Friday, December 31, 2010

Even More Coney Quest Locations

The Coney Quest is growing once again. Thanks partly to some research and reader recommendations, we are adding three more stops to the Cincinnati Coney Quest:

Gourmet Chili in Newport
Sam's Chili in Price Hill
J and J Restaurant in Western Hills

That brings the total of chili parlors to 19! As always, if there are any that we missed please let us know and they will be added.

Have a Happy New Years!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Camp Washington Chili Review

Camp Washington Chili is one of the iconic chili parlors in Cincinnati. When people come to Cincinnati, many make it a point to visit this parlor. Coney Quest Stop #5 is Camp Washington Chili, does it live up to its reputation and belong on the Mount Rushmore of Cincinnati Chili?

Aesthetically speaking, Camp Washington sticks out the most. As soon as we crossed over the Hopple Street Viaduct the giant CHILI sign was lit up as if it were a food Mecca calling our names. The interior is similar to other Cincinnati chili parlors in that it goes for a diner like feel. So far Camp Washington pulls this off the best as it has soft lighting, the dining area is large and spread out well, and it was very clean. However, Camp Washington is open 24 hours, so I imagine the atmosphere could be completely different in the overnight hours.

As mentioned above, Camp Washington is one of the iconic parlors in town and they definitely want you to know that. The walls are filled with various newspaper and magazine articles about the restaurant. Some may find that a bit boastful, but in a town where chili is King I say go ahead and show off all the praise you have received.

We didn’t look at the menu long, as we were both hungry and knew what exactly what we wanted, but it appeared similar to other chili parlors in town and was reasonably priced. Chili is obviously the featured item, but you can get sandwiches and burgers as well. One touch which we both liked was oyster crackers. Before the quest started we frequented Skyline often, so we always assumed oyster crackers were standard, however, so far on the quest Camp Washington is the first to give us free oyster crackers even though we didn’t order a 3/4/5-way.

Clint’s review

Camp Washington’s chili would go into the spicy category. Even just by looking at the coney one could assume it would be a spicier one as there were noticeable red pepper flakes in the chili. Earlier we reviewed its cousin across the street, US Chili, and I can see where US got its influence. However they are a different kind of spice. You notice the heat right away, unlike US where it didn’t hit until a couple of bites. In my opinion the US Chili heat spices increased as you ate the coneys and began to overpower everything else, however the Camp Washington spices stayed consistent throughout and did a much better job of complimenting the other spices instead of overpowering. Even though it wasn’t as sweet as Cincy chili is known for, I could detect a hint of sweetness below the heat. This made for a very tasty chili. One more difference between the two sibling rivals is US Chili is a bit meatier, as Camp Washington Chili is more of the chili like sauce for hot dogs and spaghetti that Cincinnati is known for.

I also enjoyed the other aspects of the coney. I’m never exactly sure how each parlor cooks their dogs, but the hot dog had fresh grill marks on it and tasted good. The last couple of stops produced some messy coneys, but the Camp Washington coney had the perfect amount of chili and cheese. The buns were soft and held up well.

Camp Washington lived up to its hype, I give them a 4 out of 5.

Alison's review

Right off the bat I would like to say that Camp Washington has my favorite chili sauce at this point in the quest. This chili is the perfect balance between spicy and sweet, neither flavor overpowering the other. It brings together the classic Cincinnati sweetness and a little hit of chili pepper heat in what must be a very carefully crafted recipe.

The hot dog in the coney was very good, as well. I enjoy when the flavor of a high quality hot dog is apparent even under the spices of the chili.

The bun didn’t seem as fresh as some of the other parlors we’ve visited, but it wasn’t at all bad and held very nicely. The cheese was good, too, but I think the good cheddar flavor would have come through better if it weren’t served quite so cold. Maybe we got a batch that had just come out of the fridge.

Without extra condiments, the chili, the dog, the cheese, and the bun (as Clint enjoys his) would have been an excellent cheese coney. In fact the next visit I make to Camp Washington Chili, I believe I will order it without the mustard or onions. This is where the coney lost some points in my book. The onions were strong white onions and a little on the dry side. The mustard was slathered on a little too thick. It wasn’t necessarily offensive, but it left me wishing I could get a better taste of that awesome chili.

If we were ranking chili recipes alone, Camp Washington’s would be at the top of my list, but since our mission is to find the best cheese coney (a product that I want to see done well with mustard and onions included), I’m giving this parlor a 3.75 stars out of 5.

Camp Washington Chili on Urbanspoon

Urbanspoon Rocks!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poll Results: ...How do you get your fix?

Our latest poll had the smallest amount of votes, but the highest amount of feedback in the comments section. This poll asked people who no longer live in Cincinnati how they got their Cincy chili fix. Here are the results from the 9 votes:

2 get cans shipped to them
1 has relatives bring them cans
3 make their own
3 suffer without it until they visit Cincinnati

If I were to ever leave Cincinnati, I would likely have cans shipped to me. It might not be cheap, but it would definitely be worth it. I may make my own from time to time as well. Speaking of which, if you have any recipes please send them our way, we are going to try various recipes once we are done visiting every parlor. One thing I know for sure, suffering without Cincy chili would not be an option for me.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Camp Washington Chili History

It isn't hard to find a Skyline restaurant that has a rival Gold Star just blocks away. But when you find two non-chain chili parlors sitting literally across the street from one another, you know you are in a neighborhood of serious chili lovers. Camp Washington's two chili parlors are US Chili, which was our third stop in the quest, and Camp Washington Chili, which will be our next review.

Camp Washington Chili was established in 1940 by Steve Andon and Fred Zannbus. The current owner, John Johnson, began working there for his uncle in 1951. Camp Washington Chili is basically home for John as it has been the only place John has worked at since moving to America. He is also the keeper of the secret family recipe.

