Wednesday, March 30, 2011

City Beat Best of Cincy Results

City Beat released the results of their annual Best of Cincinnati poll and somehow we did not win Best Blog. I guess me and Alison's two write in votes were not enough. Darn, better luck next year. However the Top 3 (365 Cincinnati, Wine Me Dine Me, and Urban Cincy) are all very deserving and we enjoy each blog. Congrats to all of the City Beat best of winners, even the ones I disagree with (more on that later in this post).

No best of Cincinnati poll would be complete without Cincinnati chili so there were plenty of categories involving Cincy chili parlors. Here are the results of the Reader's Poll:

Best Chili Parlor (chain):

1. Skyline Chili
2. Gold Star Chili
3. Dixie Chili

Best Chili Parlor (non-chain):

1. Camp Washington Chili
2. Blue Ash Chili
3. Price Hill Chili

Skyline Chili was the biggest winner of the local chili parlors. Along with being voted as best chain chili parlor, Skyine finished #1 in Cheap Eats, #2 in Best Restaurant, 24/7 Restaurant (Camp Washington is #3), and Takeout.

When I first read the results I was prepared to go into an epic foodie rant. But I didn't want to be that guy. Like most years, I am disappointed in the results of the Eats category. I joke around about how Cincinnatians love their chain restaurants but polls like this reinforce that opinion. Obviously I love Skyline, but 2nd best restaurant in Cincinnati? Nothing against Bob Evans, but I wouldn't put it in the Top 3 of best breakfast restaurants in town. I'm not anti-chain restaurant, there are many chains I visit. You know what you are gonna get and can usually leave satisfied. I don't want to "hate" on any of the winners. We all have our favorite places to dine for various reasons and I can respect that. I just think this city has so many great dinning options that we should all explore, and I include myself in that.

Sam's Chili Review


The first thing one should know about Sam's Chili is that it's no longer called Sam's Chili. Even though the sign out front still says Sam's Chili, the actual name of the restaurant is Sam's Fish and Chicken. If you are a first timer, like we were, you wouldn't actually know this until seeing the take out menu with the updated name. However since we were there for chili, we will refer to it as Sam's Chili.

Sam's Chili was founded in 1967 by Sam Nourtsis. The first location was downtown on 8th and Elm but in 1980 they moved to its current location on Glenway in Price Hill.

Here is a commercial we found for Sam's. It's an odd commercial because it does not match the look or feel of Sam's at all. It doesn't even show the types of food that is served at Sam's. I know you shouldn't expect much from a cheaply made local commercial, but this is very poorly made even for those standards.

About the Restuarant
Sam's Chili did not look or feel like any other chili parlor we have visited. It is by far the smallest of the restaurants we have been to on the quest. It may even be the smallest restaurant we have been to as a couple. When you walk in there is a counter to the right where you order and 4 booths and one small table to the left for seating. I'd imagine most people do carry out there and even if you aren't planning on doing carry out, you may have to if there is a large crowd. Aside from the big Sam's Chili sign, the exterior doesn't scream chili parlor either. Along with chili, such food items as fish, chicken, gyros and pizza are featured in big bold lettering on top of the restaurant, this of course made more sense when we saw the name change.

The menu at Sam's could probably clog one's arteries just be looking at it. So many fried food options on their menu. The kitchen area wasn't far from where we sat so we could he the crackling of the fryers as we awaited our food. One thing we liked about the menu was how cheaply priced everything was. We both ordered combo #11 which was 3 cheese coneys, an order of fries and a drink for $5. Even if it were just coneys that would be a great price, but to add fries and a drink for that price easily makes this the best deal of the quest.

Clint's Review

The coneys at Sam's Chili were a mixed bag. There were some aspects that I enjoyed but unfortunately some aspects that were lacking. The chili itself was fine, had some savory spices with a sweet undertone, I also noticed some red pepper flakes but didn't think the chili came across as hot. It was a middle of the road chili in my opinion.

