Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gold Star Chilimobile Mini-Review

Last evening we headed to Party on the River expecting to try Mr. Hanton's cheese coney. However we had our information mixed up and Mr. Hanton's was not there. Mr. Hanton's sets up shop during Party in the Park, the Gold Star Chilimobile sets up during Party on the River. Since we were in the mood for coneys we decided to have a couple of coneys from the Chilimobile.

The Chilimobile is easy to spot, looks like an ice cream truck but has big Gold Star logos, 3-ways and coneys on it. Each coney is $2, this is slightly more expensive than a coney at a Gold Star, but that is to be expected since it cost a little more to maintain a food truck. They also had packets of free oyster crackers which I always approve of.

The coneys were ok but not quite as good as you would get at an actual Gold Star restaurant. The two main problems were the buns weren't as soft and the coneys could have used a little more chili (Alison used the word "dry" to describe her coneys). The chili could have been a little hotter but it certainly wasn't cold and it still tasted good, as did the cheese.

Even though its not quite restaurant quality, we still recommend hitting up the Chilimobile if you are at an outdoor event where it has set up shop at. This is especially true if the event serves alcohol. I imagine had we bought some coneys after enjoying a couple of adult beverages at the party this probably would have turned into the most glowing review ever*.

*Comedian Nick Swardson has a funny take on this phenomenon about 55 seconds into the video posted below.
Nick Swardson - Drinking
Nick Swardson Stand-UpNick Swardson's Pretend TimeBuy tickets to the New York Comedy Festival

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gold Star Introduces New Milk Shake

If I were to do another food quest after the coney quest, there is a good chance it would be dessert themed. I of course love Cincinnati staples such as Graeter's, Aglamesis', UDF and all the various Creamy Whip's in town.

I haven't found too many dessert offerings at the parlors we have visited, but Gold Star does have a line of milk shakes on their menu. Up until now Gold Star just had the standard Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla shakes. Today they introduce a new shake to their menu: Cookies n' Cream. This is good news as Cookies n' Cream is one of my favorite ice cream flavors. I have only had a Gold Star milk shake once, from what I remember it was pretty good. This shake is only available from now til the end of August. If I find myself in a Gold Star during this time I will have to try one and will let you know what I think.

Below is the press release from Gold Star:

Gold Star Introduces Cookies & Cream Milk Shakes for Summer
Everybody Loves A Milk Shake!
Hand Blended with Real, Premium Ice Cream and Oreo® Cookies
For a limited time only (June – August, 2011), Gold Star Chili, The Flavor of Cincinnati, has added  a new flavor, Cookies & Cream, to its line up of hand blended milk shakes, made with real, premium ice cream.
“Of the dozen or so special flavors and add-ins that we taste-tested with consumers, Cookies & Cream, was the favorite, by far,” says Charlie Howard, Gold Star Chili Vice President of Marketing & Brand Development.
The 20 oz. milk shakes feature a vanilla ice cream with real Oreo® cookies hand- blended in; real cream whipped topping is standard for the full flavor experience.
Gold Star’s everyday milk shake line features three flavors: Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The restaurant featured a very popular orange cream limited time flavor last fall throughout the Cincinnati Bengals’ football season. Since their introduction last summer, milk shakes have grown to be Gold Star’s best selling dessert item and a popular mid-afternoon or mid-evening snack item.
“We think that our milk shakes are the best-tasting shakes among Greater Cincinnati-area quick service and casual dining restaurants,” says Howard. If fact, we challenge milk shake lovers to find a better one in our dining segment."
Cookies & Cream milk shakes will be available at all participating Gold Star Chili restaurants through August 2011.

J and J Restaurant Review

Our fourth and final stop on Glenway's "3-way Highway" was at J and J Restaurant. J & J is across the street from the Western Hills Plaza next to Kroger. This is not the original J & J Restaurant as that was demolished for the new Kroger, but it is located very near the original location. As soon as you walk in you can tell it is a newer location. I would say the ambiance of J & J is fast food meets Cincinnati chili parlor. It has your basic booth seating and lots of light, but also has various photos of Cincinnati and Greece hanging on the wall.