Camp Washington Chili is lucky to be in its current location. 24 years of battle with the city continually threatened to demolish the original parlor. In 2000 the bulldozers won and the parlor was flattened for the sake road widening projects. Fortunately for the family business, they were able to acquire an adjacent lot and maintain their patronage in a brand new parlor.

Camp Washington has received numerous praise and recognition for their brand of chili. Their chili recipe received an American Regional Classic award from the James Beard Foundation. In 1985 the CBS Morning News set out to find "the best chili in the nation" and crowned Camp Washington Chili as its winner. Camp Washington is not only a Cincinnati institution, but also a nationally recognized restaurant.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Coney Quest Stop #5 Roadblock

Originally we had planned on making Park Chili in Northside our 5th stop on the quest. From the research we did it appeared they were open til 7PM during the week. We arrived at 6:10 PM and doors were locked. There was someone at the counter and two other people, not sure if they were customers or workers, hanging around as well. We shook the door, tried to get their attention and they saw us, but decided to just give us a blank stare instead of notifying us they were closed. So as we walked back to the car I decided to call to see what the hours were, after 7 rings someone finally answered and the convo went like this:

PC: Hello, Park Chili *in a not very pleasant voice*
Me: Hi, I was wondering what your hours were?
PC: Sorry we are closed for the night.
Me: Oh ok, tha *PC hangs up phone* nk youuuuu.

This put us in a slight bind since we did not have a back up plan, silly us thinking a restaurant would honor its hours. Then we remembered Camp Washington Chili was nearby, open 24 hours, and on our list. We will return to Park Chili another day, most likely for lunch and will definitely call ahead. Park Chili might have gotten off to a bad start, but we are forgiving people and will still to go Park with an open mind (and belly).

This week stay tuned for the Camp Washington history post and our review.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Coney Quest Stop #5

Last night we held our weekly drawing for the next stop on the Cincinnati Coney Quest. The next location will be...

Park Chili in Northside.

Admittedly, neither one of us had heard of Park Chili until a week into the quest when we came across a best chili parlor poll. After doing a little more research we are definitely looking forward to trying it! With this weekend being Christmas weekend, I don't know when we will make it there, I'm guessing sometime next week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Out of Towners: How do you get your fix?

The latest poll is for those Cincy chili lovers who have moved away from Cincinnati, or those who aren't from Cincy and don't live here, but love our style of chili. How do you get your Cincinnati chili fix?

Do you have cans shipped to you?
Do you have relatives or friends bring you cans of it when they visit you?
Do you make your own? (If you do, we would love to know your recipe!)
Or do you just suffer until you make a visit back to Cincinnati?

If you are not an out of towner, you can leave a comment describing what you would do if you left Cincinnati.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Quest Stops!

We are happy to announce that two more locations have been added to the Cincinnati Chili Quest. The two new locations are West Side Chili and Mr. Gene's Dog House "Mobile Weenies on Wheels".  West Side Chili was recommended to us by a reader. As you probably guessed, it is located on the West Side of town (on Glenway).  Mobile Weenies on Wheels is the newest addition to the booming Cincinnati food truck scene. So far they have set up shop on 5th and Race during lunch hours. We are big fans of the food trucks so we are definitely looking forward to trying Mr Gene's Dog House food truck.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Blue Ash Chili Review

Coney Quest stop #4 took us up North to Blue Ash Chili. Food Network's Guy Fieri was a big fan when he visited for an episode of Diners, Drive-In's and Dive's, would we be fans as well?

We met up with a friend, and Blue Ash resident, on a Saturday afternoon for lunch. So far on our quest all of the establishments have been fairly empty. This was not the case at Blue Ash Chili, as the place was packed. We got there just in time to find a table, when we left there as a line waiting for seats. Blue Ash definitely has a loyal following. Another first for the quest is Blue Ash is the first service to have a wait staff, as all of the other parlors have had counter service. At this point in the quest we aren't too sure which we prefer, both have their positives and negatives, maybe we will know what our preference is by the end of the quest. The waitresses at Blue Ash were friendly and were very attentive despite how crowded the restaurant was.

So far on this quest we have noticed that many Cincinnati Chili parlors go for a diner atmosphere, Blue Ash Chili has done the best job of capturing that old time diner feel. The walls of the restaurant are filled with memorabilia from the 50's, 60's and 70's, such as old photos of celebrities and old records. Next to our table was a photo of Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe and behind our table was a Ponch (Erik Estrada from CHiPs) love meter. The menu also captures an old time diner as well. Along with their signature chili you can order burgers, chicken tenders and other standard diner fare. They also have some menu items that stand out such as their giant double decker sandwiches, the chili philly (a philly cheesesteak sandwich topped with chili) and a 6-way which is their 5-way with the addition of fried jalapeño caps. They are definitely proud to be featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as Guy Fieri's face is plastered throughout the menu. Thus far on the quest Blue Ash has the largest menu and I would be tempted to go back to try some of their non-chili items.

Alison's Review

Blue Ash Chili knows exactly what defines Cincinnati style chili.  Their food brings the flavors that we're expecting to the forefront. 

This chili is unapologetically sweet.  It is heavy on spices like cinnamon and cumin--spices that are usually apparent only as undertones in the chili sauces we've tried up until this point.  There is no heat level, and the chili pepper, onion, and garlic spices are probably used in moderation.

The fresh onions and mustard stuck out in the overall taste of the coney.  I'm finding that this seems to be the case with chili recipes that go lighter on the onion.  The mustard and onion are not unwelcome tastes, but I personally enjoy when they succeed in enhancing the chili's flavor rather than just standing beside it.  