Where Sam's Chili sticks out from others is their hot dog. Sam's is the first place we have visited that uses a beef hot dog instead of pork. I have had conversations with readers who have asked if there are any parlors who use a beef dog, now we know of at least one. The beef dog tasted pretty good and worked well with the chili.

The two aspects of the coneys that sap their potential are the buns and the cheese. The buns were too big and two of the three buns I had were not fresh. It was weird, the first bun was ok, the 2nd bun was mildly too hard and chewy, then the 3rd one was rock hard. The cheese was also lacking. I didn't get as much cheese as I typically prefer and the cheese were in short strands as if you would find in the bottom of a bag of shredded cheese.

As I eat the coneys I often have a running ranking going on in my head. These coneys started out well. As I indicated the first bun wasn't terrible and I enjoyed the beef hot dog. Unfortunately they coneys just got progressively worse and like a move that starts off good but takes a bad turn somewhere, I just wanted to finish it. I give Sam's a 2.25 out of 5. The fries were good though.

Alison's Review

Sam's cheese coney's were not the best.  As Clint mentioned, the downfall here was really the freshness factor.  If the buns were fresher and the cheese was not so dry, we might have pretty darn good coneys.

The chili was acceptable.  It was just a little bit sweet and had a bit of a tang (but no significant heat level).  There were definitely some fresh red peppers in the recipe and probably a good deal of onion.  It was good, but not quite good enough to redeem the overall product.

The standout feature here was the hot dog.  The beef dog was good, lightly grilled, and reminded me of ball park hot dogs.  But I'm not entirely sure how I feel about beef dogs on a cheese coneys.  They could possibly have the unwanted potential to cover up the flavor of the chili.  I'm interested in seeing if any other parlors use this kind of dog.

It seems like it wouldn't take a whole lot of effort for Sam's Chili to put together a better cheese coney.  There chili is good.  There dogs are unique.  Unfortunately, the staleness of the remaining elements brings down the whole product.  I'm giving this parlor a 2.5 out of 5.

Sam's Chili on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Poll Results: How often do you visit chili parlors

In our latest poll we asked how often you visited a chili parlor. If we had a vote it would have been three times a month, we wanted to see how our readers compare. Turns there are many who get chili fixes just as often or even more often than us!


30% Three times a month
30% More than four times a month
15% Four times a month
7% Less than once a month
7% Once a month
7% Twice a month

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts at the halfway point

We currently have 24 restaurants on our list of places to visit on the Quest. The next stop will be Quest location #12 which according to my basic math skills means we are at the halfway point of the Quest. It has been an interesting journey so far and we wanted to share some of the thoughts of our experience thus far.

  • We knew Cincinnati loved their chili, but wow, never really knew how much it was loved. When we started our list only had 13 locations and we figured it would take about 3-4 months to complete. Turns out there are about twice as many parlors to visit and our blog has a lot longer shelf life than anyone expected, including ourselves.

  • When we first started the blog one of my friends asked "Is there really that much difference between the various brands of chili in town?" I wasn't sure at the time, but the answer now is a resounding yes. There have been some similarities between some of the coneys we have tasted, but none even come close to being identical.

  • While the coneys have been like snowflakes, where no two coneys are identical, we have found that you can place the chili in categories. There are three different categories for the chili we have encountered: Sweet, Spicy and Savory. Going into the quest we would expect most to fit in the sweet category, but it has been pretty evenly spread out.

  • Another common theme in the Quest has been the setting. A lot of the parlors go for a diner or greasy spoon atmosphere and menu. If you are with someone that doesn't care for Cincinnati style chili they will probably be able to find something on the menu they will like. Apparently double-decker sandwiches are a very popular option at our chili joints. So far the only place to really stick to mostly chili products is Gold Star.

  • A nice aspect of our Quest is by the end of it we should know a majority of the tri-state region like the back of our hand. We have traveled to many parts of the area that we previously haven't had much, if any, experience with. 