The menu is your standard Cincinnati chili parlor menu. A majority of the menu is made up of Cincinnati chili staples and double decker sandwiches. In fact, it appears that the double decker sandwich is their featured menu item. So instead of a chili parlor that has double decker sandwiches, its more of a double decker sandwich shop that has chili. I did not have a double decker, but I saw one and it looked pretty delicious.

Alison's Review
The J&J cheese coney had nothing particularly outstanding about it.  However, it did have several elements that were well done.  The chili was meaty and warm in flavor.  It had fairly traditional spices, but it was a nice blend.  The cheese was soft and fresh.  Both the chili and the cheese were loaded on pretty heavily, but the soft bun held up well under the weight.  The mustard complemented the chili nicely, and the onions were just strong enough to be tasted but not overwhelm the flavor.  The dog was pretty standard.

Though J&J made a coney that was above average, it lacked a wow-factor.  I'm giving this cheese coney a 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Clint's Review

J & J was the second stop in a row where they load the coneys with an ample amount of cheese. However, the heaping amount of cheese was more satisfying here than it was at Ft. Wright. This is mainly due to it being a lighter, finer shredded cheese. It did make for a pretty filling coney, but I didn't feel like I just ingested an entire block of cheese. The cheese was very fresh and had a good taste.

It was hard to get a read on the chili at first. I wouldn't say the chili was bland but nothing jumped out at me during the first couple of bites. As I ate more I began noticing more savory and sweet flavors, there wasn't any heat level spice. I did like the flavors that were there even if it wasn't the strongest chili. The chili did have a good texture. It was a thicker texture and reminded me a lot of neighboring Price Hill Chili.

Overall I enjoyed the J & J Restaurant cheese coney. While nothing was amazing about the coney, nothing struck me as bad either. It is a quality product which I give a 3.75 out of 5.

J & J Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quest Stop #20

The next stop on the quest will take place on the "3-way Highway" as we visit J and J Restaurant. The "3-way Highway" is Glenway Avenue which features many restaurants that serve Cincinnati style chili. This is our last stop on Glenway as we have already visited  Price Hill Chili, Sam's Chili and West Side Chili Parlor. We look forward to finding out how J and J stacks up against their neighboring chili parlors.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ft. Wright Family Restaurant Review

Fort Wright Family Restaurant wasn't difficult to find, but it also doesn't jump out at you either. It's tucked away in a strip mall area off the main drag in Ft. Wright. Like the name indicates it isn't really chili parlor, just a restaurant that happens to have Cincinnati style chili on its menu.

Ft. Wright Family Restaurant seems like a place that is popular with the locals, we went there on a random weeknight and there was only one open table upon our arrival. The best way to describe the interior is its very cave like. Lots of grey and black. On the side walls there are two paintings with Greek themes. When we saw the paintings it began to make a little more sense on why Cincinnati style chili is on their menu. There were some other wall decorations as well which helped make it seem a little less dreary, but I still would have liked to see some brighter colors used. Last stop we went to Skyline which had the largest staff working, Ft. Wright was the opposite with only one waitress and one cook. Since it was so crowded the waitress could have used some help, but she was friendly and checked up on us. The menu is what you would expect from a "Family Restaurant". Along with the chili options you had double-decker sandwiches, burgers, steaks, breakfast and other grill items. Everything was priced reasonably and they had dinner specials which I am sure helps bring in the older crowd that was there during our visit.

Clint's Review

I love cheese, it might be my favorite food and I could eat it on just about anything. One of the reasons that made me love cheese coneys was the cheese. So it comes as a great surprise to me to have to say this, Ft. Wright goes a bit too overboard with the cheese. The cheese was heavier than the typical shredded cheese used on coneys, but it tasted fine, there was just a bit too much of it. Felt like there was a pound of cheese on each coney.