The cheese especially soft and melted quickly, probably meaning it was loaded with oil.  No complaints here.  It was very good, and this kind of cheese is another defining factor in the traditional Cincinnati cheese coney. 
The hot dog was steamed without any grill marks.  I missed having the bit of grilled taste that we got at a couple of the previous parlors.  The bun was a bit lacking here.  It was soft and fresh but didn't hold up against the chili very well and the sides were collapsing.

Blue Ash Chili makes a genuine coney, and I'm glad that this parlor represented all of Cincinnati chili on Guy Fieri's show.  However, the coney could have been a little better balanced and I'm still searching for that unknown "wow" factor.  But Blue Ash Chili deserves a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Clint's Review

As Alison stated, Blue Ash is the sweetest chili we have tasted thus far. When people think of Cincinnati style chili, the flavors represented in Blue Ash's brand is what they think of. I'm not as good at picking out particular spices as Alison is, but I could definitely detect the cinnamon flavor. After last weeks hot US Chili that stayed with me all day, I felt the sweetness of Blue Ash to be a welcomed change. It probably could be a little hotter spice wise, but I found all the flavors to be enjoyable. It also wasn't as meaty as the last two parlors on the quest.

This was another messy coney, not quite as messy as US Chili, but they definitely don't skimp on any toppings. You get a mound of cheddar cheese on each coney. The cheese was nice, soft and fresh tasting. Some might think they could dial the cheese back a little, but not this guy. Only problem you can have with  a lot of cheese is if it overwhelms the chili flavor, and it did not in this case.  I liked the hot dog a little more than Alison, it wasn't anything amazing, but I didn't think it tasted quite as bland as other coney hot dogs have and the flavor from the hot dog complimented the chili and cheese well. I also didn't have the same problems with the buns as Alison did, but I am also a faster eater than she is, so maybe I scarfed them down before they had the chance to break at the seams.

Overall I enjoyed the coneys a lot and give it a 3.75 out of 5. Right now I have Dixie with my highest rating because they do a good job of balancing sweet and heat.  However if you are craving the stereotypical sweet Cincinnati style chili, you need to make a trip to Blue Ash. 

Mandy's comments

Our friend Mandy joined us on this quest stop and tried a slight variation of the Cincinnati cheese coney. She chose to top her coney with fried jalapeño caps. She enjoyed her coney a lot and felt that the jalapeño caps added a nice crispiness and spice to the coney. She also liked her salad which was topped with the same cheddar cheese on our coneys.

Blue Ash Chili on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blue Ash Chili History

Blue Ash, Ohio is a northern suburb of Cincinnati that is a mix of suburbia and office parks.  Blue Ash has twice been named one of the Top 50 fabulous places to live and Fortune Magazine named Blue Ash one of the best places to live and start a small business. One of those small businesses happens to be Cincinnati Coney Quest stop #4, Blue Ash Chili.

Blue Ash Chili was founded in 1969 by a Greek family like so many of the Cincinnati chili parlors. Even though the founding family no longer owns the restaurant, the current owners have kept the same recipe that Blue Ash Chili has been known for the past 41 years. Blue Ash Chili is not just known for their chili, they take pride in having a menu that features items for everyone. Aside from their chili they are known for having massive double decker sandwiches. They are also one of the few chili parlors with a liquor license.

Blue Ash Chili has a loyal fan base which is continuing to grow especially since it was featured on an episode of Food Network's Diners, Drive-In's and Dives.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coney Quest Stop #4

The fourth stop on the quest has been drawn. Not exactly sure when we will be visiting this parlor, we will be monitoring the upcoming SNOWMAGEDDON, and making our plans from there. Once again this week all parlors but Skyline and Gold Star were eligible to be drawn. In two weeks we will introduce either Skyline or Gold Star into the mix, and the other one will get introduced later in the quest.

And now onto the selection:

We are definitely looking forward to visiting Blue Ash Chili, as it has received a lot of buzz the last couple of years, including a visit from Guy Fieri for his hit television show Diners. Drive Ins and Dives.

Poll Results: What is your background and view of Cincy Chili?

Poll #2 asked our readers what their background was (local or transplant) and how they felt about Cincinnati style chili (love at first bite, gradual love, or hatred). Once again the poll lived up to my predictions.

57% are native to Cincinnati and LOVE Cincinnati chili
30% are transplants and didn't like it at first but eventually loved it
9% are transplants who loved it at first bite
3% are transplants who HATE Cincinnati chili

If you have lived in Cincinnati long enough these results probably don't surprise you too much. Most native Cincinnatians love our chili and are appalled that anyone could question that love. Most transplants I know that eat Cincy chili tell me they didn't like it at first, but kept on eating it since it was the thing to do here and eventually (usually by the 3rd time) loved it. I don't come across many transplants that love it at first bite, but as you can see they do exist. There was a total of 3% for the HATE options, but I would venture to guess if you polled random people that number would be much higher. It wouldn't make much sense for someone that hates Cincinnati chili to read this blog.

Thanks to all that participated in this poll, if you have any ideas for future polls related to chili, food, or just Cincinnati in general, let us know!

Monday, December 13, 2010

US Chili Review

Our next stop in the Coney Quest took us to U.S. Chili in Camp Washington.  Here, we were able to experience another branch of the Empress Chili lineage.  It has been interesting to see the widely different variations on the original, and U.S. Chili was quite unique from what we have experienced so far.  