  • One final surprise goes out to you, our loyal readers. When we first came up with the idea to try every cheese coney and blog about it, we weren't sure who would read it. Cincinnati has a solid food "blogosphere" so we weren't sure if the Cincinnati Coney Quest would stand out or not. Turns out many people are interested in our journey to find the best coney in town. Every month we gain more readers, followers on twitter and fans on facebook. It has also been fun getting to connect with the various Cincinnati food blogs that we have always enjoyed reading. It has also been great to hear feedback and recommendations from you. Thanks to you all for reading and being a part of the Quest!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Poll: How many times a month do you visit a chili parlor?

The other day me and Alison were talking about how long it had been since our last cheese coney. During the quest typically we visit a new parlor once a week, so going without coneys for the last 2 weeks feels like an eternity.

For our latest poll we wanted to know how often our readers visit their favorite parlor. Is once a month enough to fulfill your cravings or are you like us and find yourself going once a week?

The options for this poll are:

Less than once a month
Once a month
Twice a month
Three times a month
Four times a month
More than four times a month

And yes, you can include any time you make your own Cincinnati style chili at home.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Heart Mini/Half Marathon

Last week the Coney Quest went on hiatus, this was due to us participating in the Heart Mini (and Half) Marathon. When you eat cheese coneys once a week one has to make sure to find a way to burn off all those calories. For us, it is running that helps burn those calories. As much as we love coneys, it does not make for a great pre-race meal, so we had to take a short break from the quest.

This was the 34th annual Heart Mini Marathon and the inaugural Heart Half Marathon. I am in the process of training for the Flying Pig Marathon so I decided the Heart Half would fit in great with my training plan. The longest Alison had run was the Thanksgiving Day Race 10K and she wanted to give herself a new challenge, which would be the Heart Mini.

For some reason whenever I run a race in Cincinnati, the weather stinks and this race continued that trend. It was cool and rainy, while I don't mind running in cool climates (its much preferable than hot environments) I could have done without the rain. This was the 4th Half Marathon I have run and it was by far the toughest course I faced. A majority of the course is Columbia Parkway which is very hilly and they throw in a portion of steep Torrence Parkway to add to your torture. The Half splits off from the Mini at the 6th street exit where you follow Eggleston to Newport and back. That section was tough not because the terrain, but because I was on my own as there wasn't much of a crowd rooting for you (like there is at the Flying Pig) and a majority of runners were doing the Mini. So it was up to yourself to stay motivated and root yourself on.

So how did we do? Alison did awesome. It was her time ever running that distance and she finished in 1:48. To compare, I ran the Mini last year and finished in 1:47 and I had run longer distances prior to last years mini. She was worried about her legs holding up but aside from typical aches after running such a distance, she felt good. I finished the Half in 2:43. This was below my goal time of 2:35. I was on pace for that 2:35 goal until Mile 11 when my right knee flared up. This discomfort got worse and I barely made it up Sentinel hill by P&G, but fought through the pain and finished strong once I turned the corner and saw the finish line. Luckily the knee pain was temporary, but its something I need to monitor as I continue my Flying Pig training.

After such a difficult race we both feel very accomplished and tired! We are also very happy to continue the coney quest where there shouldn't be another break until May when I tackle the Pig.

We finished!...and I enjoyed a well deserved ice cream sandwich

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gold Star Chili gift card winner

Congrats Scott B, you were selected as our Gold Star Chili $15 gift card winner! I will email you to get an address to send the card to.

Scott's favorite non-coney item is a 5-way with fresh onions and garlic from Dixie Chili. Of course ways are popular amongst Cincy chili lovers, other items mentioned were chili cheese fries, PRC's gravy fries, Dixie's Aligator, Skyline Chilito, Blue Ash Chili and Camp Washington Chili sandwiches, and oyster crackers.

Thanks to everyone that participated. We will have at least one more giveaway later in the quest.

Quest Stop #12 and other chili tidbits

It has been a busy week at the Coney Quest and we wrap it up with the announcement of the next quest stop and two news items.

