Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quest Stop #8

Our last stop on the quest was an impromptu visit to Pleasant Ridge Chili, so it had actually been a while since we did our last drawing. There were not any new entries in this drawing, however, there are some restaurants that I have found in my research that may serve Cincinnati style chili, I just need to call them to see if they A) still are in business and B) do serve coneys. If those new places check out, then there will be more than 20 restaurants on the quest!

And now for the drawing of Cincinnati Coney Quest stop #8...

We will be heading west to Delhi Chili for our eighth stop. I can't recall many times I have been in Delhi, look forward to going there and trying their chili!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Poll Results: What Side is the Best Side

In our latest poll we asked readers to weigh in on another long standing debate in Cincinnati: What side of town is the best? One catch was instead of just doing East vs. West, we tried to include all sections of the area. This poll has the most responses of our polls to date, which shows how passionate people are in this area about where they live. The winner of the poll was Northern Kentucky with 40% of the vote. At first this surprised me, but after thinking about how the Cincinnati areas had multiple choices, and how NKY just had one option, it made sense. Do Northern Kentuckians section each other by east and west like those north of the river do, or is everyone united?

To break down the results, Northern Kentucky was the overall winner, but Cincinnati had more total votes.  In East vs. West, the East Side won with 10% more of the votes. Central came in a respectable third place, only losing by a vote to the East. The biggest loser was North with only one vote.

Results of the poll:

NKY 40%
Eastside 23%
Central 20%
Westside 16%
North 3%

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pretzels, Tacos, and Chili

This weekend we had a fun food weekend in Cincinnati, which didn't just involve chili. For people that complain nothing happens in Cincinnati, you're wrong. Yeah, its not NYC or LA, but Cincy isn't as small was we like to make it out to be.  You won't find anything to do by just sitting around and complaining about it. There is plenty to do, just have to go out and find it sometimes.

On Friday we attended OTR Pretzel Fest. This event was a fund raiser for another great Cincinnati event, Bock Fest. To raise money for this years Bock Fest, the organizers held Pretzel Fest, cost of entry was $35 which included a brat/mett ticket and 4 beer tickets.  Various local cooks brought in gourmet pretzels, Taste of Belgium cooked their delicious waffles, Mecklenburg Gardens prepared the sausages and Christian Moerlein beers were served, including the tapping of their bock beer The Emancipator. Entertainment was provided by the local band The Dancing Pigs. Pretzels, brats, beers, music, what's not to like? Photos I took of the event can be found here.

Two years ago when Twitter began to take off, I was hesitant to join. I wasn't quite sure what the point of it was, but decided to give it a try anyway. I am glad that I did. I have become connected to many people that I wouldn't have, I feel it keeps me more aware of whats going on in the community and the world, and a lot of you found out about the Quest via Twitter. On Saturday night, Laura of @CincyNomerati, "hosted" a TweetUp at Tacqueria Mercado Downtown. Obvious name for the event: Tacos and Tequila Tweetup. It was a good opportunity to meet some of the food bloggers I follow and other Cincinnatians whom I have only known via twitter. Bob Schwartz (@5chw4r7z on twitter) has a write up of the tweetup here.

Sunday, Gold Star Chili held a Chili Cookoff at Findlay Market. Findlay Market is one of my favorite Cincinnati landmarks, so I don't need a reason to go, but the cookoff made our Sunday at Findlay Market even more enjoyable. 30 different chili cooks brought their special recipes to Findlay, and local Firefighters served as the judges. Us regular folk were allowed to sample the chili after the firefighters were done. We didn't get to sample all 30, but what we did sample was quite good. Mary Beth Weaver and James Czar were the winners and were declared "Chili Meisters". You can find photos I took of the cookoff and Findlay Market here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pleasant Ridge Chili Review

We headed East for Quest Stop #7 which was in impromptu visit to Pleasant Ridge Chili. PRC is one of the most iconic chili parlors in town, however chili isn't the main item they are known for, many go for their gravy cheese fries. However, we did not get a chance to try the gravy fries this trip, I am cutting out fried food for my marathon training, and Alison wasn't hungry enough. Next time we go, we will have to try them.

