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.
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.
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.
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.