  • For the 12th Quest Stop drawing we added one new chili parlor to the mix. A follower of ours on twitter told us about Cretan Grill in Carthage. Based on my research it appears they sell chili, unfortunately their hours are not very convenient (M-F 9am-2pm) but we will have to find some time to make the trip there. We also added one parlor that we thought we already had on our list, Moon-Lite Chili in Batavia. They are on my map of chili parlors, but somehow escaped our list. This now brings our total to 24 chili parlors. The selection for the 12th stop on the Cincinnati Coney Quest is Sam's Chili. Coincidentally this is also located in Price Hill, very close to Price Hill Chili. Which brings us to our next topic.

  • During our trip to Price Hill Chili we noticed there appeared to be a lot of chili parlors along Glenway Avenue. Alison did a little research and found out that Glenway is considered the "Route 66 of cheese coneys". Once again Cincinnati Magazine has an interesting article about Cincinnati's chili history, this article focuses on the chili parlor history of Glenway Avenue. The article is titled "The Three-Way Highway" which I recommend reading if you have some spare time and want to know a little more about our chili history.

  • Do you love cheese coneys? Do you love the Cincinnati Reds? If you answered yes to both questions you might want to head to Tina's (located Downtown on 4th and Central) on March 20 at 1PM. Tina's is holding their 3rd annual cheese coney eating contest and the winner receives tickets to Reds opening day! The first to eat 10 cheese coneys wins a pair of opening day tickets. Last years winner wolfed down 10 coneys in 2 and a half minutes. If you are interested in competing you might want to head to Tina's ASAP as they limit the contest to 10 entries. And no, I won't be competing, I have a half marathon to run the next day, I love coneys but they are not great pre-race food.

Reminder: you have until Noon today to enter our Gold Star Chili gift card giveaway.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Price Hill Chili Review

The West side of town, especially Glenway Avenue, is known for its numerous chili parlors. The biggest and most renowned of these is Price Hill Chili, winner of this years Metromix Best Chili Parlor category in their best of Cincy poll. For quest stop #11 we headed west to find out if Price Hill Chili lives up to the hype.

Price Hill Chili is one of the biggest chili parlors we have visited. There are multiple dinning rooms including an adjacent bar. We sat in the first dining area you come to which has a really homey restaurant feel. We went for an early dinner (around 4:30) and were the youngest people there by 50 years, I guess older people really do eat earlier than us young'uns. The topic of the day was the Charlie Sheen shenanigans...or is that Sheenanigans?...either way, the locals did not think highly of that "younger black haired" guy. Anyway, we enjoyed the atmosphere, the staff and patrons were all very friendly, and the restaurant was clean and pleasing to the eyes. Our booth had Tall Stacks prints hung up on the wall which reminded us of that great Cincinnati tradition and we look forward to Stacks returning in 2012.

While chili is their signature item, PHC features a large menu. The menu is a family restaurant style menu with various sandwiches, burgers, salads and even seafood. Across the board the prices seemed fairly reasonable, even though the coneys, at $1.75 each, are slightly more expense than other parlors we have visited. Overall its a good place to bring your family to and everyone will find something that they will like.

Alison's Review

The Price Hill Chili cheese coney is heartbreakingly close to being a perfect product. This parlor brings together many of the outstanding elements that we've singled out at other chili parlors.

To begin with, the hot dog was Bluegrass brand. I gave Goldstar major points for using the Bluegrass dogs, and the same goes for Price Hill. This meat is definitely the way to go. The bun was soft but held up well. It was comparable to the buns at Empress and Chili Time, which are among my favorites. The onions were fresh and sweet and probably the best since Pleasant Ridge Chili.

Price Hill gets serious bonus points for the cheese. I've been complaining about wanting a better cheese throughout the quest, and this satisfied me. The cheddar was slightly sharper than what most chili parlors serve. It was also shredded into heavier pieces which made for a nice texture. I wouldn't be surprised if they're shredding it fresh off the block in their kitchen.

The one element that is keeping me from giving Price Hill Chili a perfect score is the chili itself. The chili was meaty and fresh with both sweet and savory spices, but I found myself wanting to taste more. If this were something I was taste testing in my own kitchen, I would have immediately doubled the amount of spices that went into the meat. Though the flavor was good, it was missing a boldness.