Pleasant Ridge Chili is probably the smallest parlor we have been to thus far (it does have more tables than US Chili, but appeared to have less square footage). It also has a look and feel of a restaurant that hasn't changed anything in 30 years. I liked this, made us feel like we were stepping back in time. Also as the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Above each table is a picture of Cincinnati and up front by the counter are various magazine and newspaper articles about Pleasant Ridge Chili.

The menu is similar to many of the parlors we have visited, breakfast is available all day, they also feature double decker sandwiches, the previously mentioned gravy cheese fries, and of course all the typical Cincinnati chili dishes. One thing to keep in mind before visiting, PRC only accepts cash, they do have an ATM inside if you don't have cash on you. I would make sure to plan ahead and bring cash so you wont have to deal with any ATM charges.

Clint's review

One word to describe the flavor of the chili would be SWEET. This is your stereotypical sweet tasting Cincinnati chili. I enjoyed the flavor of the chili a lot. I would've liked a hint of heat level spice, just to give it a little more flavor and balance. However, I did like the sweet spices and flavors they use, it is a very tasty chili. I also liked the texture, wasn't thick but not too thin and watery either.  

The other ingredients of the coney complimented each other very well and you get a generous amount of chili and cheese. The cheese tasted fresh, the buns weren't anything remarkable but they held up for me which was necessary because you do get a lot of chili on each coney. The hot dog was ok, nothing spectacular but not so bland that it took away from the coney. One more plus for Pleasant Ridge Chili is they give you a bag of oyster crackers while you wait for your food. I always assumed this was standard, but at this point its only the second parlor of the quest to do so.

I give Pleasant Ridge Chili a 4 out of 5. The one thing holding PRC back from getting above a 4 (and taking the highest score thus far) is the lack of any heat. Ideally I would like some balance, however it is the best of the sweet category I have had, and they were tasty, so I give them a solid 4.

Alison's review

Pleasant Ridge Chili undisputedly falls into the sweet category. There is no heat in this recipe. Onion and garlic are not abundantly used, and the flavor is very bright. I don't think I could guess what balance of brown sugar, cinnamon, chocolate, paprika, or other sweet ingredients goes into the chili pot, but Pleasant Ridge Chili offers a surprisingly complex and delicious sauce without the need for a tang or zip.

The onion variety used on the cheese coney, which I'm guessing to be vidalia, was the perfect zesty compliment to the sweetness of the sauce. The balance was really great. Every ingredient after this, however, ranks about average. The hot dog was fairly plain. The bun was fresh but fell apart on me a little bit. The cheese was I've come to expect from every chili parlor in town. And the mustard was undetectable. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding.

At this point in the quest, however, this is my favorite chili of the sweet variety. I give the overall coney a 3.5 out of 5

Pleasant Ridge Chili on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Poll: What Side is the Best Side?

The latest poll is not about chili, but it is about one of the biggest debates in Cincinnati: What side of town is the best side of town? The argument is always East vs.West, but there are more sides than just East and West in the Cincinnati area. Everyone that lives in the region can get in on this battle. Options are:

Northern Suburbs (e.g. Mason, West Chester, etc)
Central (e.g. Downtown, OTR)
Northern Kentucky

(edit: Just realized there could be some Indiana residents who read the blog as well, its too late for me to edit the poll options, but feel free to write Indiana in if you're a Hoosier)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eastside, where you at?

Aside from getting to experience and enjoy different takes on Cincinnati chili, one thing we enjoy about the quest is getting to visit communities we don't visit often or have never even been to. While we visited Pleasant Ridge Chili one thing both of us noticed was the lack of chili parlors on the Eastside of town. Sure there are plenty of Skyline's and Gold Star's, but not many independent chili parlors. So far on the quest we have been to the Westside, Uptown, and Northern Kentucky, this was the first parlor on the Eastside and there won't be many more upcoming.

View Cincinnati Coney Quest Locations in a larger map

A little background on us: I was born and raised on the Eastside, then moved over to Northern Kentucky for college, and then Downtown after that. Alison is originally form Northeast Ohio, then went to UC for college, and moved to Mt. Lookout after she graduated. While we live in the city now, if we had to choose battle lines in the Eastside-Westside argument, we are Team Eastside.