The chili parlor is located on the corner of Colerain and Hopple in what was once a bank building.  A safe deposit box near the front door and a large safe door inside the restaurant are evidence to this.  The way I would describe US Chili is that it's a diner that happens to sell Cincinnati chili dishes. The menu features such diner stables as hamburgers, sandwiches and breakfast items. There is checkerboard flooring which creates a feeling of a different decade.  The large front counter also contributes to this retro feel, but more importantly it ties in the true neighborhood diner atmosphere as a single waitress was able to manage the whole dining area.  They took our order from the counter, but we noticed that many of the locals just came in and took a seat, the waitress already knowing exactly what they were going to be eating.   Our food was brought out by the one person who was working in the kitchen, who we recognized from our research as the owner.  The friendly character of this parlor made for a Cheers like atmosphere where everyone knows your name.  One more thing that makes US Chili stand out from the others are their hours. US Chili is more of a breakfast and lunch place. During the week they are only open til 4:45, only til 2 on Saturday and closed on Sunday.

During our research it was indicated that US Chili stood for Uncle Steve's Chili, however they definitely dress the parlor up as if it stood for United States. There is an American flag placed outside the front entrance and some American flags inside. Down the street there is a mural of George Washington in drag painted on a side of the building. However the owners of US Chili don't take to kindly to that and have a petition posted with many signatures to protest this image of George Washington.

Parking is limited for US Chili. There appeared to be a very small parking lot to the side of the building, but we weren't sure if that was designated for US Chili parking so we parked on a nearby side street.

Clint's Review

If you asked me to describe the cheese coneys at US Chili with one word, I would use "messy". As soon as you take one bite of the coney you will have chili all over your fingers and face. It's as if they knew I was coming, read my complaints about Empress and made sure that there would be a lot of chili on these coneys. Despite washing my hands multiple times, my fingers reeked of chili the rest of the afternoon. I rather have too much chili than not enough, so this isn't a big complaint, just make sure to ask for plenty of napkins if you visit US Chili.

The fist couple of bites I had of the coney nothing really stood out taste wise, then it hit me. US Chili has a pretty high heat level spice to it that sneaks up on you about halfway through the coney.  Its not a five alarm chili level of heat, but it is hotter than your typical Cincinnati style chili. It tasted ok, although I prefer a more flavorful spice such as the spices Dixie uses.  It also was a little meatier than typical Cincy chili which I liked, made for a much more filling coney as I wasn't hungry again until 6 or 7 hours later.

The buns weren't anything remarkable but I do have to give them credit for being able to hold so much chili in addition to the hot dogs and cheese. The hot dog was fine, your typical coney style pork hot dog. The cheese tasted more like a store bought bagged Kraft cheese, which is fine since I'm not snooty enough to dislike Kraft cheese, just wasn't very remarkable.

Overall I give US Chili a 2.5 out of 5. I liked that with their hot spices its a slightly different twist on Cincinnati chili, but at the same time felt there was something missing. If you like a spicier chili I would definitely recommend trying US Chili.

Alison's Review

The chili recipe at U.S. Chili reminds me of a homemade concoction that would come out of my own kitchen.  It was meaty and simple with a bit of a kick--probably from fresh chili peppers or extra chili powder.  It was less complex in flavors than the previous chili sauces we have sampled, but it was a solid recipe that I would not tweak.  If ever I were to try a a chili sandwich (which is a coney without the dog) this would be the place to do it.  Or even simply served in a bowl, this chili could be a meal in itself.  

The rest of the cheese coney flavors and textures fell into place to make for a decent overall product.   The onions and mustard were strong, but well balanced with the heat level in the chili.  The hot dogs were fine, but the meatiness of the chili covered up any of their flavor.  The buns were unremarkable except in their ability to hold up against the large amount of chili sauce that U.S. Chili uses.  The cheese was the average shredded cheddar you typically find on a coney.  (I'm still hoping for a chili parlor that uses extra sharp cheddar or something else outstanding.)  And yes, the chili was piled on high, making for a very sloppy coney.  U.S. Chili charges $1.35 per coney which is the best deal we've had on the quest so far.  

I give U.S. Chili  3 out of 5 stars for the coney.  However, I would give an even stronger recommendation to this chili parlor for it's neighborhood atmosphere and extra friendly staff.

Us Chili on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 10, 2010

History of US Chili

When we drew US Chili for the next stop on the Coney Quest I was looking forward to writing the history post for it. I was expecting to write about how awesome American's such as Hulk Hogan, Brett Favre, Chuck Norris, Captain Sully Sullenberger and others, teamed up to make the most butt-kicking Cincinnati style chili ever created. However Alison did some research and broke the bad news to me that US doesn't stand for United States Chili, it's actually Uncle Steve's Chili. Bummer.

The real story is US Chili is another Cincinnati chili parlor who has roots with the original Cincinnati chili parlor, Empress Chili. Jim Storgion is the current owner, but it was his grandfather who came up with the US Chili recipe. He was a former employee at Empress who decided he too could tweak the Empress recipe to create his own brand.

US Chili is located across the street from the iconic Camp Washington Chili. According to our research, yes there is a story behind that.  From what we can gather, the owners of US Chili are related to the owners (not by blood, in-laws) of Camp Washington, and wanted a share of Camp Washington ownership.  However John Johnson did not agree and instead became the sole owner of Camp Washington Chili. The disgruntled relatives left Camp Washington and opened up US Chili across the street.

When we visit US Chili we hope to find out more details about its history, especially their feud with Camp Washington. I know some people are passionate about their chili parlors but never knew we had a Hatfield's vs. McCoy's in the Cincy Chili Wars!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Poll: What is your background and view on Cincinnati Chili?

In this poll we would like to know what our readers background is and how they feel about Cincinnati style chili. By background I mean are you a native or a transplant? This blog features a combination of native and transplant, as I was born and raised in Cincinnati, while Alison moved here 5 years ago for school. Along with this info, we are interested in how that might effect your view on Cincy chili. Are you a native Cincinnatian who loves it, or one of the rare ones that don't care for it? Are you like Alison and a transplant that didn't care for it at first but then eventually fell in love with it, a transplant that just doesn't like it and thinks people are crazy for liking it, or did you actually love it at first bite?