I can't help but wonder if Price Hill Chili had Dixie or Chili Time's chili recipe that we would have found Cincinnati's best perfect coney. I'm giving them 4.5 stars out of 5.

Clint's Review

To echo Alison's thoughts, I also believe Price Hill Chili's cheese coney is very close to perfect. I will start with the chili. I enjoyed the chili a lot, more so than Alison. True, there probably could have been a little more of the spices, but I really enjoyed the balance of sweet and savory. What I enjoyed the most about the chili was the texture. It wasn't chunky, but it certainly was the thickest chili we have tasted thus far. Sometimes Cincinnati style chili can be a bit too watery in my opinion, not the case with Price Hill's recipe, which might not be THE best but I think is amongst the best.

What puts Price Hill over the top are the factors Alison cited. The hot dog had very good flavor, which is to be expected from Blue Grass. The cheese was fresh and flavorful. The buns also fresh, soft and held everything together. Perfect amount of chili and cheese as well.

I also give Price Hill Chili a 4.5 out of 5. Some of the best Cincinnati style chili I've tasted and overall the best coney thus far on the Quest.

Price Hill Chili on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Price Hill Chili History

In 1961 Sam Beltsos identified a vacant store front on Glenway Avenue as a business opportunity. With the help of his Greek immigrant father-in-law Lazaros "Pops" Noutsis, Price Hill Chili was founded. In the beginning there were only 12 stools and four tables. But the neighborhood restaurant quickly became popular, and after many expansions over the years, including the adjacent Golden Fleece bar, the seating capacity is now at 400.

In 2003 Mr. Noutsis passed away at the age of 95. He was actively involved in the parlor until 2 weeks prior to his death. The business, which boasts having served six generations of Price Hill residents, is still owned and operated by Mr. Beltsos.

Price Hill Chili is a landmark on the West side, but people from all across the Tri-State region come to Price Hill to get their chili fix.

Beltsos and Lazaros (Photo credit: Price Hill by Christine Mersch)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gold Star Chili Gift Card Giveaway!

We are in possession of a Gold Star Chili gift card worth $15, which is enough to by a whole Coney Crate! We decided it would be nice to reward one of our faithful readers with the gift of free chili. To enter for a chance to win, tell us your favorite non-cheese coney item from a chili parlor (doesn't have to be Gold Star related). We will assign a number to each response and draw the winner out of a hat. We will announce the winner Friday afternoon.

Note: We do have a gift card for another chili parlor in town that we will also give away at a later date.

Friday, March 4, 2011

JK's Chili Review

Coney Quest stop #10 got off to a rocky start when we visited Cleves Drive-In and found out they do not serve coneys. We regrouped and picked a new location which happened to be JK's Chili in Madeira, OH. Madeira is located next to the Kenwood area and is the birthplace of my mother. Even though I have this connection with Madeira, I haven't visited often. Seemed like a nice quaint town that is quiet compared to their neighbor Kenwood.

The best way to describe JK's is hole-in-the-wall. A big feature that JK's is proud of is you can bet the lotto there. The Powerball was up to $180 million the weekend we visited, so I ordered 3 cheese coneys with a Powerball ticket on the side. Keepin it classy! Even though it might not have appeared to be the classiest of chili parlors, we were not gonna judge a book by its cover, plus we enjoy a good small neighborhood diner. It's a chili parlor, not Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse, so the ambiance works fine. Aside from some old time Reds decorations on the walls, not much to say about the decor. I did have to use the facilities while I was there, and yeah, it was a bit creepy. I would recommend going to the bathroom at home before making the trip to JK's. All of the staff were extremely nice and the place was packed while we were there, so you know the neighborhood loves JK's.

The menu is a basic diner menu. JK's is not open during the evening, so most of the menu features breakfast and lunch options, along with the standard chili items. JK's is one of the best priced parlors we have visited. If you come hungry you can get 4 cheese coneys for $5! Neither of us had that much room however.