As we have both lived in the Eastside we were both disappointed in the lack of non-chain chili parlors on that side of town. Sure there are plenty of quality dining options, especially if you like sushi, but we wished there were more independent chili parlors. Right now we have to admit, the Westside (and even NKY) is kicking the Eastside's butt in the chili category. Step your game up Eastside! Stop being snooty and embrace our chili heritage!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pleasant Ridge Chili History

There are many "mom and pop" chili parlors in Cincinnati, Pleasant Ridge Chili is one of those and is a long standing landmark on the Eastside of the Cincinnati.

Many Cincinnati chili parlors can trace their roots to other parlors in town, but not Pleasant Ridge Chili. Pleasant Ridge Chili was founded in 1964 by Tony Sideris. It is his special recipe, which is a family secret,  that holds a special place in the hearts, and bellies, of many Cincinnatians. Sadly last year Tony fell ill and passed away, but the restaurant has stayed in the family and is now owned by his son Dan.

The chili isn't the only reason many flock to Pleasant Ridge Chili. The signature item at Pleasant Ridge is not the coneys or the 3-ways, its their gravy cheese fries. If you mention you are going to Pleasant Ridge Chili to a Cincy chili lover, they will likely tell you to make sure to try the gravy cheese fries.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Meet Dexter the Pug!

Over the weekend we made a new addition to our lives, we adopted a dog! On Friday we made a trip to the SPCA shelter on Colerain to see what dogs they had available. Since we live in an apartment in the city, we had to find a good small dog that would handle city life well. As soon as we walked into the kennel every dog got excited and began barking non-stop, except one dog. That one dog was a 2 year old pug named Bugsy. We took him out of his cage and played with him a little bit and soon found out he was a fun ball of energy who was looking for a loving home.

After talking to the people at the SPCA we found out Bugsy had a rough time as of late. He was a stray, and when the SPCA brought him in he had really bad kennel cough and they weren't sure if he would make it. However, the Vet didn't want to give up on him and had faith he would overcome the kennel cough. Luckily after the medication, he did beat the cough. After hearing what this dog had been through and seeing just how adorable he is, we knew we had to take him home with us.

The first night with our unnamed dog (we weren't fans of the name Bugsy, so we knew we would change his name) was an adventure. It was pretty clear he hadn't been in a home in a while as he was very excitable and didn't want us to leave him for a second. We found out quickly that yes, he can bark. But look at that face, we could not be upset with him at all. After a couple of days he has calmed down a lot and has shown a lot of improvement. Still has some separation issues, but that is to be expected with what he went through. We decided to name him after one of our favorite TV shows, Dexter. Let's just hope he isn't living a secret life as a serial killer too.

I would like to give an endorsement to the SPCA. If you are looking to adopt a dog (or cat) I highly recommend them. It only cost $90 and the SPCA has already taken care of the shots, micro chip and spay/neutering. Plus you are doing the great deed of saving an animal who might have had a rough life and needs a good home to go to.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Poll Results: Location does matter

In our latest poll we asked do you go out of your way for a specific chili parlor even if there is one of that same brand closer to you? (e.g. you live by a Skyline in Newport, but go to the one in Clifton instead when you have your Skyline craving) The overwhelming answer was YES. 77% of the respondents indicated they go out of their way for what they think is the better location.

So it appears the old real estate slogan of "Location, Location, Location" can also be applied to the local chili parlors.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chili Time Review

Cincinnati Coney Quest stop #6 took us to Chili Time in the neighborhood of St. Bernard. I haven’t been in the Saint Bernard area in a long time because I never really had much of a reason to. There wasn’t anything wrong with St. Bernard during our visit, it’s just a fairly non-descript residential community with a couple of high schools. Would Chili Time give us a reason to make more stops in St. Bernard?

The best description for Chili Time would be it’s a classic greasy spoon diner. It’s open until 4AM, has a full menu that not only features Chili, but also burgers, sandwiches, omelets and other breakfast items. So if you are looking for some food after a late night out, or if you work nontraditional hours, Chili Time is the type of restaurant you would be looking for. Since Chili Time goes for that greasy spoon feel, we liked the menu, however they have been the priciest parlor thus far. We expected the opposite to be true.

