long, long ago, but damn it's still around! Heck, you can even buy cans of their Greek style chili online!

Greek style chili over spaghetti with a huge mound of shredded cheese of all. You'll need a bypass after eating that thing :laugh:

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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Skyline Chili is nothing like chili-mac. It is meat sauce and noodles, but the unique flavor hints of cinnamon, vinegar, worcestershire, and other "secret" ingredients (one of which is rumored to be chocolate or cocoa of some sort).

Skyline Chili is usually served over spaghetti noodles with a HUGE mound of shredded cheddar cheese on top (called a 3-way). The addition of diced onions or kidney beans makes it a 4-way. Onions AND beans makes it a 5-way. The chili also shows up in cheese coneys, and more recently in burritos, and over fries and baked potatos.

Here in Cincinnati there are many Skyline Chili "parlours" (never liked the parlour part- makes a chili joint sound like a house of ill repute) scattered throughout the city. Downtown alone, there are 4 Skylines within a 5-minute walk of each other.

When the original Skyline location, opened in 1949, was closed to tear down the building in which it was housed, it was a MAJOR news story- complete "live-reports" on the nightly news (roll your eyes, but its true!).

Skyline has a major competitor in another chili chain called Goldstar Chili- and Cincinnati chili lovers are often sharply divided as to which is better (this often involves blind taste-testing outside the gates at Reds and Bengals games- dont get me started on that though). Either one makes great late-night grub, esp. after a few cold ones.

One last note- it seems transplants to this city usually do not take a liking to Cincinnati chili- Skyline, Goldstar, or what have you. It is nothing like Texas style chili or chili-mac. Usually those who have grown up with it, miss it when they move or go on extended hiatus- saw this just today

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Damn you for starting this thread.... I was missing cincy chili so much that I forced myself to have some Steak N Shake chili mac for lunch.... so NOT the same thing, in the least.

The chili that goes on the spaghetti has an earthy, brooding flavor. It's hard to describe. The meat that goes on the Steak N Shake chili mac is more of a ground beef that's been turned to paste and then injected with artificial flavors.

That being said, Skyline Chili is one of two fast food places in all of America that my Thai parents will eat at... the other being... Arby's... hrm

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The chili that goes on the spaghetti has an earthy, brooding flavor.

I love that phrase, and it's a very good description (to these of us who know and love it, that is....if you've never had it, the phrase may not help you much). :unsure:

This Ohio boy loves the stuff and has to have it every time he's home.

It may not be a taste that's readily acquired later in life....I don't know, since I acquired it as a kid.

Take our word for it--it's great stuff.

My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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One last note- it seems transplants to this city usually do not take a liking to Cincinnati chili- Skyline, Goldstar, or what have you. It is nothing like Texas style chili or chili-mac.

I think this must be right. When I visited Cincinnati, I really wanted to love the chili... but I just didn't. Thin-sauced chili on spaghetti, too much cheese on top- it isn't terrible, but it's not something I particularly need to eat again. I suspect that probably you have to grow up with Cinci-style chili in order to get what it's all about.

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thin sauced chili? Are you MAD? if by thin sauced you meant to type "mud like" hehehehe

I meant what I said and said what I meant. If it was "mud like," it was a watery mud. Perhaps I hit Skyline on a bad day; but I suspect that they have the experience to be pretty consistent.

Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)
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Didn't chili on spaghetti start with that guy who started the Empress? Whatever happened to the Empress? Still around? Don't see current references.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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I have a coworker from Cincinnati and he makes regular batches of the stuff and is quite proud of it. He brought me some a few months ago so I could 'see what REAL chili tastes like.' I thought it tasted like curry. Not exactly, but that's what the earthiness Eric describes made me think of. He now intends to buy a cart and sell it on the street. With hot dogs, mostly. I don't think people in Portland will be willing to accept something that unlike Hormel as chili (you know what I mean), but we may find out.

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I've dug up a couple of recipes for Cincinnati Chili. The first, from Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, calls for lean pork (coarsely ground), hamburger, yellow onions, garlic, pureed tomatoes, and (the important parts) cumin, commercial hot chili powder, bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice, Tabasco, cocoa powder, Worcestershire, and white vinegar.