Like last time, the poll can be found on the right side of the page and will stay up for a week.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cincy Coney Quest Stop #3

Once again we threw chili parlor names in a hat and selected one to decide what our next destination would be on our quest to find the best coney in town. We did withdrawal Covington Chili from consideration this round to eliminate the chance of going to Northern Kentucky again, nothing against NKY, just wanted to mix it up a little. Anyway, the next stop on the quest will be:

U-S-A! U-S-A! I think I will play the Team America theme song many times to get me extra psyched to try US Chili.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dixie Chili (Newport) Review

Coney Quest stop #2 took us to Northern Kentucky's legendary chili parlor Dixie Chili.  As indicated in the history post, Dixie was founded by a former Empress Chili employee. Did this offshoot surpass Empress or does father know best?

Dixie has three locations, we visited the location in Newport on historic Monmouth Street.  Monmouth is one of the more interesting streets in the Greater Cincinnati area.  Back in its heyday Monmouth was known as this regions version of Vegas, with its illegal gambling operations and mafia influence.While it doesn't have the gambling joints that made Newport infamous, it certainly has some interesting and shady character. If you took an out-of-towner down Monmouth they would assume you took them to a really bad section of town as it is home to pawn shops, liquor stores, loan brokers, gun stores and two strip clubs.  I never feel unsafe while I'm in Newport, but I could see why others might. My favorite part about Monmouth is that it leads into Newport on the Levee which is a popular destination for many tri-state families. Parents, don't let your children stray away from the levee. Anyway, amongst the many fine establishments along Monmouth there are some good eats to be found, such as Newport Pizza Company, Pepper Pod Restaurant and of course Dixie Chili.

Dixie Chili is a throwback to a classic diner style chili parlor.  Dixie has a very efficient counter service.  Order your food at one station, receive your beverage at the second station and get your food at the end.  Everything is out in the open, so no worry about any shenanigans taking place with your food and the counter was fully staffed so you get your food quickly.  The dining area was clean, with soft lighting, holiday decorations, and featured old photos of Dixie Chili along the wall. Dixie is also known for being the chili parlor with the jukebox. While we were there a couple of country songs were played at an acceptable volume. There wasn't just country in the jukebox, I noticed some pop in there as well. With Dixie being so close to many bars and being open until 3AM on Friday and Saturdays, I imagine the jukebox selections could get interesting as the night goes on.

Dixie Chili's menu has the standard Cincinnati Chili options, such as coneys and ways, but it also features some unique items that makes them stand out from other parlors. Along with the traditional 3/4/5 way, Dixie has a 6-way, which is chili, spaghetti, bean, onion, chopped garlic and cheese.  While I didn't see veggie chili on the menu, they had jars of it at the front counter for purchase.  The one item that truly sticks out is The Alligator.  The Alligator is a cheese coney that also features a pickle spear and mayo.  Neither of us are big fans of pickles so we were not daring enough to try it, but I've had many friends tell me it's great and their favorite. So if this sounds good to you, I say go for it!

Alison's Review

This cheese coney proves a very apparent attention to detail in the Dixie Chili family recipe.

As the plate sits in front of you, the seasonings in the chili are noticeable by scent.  It was obviously so spiced, I wondered if the chili would have a heat level to it.

The first bite revealed that this was indeed a chili with a lot of spice, but not at all spicy heat level wise.  The sauce was meaty and thick with the flavors of garlic and onion apparent.  I can't determine what other spices may have been in it, but it was overall a very well-balanced chili.  

The cheese tasted about the same as any mild cheddar.  However, it smelled as if it might have been fresh grated.  This definitely added to the overall flavor of the product.  

The onions were fresh and crunchy, but not strong, complimenting the chili. The mustard was imperceptible, probably masked by the flavorful sauce.  Personally, I would have liked to taste the mustard at least a little bit if it could be added without dampening the rich flavor of the chili.

The buns were nothing noteworthy, but the hot dogs had a nice grilled flavor.  I could even see grill marks on them.

I was really impressed with the Dixie Chili coney.  Added bonuses were the easy street parking (we think they may have even had a little lot of the side), and a comfortable dining room.  I give Dixie 4 out of 5 stars.  

Clint's Review 

I came into Dixie with a lot of hope for their coneys since they were the most recommended parlor since I started the blog. I am happy to report that yes, Dixie lived up to the claims of the loyal fans.

My big complaint about Empress was not enough chili, I did not have this problem at Dixie. There was a perfect amount of chili on each coney. There could have been a little more cheese, but thats just because I love cheese, there was probably enough on there for the average coney eater. The bun was soft and not very firm, but it tasted fine and held everything together, so it did its job.

I really enjoyed the taste of the chili. It has more spices and not overly sweet like Cincy chili is known for. As Alison said, it wasn't a heat level spice, but a nice flavorful spice. Also everything was at a nice hot temperature. The cheese melts pretty quickly due to this so I would recommend eating in if you can.

Another category that Dixie did well that I would have liked to see Empress improve on is their restaurant decor. Dixie embraces their history by having old photographs of the parlor throughout the diner.  As soon as you walk in you know Dixie has a rich history.

I was also impressed by Dixie and its brand of chili, I give them a 4 out of 5.

Dixie Chili on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 3, 2010

Work Cafeteria Cheese Coney Mini-Review

At my work we have a cafeteria that serves free food to all of its associates. Sometimes the food is good, sometimes not so much, but its free so who am I to complain. The following was on today's menu:

Since it is my goal to find the best cheese coney in town, it is my duty to try the work cafeteria coney out, no matter how low my expectations may be.