The interior is pretty bland. A couple of wall decorations, everything is white and brown. Nothing offensive to the eyes, but nothing memorable either. The dining area is fairly large with a variety of seating options from small booths to large booths, and regular table seating. Chili Time is the first location on the quest to have televisions in the dining area. At most of the previous parlors we have visited, TV’s would’ve seemed out of place, but they fit in at Chili Time. The kitchen area is out in the open, next to the dining area. While we were there the employees were friendly and seemed to get along well as some were having fun discussing the football game which was on the aforementioned televisions.

Alison's Review

My two favorite chili recipes have coincidentally fallen back to back in the quest. Camp Washington wowed me last week, but this week Chili Time has presented itself as a legitimate contender. Both chili sauces captured that perfect balance between spicy and sweet, but the recipes vary somewhat. The most noticeable difference is that Chili Time has a meatier base. It also had a slightly different spice combination, which I believe was simply more onion and garlic than Camp Washington. It wasn't a huge difference, but it was enough of a a difference to make the mustard and onions work better on the coney than they did at Camp Washington.

The other highlight of Chili Time's cheese coney was the bun. It was melt-in-your-mouth soft but held up to the chili without a problem.

The cheese on top was good. I'm learning that there is little variance in the shredded cheddars that chili parlors use. None have been bad, but none have been particularly outstanding. What it usually comes down to is getting the right amount of cheese on the coney, and in my opinion Chili Time had it right.

The only factor that kept this from being my favorite coney to date was the hot dog. It was pretty plain and flavorless. It seems that they use high quality meat in their chili, so it was a let down to not find the same with the dog.

Despite that, this is a chili parlor that will surely be high on my list by the end of the quest. I give their cheese coneys 4 out of 5 stars.

Clint’s review

For the 2nd time in a row I noticed the heat spices of the chili right away. Even though they aren’t direct relatives to Camp Washington, there were some similarities in flavor. Just like Camp Washington, the heat level stayed consistent and is never over powering. However, Camp Washington had better sweet undertones in their chili than Chili Time does. Overall it’s a solid tasting chili, not quite as great as Camp Washington or Dixie, but its better than average.

There are some pluses and minuses with the other pieces of the coney. The buns were fantastic. Definitely the best we have had since Empress. They were soft, fresh and held everything together very well. The amount of chili and cheese on each coney was also balanced very well. The one negative would be the hot dog, which was bland even for Cincinnati coney standards.

I give Chili Time a 3.5 out of 5. Chili Time has a good coney which I would recommend, but at the same time with each bite I took I just felt like there was something missing.

*Update* We visited a second time and I enjoyed the Chili Time coney a lot more. The chili is definitely one of the better ones we have tasted during the quest, cheese was freshly grated and a great balance of chili and cheese. I upgrade my score of Chili Time to 3.8 out of 5.

Chili Time on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 10, 2011

Chili Time tidbits

We like to find out the history of each chili parlor we visit, but unfortunately despite Chili Time having a long history in town, we could not find out a lot about its history at the restaurant or on the internet. We did find out some info during our sleuthing but not enough for a full fledged history post, so we will share the tidbits we found. If any Chili Time aficionados have more information about the restaurant, please share!

  • There used to be multiple Chili Time locations.  The one and only Chili Time still operating is located in St. Bernard.  There used to be a Chili Time in Roselawn as well that many long time residents have fond memories of. However that location closed in the mid 90's. There appears to have been one in Bond Hill at one point, but not sure when that location was in operation.

  • Chili Time is another Cincinnati chili parlor that can trace its roots back to the original Cincinnati chili parlor, Empress Chili.

  • Chili Time is owned by someone named Chris. Don't know a last name, so I'm just gonna assume he has none and is the Madonna or Bono of the Cincinnati chili scene.

  • There has been some major controversy at Chili Time within the past year. There was a waitress named Pam Holbrook who had worked at Chili Time for over 20 years and was very well liked by the Chili Time regulars. However she was fired in early 2010. This angered many of those regulars, who then started a group on facebook to try to get her rehired. Based on my research it doesn't look like that worked as she lists Walmart as her current employer. (I also found out via her MySpace profile that she is a "sexy bitch" and a "proud grandma". I would link to her profile, but I wouldn't wish going to MySpace upon any of my readers)

  • MC Hammer may, or may not, have been involved in the naming of Chili Time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Poll Question: Does location matter?