The second recipe, from Rick Rodgers' 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger and Other Ground Meats, lists ground round, onions, celery, garlic, tomatoes with added puree, beef broth, and (back to the important parts) chili powder, cinnamon, ground cumin, basil, oregano, ground allspice, red wine vinegar, and unsweetened chocolate.

Now, any chili "purist" would not be dumping tomatoes in their chili, as is done in both of these recipes. But, personally, I've long believed that chili is actually two dishes. The original dish, "Western Chili" for the lack of a better name, the sort that is seen in competitions and used to be served to trailhands, uses diced meat instead of ground, no tomatoes, no beans. The chuckwagon cooks were mostly intent on getting the men fed with the ingredients they had at hand. Canned tomatoes didn't even exist, and were too heavy to lug around as it was. Chili powder, or more likely the dried chilies not ground yet, would have been stored in bags. Beans needed a lot of time to soak in a separate pot and then cook, and were served on the side.

The second dish is what I would call "Depression Era Chili," and was born from the need housewives of that era lived with to feed their families on a very limited budget. Ground meat, especially hamburger, was more available and affordable than cuts of meat that could then be diced up. Chili powder became available in tins. Tomatoes, now available canned, seemed a logical way of extending the dish, as did the addition of beans, which would have been soaking in a bowl on the counter overnight. Chili Mac is, of course, a variant on Depression Era Chili, with pasta used as another meat extender.

Notice the differences. The trail cook had to travel, and travel light. He was using locally available ingredients and whatever he had brought with him. The housewife, on the other hand, had a kitchen, and the ingredients came from the store. The trail cook was ruled by the economy of the mobile chuckwagon, the housewife by the economics of her times. The trail cook had to feed a hearty meal to the trailhands, the housewife had to feed her growing family. The two dishes, while sharing ingredients, serviced two very different backgrounds, the second inspired by and adapting from the first without copying it. It's a shame we don't recognize the second dish for what it is, a different creation by a different culture.

I'm not sure when the Greek immigrants to the Cincinnati area decided to make chili a dish of their own, but the use of ground meat and extenders suggests a shared heritage with Depression Era Chili. I am certain that it was these immigrant's heritage that led to what seemed to them the addition of cinnamon. As for the unsweetened chocolate, I'm amazed it isn't included in more recipes of all types of chili, as it is a common ingredient in mole, one of the antecedants of Western Chili.

As for the difference between Cincinnati Chili and Chili Mac, in Chili Mac the pasta is blended into the chili. As anyone who has visited Cincinnati knows, Cincinnati Chili is served on top of the pasta, and the pasta is specifically spaghetti. This makes all the difference in the world. :biggrin:

We'll not discriminate great from small.

No, we'll serve anyone - meaning anyone -

And to anyone at all!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Nice chili history, SWoody!

I also found the sauce to be thin at Skyline, and also have only been there that one time. The thinness didn't bother me, though. I was glad I'd tried it but didn't love it -- would have helped if I went in not thinking of it as chili.

Queen of Grilled Cheese

NJ, USA

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Steak & Shake does a great chilli mac.  O.k., it's not great, but it's chilli mac.

don't ever get the 3-way via drive-thru at 4am.

i was tipsy and still had difficulty working my way thru half of it. and it smelled ghastly the next morning. the 5-way eating in isn't bad at all tho.

Edited by tryska (log)
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I'm surprised no one has mentioned Camp Washington Chili. Not a chain. Just one place. But in my opinion the best of the lot. Still Cincinnati style chili but they manage to pack it with flavor.

Skyline is good, but I'm boycotting them since they closed there original chili parlor.

Camp Washington won the a Beard Regional Food Award for their chili.

CampWashington-Sign2.jpg

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I was in Columbus, Ohio on business and had dinner in one of the outposts of the Skyline chain. Friday night at 5 and I was the only person in the joint. The meal came with a oyster crackers and a plastic bib. I started with a small three way and then a medium and for dessert a chilli dog. All real good.

The sauce was nice and thick. My experience in Italian restaurants is that if the sauce is watery the pasta hasn't been drained enough. Probably the same here. Later on the place was doing good business, I guess 5 is too early for dinner in Columbus. I must be a real hick.

The real dessert was the chocolate chip at graeters ice cream store out near the Ohio Ag farm. After eating the three course three way at skyline and the double scoop at graeters there were EMTs following me back to the hotel just in case.

Holly, you should get a James Beard award for your extensive research into Jersey Dogs.

slowday

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