Verdict: Mediocre. This is a classic example of how one thing wrong on a coney can ruin the entire thing. In this case it was the buns. The chili and cheese were fine, nothing to write home about, but decent enough. However the buns were hard and completely fell apart.

1.5 out of 5. (giving it an extra .5 just because its free)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How Do You Like Your Coney poll results

Our first poll of the quest asked the question how do you like your coney: plain, onions & mustard, just onions, just mustard, or other? The results weren't too surprising, most prefer their coneys to have all the toppings.

59% Onions and Mustard
13% Plain
13% Just Mustard
8% Other
5% Just onions

That is exactly how I predicted the order to be. Typically when I go out with a group of people most will get onions and mustard but some like me will just go plain. Some chili places have their own specialty coney, like the alligator at Dixie, so I figured there would be some love for the other category.  I've never actually been with someone that ordered just onions.

I would like to do a poll every other week, not sure if that is realistic, but thats the goal as of now. So if you have any ideas for polls let us know!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

History of Dixie Chili

It is appropriate that the first stop on the quest after Empress is Dixie Chili. If Empress is the father of Cincinnati style chili, then Dixie is one of its sons. Eighty years ago an employee of Empress Chili, Nicholas Sarakatsannis, decided to leave Empress and set up his own parlor and give birth to a new flavor of Cincinnati chili.

As a teenager Sarakatsannis escaped to the U.S. from Greece, a country in violent battle with Turkey at the time. He worked in Greater Cincinnati area candy stores and hot dog stands as a young man until he became an employee at Empress Chili.

Seeing the potential in this product and believing he could improve the recipe, he decided to start up his own chili parlor in Newport. Despite having been founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, his restaurant has not only survived the test of time, it has thrived. Dixie now has two additional locations in Erlanger and Covington, and can be found at local grocery stores. The original location is now the oldest chili parlor in Northern Kentucky.

Dixie Chili, the pride of the Sarakatsannis family, boasts its thick, spicy, and freshly made chili. It is made in the Newport Commissary by Sarakatsannis's sons who maintain the original, and very secret, family recipe. Since the beginning of the quest, Dixie Chili has been one of the most recommended by readers. We will soon find out if Dixie lives up to its reputation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cincy Coney Quest Stop #2

For the most part the process of choosing what order the Cincinnati Coney Quest will go on is random. We put all the chili parlor names on slips of paper and draw the name from a hat. Only exceptions to this are making Empress stop #1 and planning on doing Gold Star and Skyline later in the quest since we are more accustomed to that taste.

Today was the first drawing of the quest...

...and the 2nd parlor will be:

Quest stop #2 will once again take us across the border, to try out Northern Kentucky's very popular Dixie Chili.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cincinnati Coney Quest on Social Media

Not only can you follow the Coney Quest here on blogger, we are also active in social media. If you are on Twitter or Facebook, click on the links below to follow us in the social media world.

Twitter: @CincyConeyQuest


We also have our Twitter feed and Facebook fan badge on the right side of the blog. You can also share our articles on various social media sites via the Share This button on the bottom of each post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Poll: How do you like your coney?

There are a couple of ways one can enjoy their cheese coney. This blog is a perfect example of this as I prefer mine plain (just chili, cheese, hot dog and bun) while Alison prefers hers with everything (onions and mustard). So how do you like your coney? Just plain? All the fixings? Just onions or just mustard? Or do you like to add a different ingredient from the norm such as "The Aligator" does at Dixie Chili (Aligator features mayo and a pickle spear)?

Answer the poll on the right side of this page. If your choice is "Other", let us know what you like to add to your coney.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Empress Chili (Alexandria) Review

Empress Chili is the originator of Cincinnati Chili. Because of this we both really wanted to love Empress. Unfortunately Empress failed to impress. Yes that witty pun was intended. We did not dislike Empress, in fact there was some stuff we really liked, but we both walked out thinking it could be a lot better.

Before we get to our thoughts of the coneys, some background information of the restaurant.

Empress Chili is counter service, which means you walk up to the counter and order, no waiters or waitresses. Then you take your food to your table. The restaurant has a cafeteria/fast food restaurant feel to it. It's fairly nondescript, there is a photo of the original Empress behind the counter, a couple of wreath like decorations on the walls. The restaurant was clean, well lit and (even though a Kentucky location) non-smoking.

The menu was a combination of standard Cincy chili parlor and deli. One side of the menu had your 2/3/4/5 way's, cheese coneys, something called a "spagoney" which I'm not exactly sure what it is but assume its some sort of coney/way combination and chili pizza. The other side of the menu featured various deli sandwiches if you aren't having a chili craving. If you have room for desert they also have milkshakes and cookies. If beverages are important to you when choosing a chili parlor Empress has Pepsi products, iced tea and even coffee if you want a little pick me up with your chili. The prices were reasonable, with a coney costing $1.60, however if you like oyster crackers with your chili they will cost you 25 cents. They also have a white board which features their weekly specials.

Clint's Review

I grew up in Mount Lookout right down the street from an Empress Chili (which is now Ramundo's Pizza). Even though it was only a minute walk to Empress, whenever my family went out for chili they chose Skyline. After finally seeing what Empress has to offer I can see why they passed on the convenience of Empress. Its not that Empress was bad, it just felt very incomplete.

I mentioned above there were things to like about Empress. Mainly it was the buns. They were very soft and tasted like some of the most fresh hot dog buns I have had. They were also thick enough to be able to handle many toppings. The buns were so good I want to go back and ask if I can just buy a pack of them for next time I am having hot dogs.  The cheese was also good and you got plenty of it.