Location, location, location. This week's poll question is for those that like to frequent the chain chili parlors. There are multiple Skyline's, Gold Star's, Dixie's and Empress' throughout the region.  There are even some Skyline and Gold Star's outside of Cincinnati, I've heard different opinions on the out of town locations. Some thing they are nothing like the ones in Cincy, some notice no difference. This is also true for the parlors in town. For example, I know people that will go out of their way to visit the Skyline on Ludlow even though there is a Skyline closer to them. Reasons I've heard for this is they like the ambiance better or they claim the chili just taste better there than at other locations.

For this poll a couple of questions can be asked that are rolled into this theme: Does it matter which one you go to or does every Skyline (or any of the other chains listed) taste the same? Does one location offer things another one does not? If you think one is better but isn't the most convenient location to you, do you go out of your way for the better one or choose the more convenient one?

The two options for this poll are:

I will go out of my way (for a particular location, even if there is one more convenient)


I choose the most convenient location

And as always, feel free to explain your vote in the comments section.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Coney Quest Stop #6

Today was the first drawing of 2011 for the Coney Quest. Five new parlors were added to the drawing: Mr Gene's Dog House Weenies on Wheels, J and J's Restaurant, Gourmet Chili, Sam's Chili and one of the Cincinnati Chili heavyweights: Gold Star Chili. It has been a while since I have had Gold Star, so we felt enough time has passed to add them into the mix.

And Cincinnati Coney Quest stop #6 will be:

I know some people from St. Bernard who swear by Chili Time, so we look forward to visiting their neighborhood parlor and seeing how it stacks up to the competition.

Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout VIP Party

Along with chili, another great Cincinnati tradition is the Crosstown Shootout, where Xavier University and University of Cincinnati square off in basketball. Skyline Chili is the title sponsor of the game so it makes perfect sense for them to honor the tradition of the game by hosting a VIP Party at their location downtown on 4th & Sycamore. Skyline was gracious enough to extend us an invite to the party. Apparently blog about coneys is the way to become VIP, who knew?

Alison is a graduate of UC and I am a life long fan and season ticket holder of XU, so we were looking forward to attending the shootout party. We almost scored free tickets to the game, there were door prizes, our numbers were 11 and 12, the number drawn for the tickets (and $50 Skyline gift card) was 13. If only we had shown up slightly later. Along with the door prizes, the restaurant was decorated with UC and XU balloons and appearances were made by both schools cheerleaders and mascots. The UC mascot stopped by our table at one point and it did not appear that he approved of our intercollegiate relationship. Speaking of mascots, a fun fact about Xavier's famed Blue Blob mascot: One year (over 20 years ago) Skyline Chili offered a mascot to the winning team of the shootout. Xavier won that year and the blob was born.

Former Bengal, and current member of the Bengals radio broadcast team, Dave Lapham emceed the event, which featured XU Coach Chris Mack and UC Coach Mick Cronin as the main speakers. Both coaches talked about the tradition of the shootout, how they were from the area and how they have known each other for a long time. They appeared to get along pretty well considering how fierce the rivalry can be, definitely not hated rivals like Bob Huggins and Pete Gillen were in the early 90's. There was also a fun video that featured old shootout highlights and both coaches communicating via text messages talking trash to one another. As someone who follows both coaches on twitter, you can tell Chris Mack is a little more comfortable with new technology, and this was clear on the video as Mick's awkwardness showed. Wasn't a video that will win any awards, but it was effective for this event.

As food bloggers, the main attraction of the event was the food, which was all free! The invitation indicated it would be buffet style, but to my surprise waitresses worked the event and the whole menu (minus potatoes) was available. We of course ordered coneys, the main challenge was to eat the coneys without over analyzing them since this wasn't the official Skyline coney quest stop.  We did enjoy they coneys (and the oyster crackers, and the free Busken sugar cookies) and look forward to "officially' visiting Skyline later. Beer and wine was also served, I assume there were other non alcoholic drinks, but cmon, we took advantage of the free drinks as if it were open bar at a wedding reception.

Overall we had a lot of fun at this event and are gracious that Skyline extended us the invite. We will also have fun rooting against each others teams on Thursday night. I think loser has to buy the coneys on the next quest stop!