Thursday, December 30, 2010
Camp Washington Chili Review
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.
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.
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.