The problem I had with the Empress coneys was the chili, or really lack there of. From what I can tell the chili tasted fine, not quite as sweet as other Cincinnati chili, but wasn't a bad taste. Unfortunately it was kind of hard to get a good judge of the taste because they didn't put a lot of it on the coney. There were a couple of bites I took that tasted like I was just eating a hot dog topped with cheese. At first I wondered if maybe the chili was just bland and I wasn't noticing the flavor (which could still be part of it), so I took a closer look at my half eaten coney and noticed there just wasn't a lot of chili there. Typically I'm a pretty messy coney eater, but my plate was fairly clean afterward. You will see a little bit of chili dripping out of a coney in my picture to the right, which would make you think the coney was overflowing with chili, but the picture is deceiving and that may have been half the chili that was originally in the coney.

One other improvement I would make is Empress, at least this location, should do a better job promoting its history. The only mentions of it being Cincy's first parlor are the small sized cups which say "Cincinnati's Original Chili" and the photo behind the counter. I'm no interior decorator, but I would have old photo's throughout the restaurant and have more references to it being the original Cincinnati chili parlor. A big reason why people would visit Empress is because of its history. Embrace and promote the history, let patrons know as soon as they walk in that this is the originator of Cincy chili. The interior was so bland it felt like a work cafeteria.

Overall Empress was very "meh". It certainly isn't bad, and I think with some tweaks here and there it could be good. It will get a chance to redeem itself later when we run the grocery store bought portion of the quest, as you can buy Empress frozen at select stores. For now I give Empress a 2.5 out of 5.

Alison's Review

The best part of this coney was most definitely the bun.  The bread tasted fresh-baked and was melt-in-your-mouth soft.  When loaded up, it didn't become soggy or fall apart at the seam.

It was a very neat coney, and aside from the mounds of cheese on top, I didn't lose any of it on the plate. That being said, the amount of chili was greatly lacking.  The bun definitely could have handled more.  I really can't comment on the quality of the chili itself because I couldn't taste it.  It was completely lost under the strong white onions and potent mustard. The onions and mustard should bring out the flavors of good chili, not mask it.

The cheese and hot dog were fairly average.  Nothing bad about them.

There was a steady stream of customers, so there is obviously a good deal of loyalty to Empress, but I couldn't tell you what die-hard fans name as the stand-out quality or feature of their beloved chili.  There is a lot to be said for the history, but as Clint said, so little evidence of this in the restaurant.

Partially due to the food, but even more so due to the locations, I can't foresee myself going out of my way to visit Empress Chili again.  I give Empress a 2 out of 5.

Empress Chili on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 21, 2010

History of Empress Chili

Stop #1 of the Cincinnati Coney Quest brought us to Empress Chili. We chose to go to Empress first because Empress Chili is the originator of Cincinnati Style chili. In 1922, brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff created their iconic chili by experimenting with a Greek style stew over hot dogs and spaghetti at their hot dog stand which was located next to the Empress Burlesque Theater on Vine, between 8th and 9th street. The original location is no more, but there are three parlors remaining: Alexandria, Delhi and Hartwell. You can also find Empress Chili in the frozen food isle of various tri-state grocery stores.

Without Empress Chili, two of Cincinnati's beloved chili parlors would not exist. Dixie Chili and Skyline Chili were both created by former Empress employees who tweaked the Empress recipe to create their own brand.  Even though Empress is the first Cincinnati chili parlor, it does not have the market share of chili kings Skyline and Gold Star, however, owner Jim Papakirk would like to change that. In an interview with Cincy Magazine, Papakirk indicated that he would like to expand Empress beyond its current locations and put Empress back on the Cincinnati chili map.

Tomorrow we will share our reviews of Empress Chili (Alexandria) and if we felt the original Cincinnati chili stands up today.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The 2010-11 Cincinnati Coney Quest Tour

Over the next 3-4 months the Cincinnati Coney Quest will be going to the following chili parlors (list in no particular order):

Empress Chili - 3 locations, we will go to either Alexandria or Delhi
Skyline Chili - multiple locations, we will go to Clifton (Ludlow)
Gold Star Chili - multiple locations, we will go to Mt Washington
Blue Ash Chili - Blue Ash
Pleasant Ridge Chili - Pleasant Ridge
Price Hill Chili - Price Hill
Chili Time - St. Bernard
Dixie Chili - multiple locations, we will go to Newport
Camp Washington Chili - Camp Washington
U.S. Chili - Camp Washington
Delhi Chili - Delhi
Covington Chili - Covington

We don't have a set order that we are following but we do know the first parlor on the tour will be Empress. Since its the first Cincinnati Chili parlor its only right to begin the quest there. If there are any parlors or restaurants we missed please notify us and it will be added to the list.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is that it?...wait, this is DELICIOUS!

Most out-of-towners cannot spend a single day in Cincinnati without being asked at least three times "Have you tried Cincinnati Chili yet?" But as a newbie to the city, I managed to spend an entire year without tasting this Cincinnati staple.

It was not that I was opposed to it. But when I arrived in town five years ago start my music degree at UC, I was immersed into the music conservatory lifestyle where nearly all my freshmen peers were from out of state and were equally as clueless about 5-Ways and Cheese Coneys. Little did we know that in a few years most of us would be stumbling out of Ludlow Avenue bars after last call to wait in the freezing cold to get into Skyline, which on Saturday nights required a bouncer at the door to keep the restaurant under capacity.*

However, it took me and my classmates awhile to get on the bandwagon, and In the beginning we blundered through our first experiences. Twirling our spaghetti instead of cutting it with a fork. Having to look at the menu to remember the difference between a 4-Way and a 5-Way. And even after becoming bold enough to bring home a can of store-bought chili to prepare for ourselves, there would still be someone there to correct us when we tried to pour the chili in the bun before putting the hot dog in.