Overall everything tasted okay, it was portion control where Ft. Wright fell short. Along with the heaping amount of cheese, there was a poor balance of chili. On two of my coneys there wasn't enough chili and on the 3rd coney there was too much chili. The chili itself tasted fine, it was a smokey and savory chili with a bit of a spicy undertone, not much sweetness in their chili. The chili also had a quality texture, thicker than your typical Cincy chili.

Even though this isn't the most glowing review of the quest, I am going to give Fort Wright Family Restaurant a 3 out of 5. Everything I tasted was fine, they just need to work on the chili and cheese ratio. If they can get that down then they could be a 3.5, but that ratio is very crucial to a quality coney.

Alison's Review

I almost wonder if Fort Wright Family Restaurant has chili on their menu simply because it's the popular thing to do at mom and pop restaurants in Cincinnati. Though the coneys here didn't have anything particularly awful about them, the execution of the product was a bit lacking.

The cheese, though fresh enough, was far too heavy and overpowered the overall texture. I really missed the light and fluffy cheddar here. The chili was very meaty with perhaps a hint of heat, but the spice combination was less than impressive. There was no special and unidentifiable ingredient, and I probably could have imitated the recipe myself. The onions and mustard tended to overwhelm the flavor. I don't have any complaints about the hot dog or bun, but neither was enough to redeem the overall coney.

The overall product came across as a valiant homemade effort to imitate a Cincinnati classic. I'm giving Fort Wright Family Restaurant 3 out of 5 stars.

Fort Wright Family on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Skyline hosts "Battle of the Pinstripes"

If you love Cincinnati chili & the Reds and hate the New York Yankees, Skyline Chili has an event you might be interested in. With the Reds and Yanks set to do battle this week, Skyline is going to host a viewing party on Founrain Square for the Wednesday afternoon game. As you watch the game you can win various prizes from Skyline and the Reds. There will be more viewing parties this season. I will try to stop by during my lunch break, I'm loving the chili related events happening on the square! The full press release is below:

Skyline Chili Hosts “Battle of the Pinstripes” Viewing Party on Fountain Square

CINCINNATI – In anticipation of next week’s classic matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Yankees, Skyline Chili is hosting a “Battle of the Pinstripes” viewing party on Wednesday, June 22 from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fans can join Skyline in support of the home team on Fountain Square to watch the ballgame on the big screen and enter to win several prize packs, featuring Skyline gift cards and exclusive gear from the Cincinnati Reds and Skyline Chili.

“Skyline is a popular lunch destination, especially at the ballpark. But many downtown fans don’t have the opportunity to enjoy their coneys from a seat at the game in Great American Ballpark in the middle of a work day,” said Skyline Chili Marketing Director Sarah Lapham. “The ‘Battle of the Pinstripes’ viewing party gives them the best of both worlds: they can enjoy the Skyline they crave while catching a midday game with other fans. Plus, they’ll have the chance to win exclusive prizes. Skyline is proud of our partnership with the Cincinnati Reds, so we’re eager to rally the community to show support any way we can.”

The “Battle of the Pinstripes” is the first of several viewing parties Skyline has planned at various locations throughout the season, designed to rally support for the Reds and give fans a taste of the ballpark in the middle of a work day. Skyline Chili is the official chili of the Cincinnati Reds, dating back to the opening of Great American Ballpark in 2003. For more information about Skyline Chili, visit

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fountain Square Coney Eating Contest

New York is known for their annual 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, in Cincinnati we have the Coney Eating Contest which happened earlier today on Fountain Square. The champion took home a trophy, t-shirt and a $50 Camp Washington gift card. Twelve coney combatants took the stage today and faced off to be crowned the coney eating champion. One of the managers from Camp Washington asked if I was going to go for it, I said no thanks, I've had plenty of coneys the past 6 months. Plus I'm a marathon runner not a sprinter! I opted to take photos instead.