Clint's Review

I had some big hopes for JK's. It was a nice neighborhood hole-in-the-wall parlor. Everything looked home made and delicious. Unfortunately the coneys came up short. The chili itself was ok. Reminded me a little bit of Gold Star, but less flavorful. I didn't pick up on the taste right away, but as I ate more I started noticing some similar flavors I found in the Gold Star coneys. You could call their brand Gold Star Light.

So the chili itself was average, where things go bad for JK's is the other components of the coney. The buns were hard, not rock hard or even stale, but not as fresh as I would like. JK's piles on the chili and cheese (sloppiest coneys since US Chili) and not only were the buns hard, they did not hold everything together well. It was similar to my experience with the cheese coney I had at my work cafeteria. I thought the hot dog would be good as they had a large griddle to cook every thing on, but once again I was disappointed. Not very flavorful and the hot dogs had an odd color. It wasn't all bad, I thought the cheese tasted good and I like the large amount that topped the coney.

Average chili - hard buns + good cheese - questionable hot dog x losing lottery ticket  = 2 out of 5. Like all parlors we visit, I really wanted this to be good. Unfortunately I left disappointed. However, since the chili and cheese weren't bad, I think a 3/4/5-way could be a good option here, but this is the coney quest.

Alison's Review

I love little hole-in-the-wall diners like JK's.  There is just something enjoyable about a community restaurant with lots of regular customers.  I would love it if we found Cincinnati's best cheese coney at one of these lesser known chili parlors.

I can't say, however, that JK's is that place.  Their cheese coney was a bit of a disappointment.  Overall, it was a pretty bland product.  It was really difficult to taste the chili, though it was loaded on pretty heavily.  I just couldn't pick up any of the flavors.  The cheese and the dog did nothing to boost the flavor either.  And the bun was mediocre.  Though the overall texture and appearance were fine, JK needs to kick it up a few notches.

If I ever return to Madeira, I would mind stopping into JK's for a greasy spoon breakfast, but as far as the coneys go I give them 2 out of 5 stars.

J.K.'S Chili on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Poll Results: How many chili parlors have you been to?

The latest poll was more of a survey, we wanted to know how many of the area chili parlors you have visited. I was happy to see that so many have visited multiple parlors. There was not a single vote for only 1 or 2 parlors, everyone has made it to at least 3 parlors. The "winner" of this poll was 5 parlors. 6 or more finished in 2nd, nice to see so many Cincinnati chili enthusiasts reading the blog.

Voting breakdown:

5  - 30%
6 or more - 25%
3 - 15%
4 - 15%
6 - 15%

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Price Hill Chili wins Metromix Poll

This part of the year we see many Best of Cincinnati polls released. Metromix Cincinnati recently published the results of their Best of Cincy reader poll which featured various food and entertainment categories including Best Chili Parlor.

The nominees were:

Camp Washington Chili
Blue Ash Chili
Dixie Chili
Empress Chili
Price Hill Chili

We have been to 4 of the 5 parlors, all of those received high marks from us but Empress. I was a bit surprised Skyline or Gold Star was not one of the nominees since they are the ones typically thought of, but I also liked seeing other parlors get some recognition. The winner of the poll was of course the one parlor we have yet to visit, Price Hill Chili. I will now announce that Price Hill Chili will be the 11th stop of the Quest. We look forward to finding out if Price Hill lives up to the praise bestowed by Metromix readers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

JK's Chili History

JK's Chili is yet another parlor on our list that was established by an immigrant seeking the American Dream. Jiries Khalilieh, from the country of Jordan, opened his Madeira restaurant in 1973. Just a year later he returned to his homeland to marry his sweetheart Lucy and bring her to the U.S. The couple has been operating JK's Chili side by side ever since.

Life-long customers remember when there was a hitching post in front of the parlor and you could ride your horse right up to the door. JK's Chili may not boast a myriad of chili awards like some parlors, but within the neighborhood Khalilieh is well recognized for his outstanding service to the community. He regularly donates food to local fund-raising and high school events.