My personal first experiences with the food were similar to what many others have explained to me as The Three Stages:

First Cincinnati Chili Experience -- "Meh, I don't see what the big deal is. Actually, this stuff is kind of gross."

Second Cincinnati Chili Experience -- "Hm. This isn't so bad."

Third Cincinnati Chili Experience -- "I am prepared to eat this every day for the rest of my life! What do they put in this stuff?!"

Some will claim to have enjoyed it the very first time, but ultimately we all end up as addicts.

The unfortunate side of my love for Cheese Coneys is that I've only ever eaten Skyline. In fact, I was hardly aware of any other legitimate chili parlors besides Goldstar or Skyline until recently, when a peer of mine proclaimed that he much rather preferred Price Hill Chili over Skyline. It made me realize that I need to experience the many chili options this city has to offer even if it means venturing out to Price Hill...just kidding westsiders.

Well, Clint and I are up for the challenge, and what could make us better loyalists to the 513 than a Cincinnati Chili Tour?

*For the record Clint and I have vowed to undergo Coney Quest in a sober state so as to avoid an alcohol induced variable of "OH MY GOD! This is the best cheese coney I've EVER eaten!"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What is Cincinnati Chili?

When someone visits Cincinnati one of the first questions they will ask is, what exactly is "Cincinnati Style" chili? This isn't always an easy question to answer since the true recipes are kept pretty secret, but I will attempt to explain the uniqueness of our beloved hometown food.

First thing one should know is, it isn't really chili, at least not in the technical sense as most know it. There are no chili peppers in our version of chili. So if one is expecting a Tex-Mex style chili on their hot dog or spaghetti they are going to be disappointed. I like to say its a chili-like sauce for hot dogs and spaghetti. You aren't gonna kick back and enjoy a bowl of Cincy chili on a cold winters day. It's a different kind of "chili" and that is ok. Although I've never tried it, I don't think I would enjoy Tex-Mex Chili over spaghetti, so Cincy chili works they way its intended to.

Aside from the lack of chili powder, a big difference between Cincinnati chili and traditional chili is Cincinnati chili is more sweet in taste.  This is due to ingredients such as cinnamon and chocolate being incorporated. I personally have never bitten into a cheese coney and though, wow this is chocolatey and meaty! But the sweetness is noticeable.

A common label I've seen applied to Cincinnati chili is that its Greek. That is true to an extent. Cincinnati style chili was first concocted by two Greek immigrates, Tom and John Kiradjieff. Like many chefs they were experimenting with different foods to drum up business at their hot dog stand, and ended up modifying a traditional stew like food from their homeland of Greece and served it over hot dogs and spaghetti.  They then turned the hot dog stand into the first Cincinnati chili parlor, Empress Chili. So yes, Cincinnati style chili does have some Greek backgrounds, however don't expect to go to Greece with hopes of finding cheese coneys and 3/4/5-ways. It truly is a Cincinnati food.

As someone who was born and raised in Cincinnati, all of this sounds completely normal and delicious to me. However out-of-towners think oppositely and can need some convincing to give our brand of chili a try. Alison is one of those transplants and will later describe her initials thoughts of Cincinnati chili and how she became a fellow cheese coney enthusiast.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Quest for the Holy Cheese Coney

Cincinnati is known for many things, some good and some bad: Pete Rose and The Big Red Machine, mediocre "professional" football, WKRP in Cincinnati, the stigma for being 10 years behind the rest of the country, Nick Lachey, Mayor Jerry Springer, the 2001 riots, etc. These are just some of the images people may have when they think of Cincinnati, Ohio.  However if you bring up food and Cincinnati, only one image will pop up in peoples minds: Cincinnati Style Chili.

A couple of months ago, me and my girlfriend were enjoying an evening of fine dining at our local Skyline Chili and came to the realization that even though there are plenty of options in town for Cincy style chili, we always frequent Skyline for our cheese coney cravings. Not only is Skyline our go to option, we haven't really tried out any of the other parlors. I have been to the other two chains in town, Gold Star and Dixie (only once and I was not sober however), while Skyline is the only place she has been. This is understandable for her as she moved to Cincinnati 5 years ago for college, I however, have lived here my whole life but have not once been to the mom and pop chili parlors that help define Cincinnati. We found this to be highly unacceptable and vowed  to rectify this.

There are two food items that are most commonly associated with Cincinnati chili: the cheese coney and the 3/4/5-way. While I like the occasional 3-way *insert sophomoric joke here*, I much prefer the cheese coney. Alison is a transplant who loves Cincy chili, but doesn't care for chili over spaghetti. Thus, this journey we are embarking on will be to find the best cheese coney in town. We will of course make note of any food items that make certain chili parlors stand out, but the focus will be on the cheese coney. Admittedly, I don't go too crazy with my food, therefore I like my coneys to only have the bun, hot dog, chili and cheese. So I will be representing for the plain eaters out there. Alison on the other hand likes mustard and onions on her coney, so she will have those with more exquisite taste buds covered.

On our quest we will hit up the large chili parlors, the iconic chili parlors that hipsters like to brag about going instead of going to get chili served by the man, and the chili parlors that even the native Cincinnatians might not be aware of. Along the way not only will we post reviews and pictures of every coney ate, we will post various tidbits and fun facts about Cincinnati chili, do polls, and give the history of the parlors we visit. We also welcome any recommendations about which chili parlors to visit, we currently have a list of 13 that we plan on going to (some are listed on right side of blog, full list will be revealed in a post later this week), but definitely want to be alerted of any place we may have missed.

After the quest is over, we hope to find the perfect Cincinnati style cheese coney and can consider ourselves true Cincinnatians.