The rules were simple, no dunking the coneys in water, if you puke you are disqualified and whomever eats the most coneys in 3 minutes is the winner. There was a wide range of contestants, some have never done a food competition before and had it on their bucket list, one contestant previously competed in the Fountain Square ice cream eating contest and you had last years winner Joe LaRue. Joe's goal was to eat 15 coneys and repeat as champion.

It was a fun, exciting, spirited, messy and kind of gross 3 minutes of coney eating action. A couple of people put up a good effort but could not take down the reigning champion Joe LaRue. Joe finished with 14 coneys just one shy of his goal of 15, but he did eat that 15th coney as he held up the championship trophy.

Click here to view the entire 2011 Coney Eating Contest photo gallery

Poll Results: Gold Star or Skyline?

In our latest poll we put the two Cincinnati chili heavyweights, Gold Star Chili and Skyline Chili, against each other and asked our readers which they preferred. This was an interesting poll to keep track of. After the first day Skyline jumped out to a huge lead, things were looking bleak for Gold Star. During this time I also noticed that while Skyline had this big lead, most of the comments in the feedback section were pro-Gold Star. One of the Gold Star supporters attributed this to "there are more people who simply choose Skyline because it's what they grew up with, but Gold Star fans are more passionate and loyal." Then overnight those "passionate and loyal" Gold Star fans showed up and closed the gap from a blowout in Skyline's favor to a tight race.

However, in the end Skyline reigned supreme in this poll. Final results:

Skyline: 55%
Gold Star: 45%

While this certainly isn't a scientific poll, I think its a pretty accurate representation of how Cincinnatians feel about Gold Star vs. Skyline. Just based on my personal experiences, I know more people who prefer Skyline but not an overwhelming amount more than like Gold Star. So a 10% gap sounds about right. And for those of you who aren't a fan of either, and prefer another parlor in town, we will have a poll towards the end of the quest that will feature all the top chili parlors in town.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mr. Hanton's

Today I opted to venture out to the 5th & Race food truck area to pick up a burger from Cafe de Wheels. Parked next to The Burger Truck was a food truck I had never seen before. The food truck craze is relatively new to Cincinnati so there are new trucks popping up frequently. This truck is named Mr. Hanton's and they specialize in a wide variety of sandwiches and hot dogs, including Cincinnati style cheese coneys. Mr. Hanton's will now be added to the quest and joins Mr Gene's Dog House Weenies on Wheels as the 2nd food truck on the quest.

I chatted with the owner for a minute and he informed me they can be found at 5th and Race on Thursdays & Fridays and are at Party at the Park on Wednesdays. Judging by their twitter feed (@MrHantons) they are occasionally in Mt Adams late night.

We both like a lot of the food trucks that have opened in the past year and look forward to trying Mr. Hanton's.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy Hot Dog Man

I can't believe this is real...I'm speechless.

Poll: Gold Star or Skyline?

We have now officially visited the two biggest chili parlor chains in Cincinnati, Gold Star Chili and Skyline Chili. Clint preferred Skyline (he gave Skyline a 3.9 and Gold Star a 3.75) while Alison, who only ate Skyline pre-quest, preferred Gold Star (she gave Gold Star a 3.75 and Skyline a 3.5).

Now its time to ask our readers, which big name in Cincinnati chili do you prefer? Do you believe that Gold Star is "The flavor of Cincinnati" or when you are "Feeling good and hungry" is it Skyline time?

At the end of the quest we will do a poll on all the top parlors in town, but for now we just want to know which Cincy chili heavyweight reigns supreme amongst our readers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Enter the Fountain Square Coney Eating Contest

If you love cheese coneys and food competitions, then Fountain Square has the event for you. Friday June 17th is the annual Fountain Square Coney Eating Contest. One of our favorite chili parlors, Camp Washington Chili, will provide the coneys. Whoever eats the most coneys in 3 minutes wins a $50 Camp Washington Chili gift card, a t-shirt and a trophy. If you are interested, you have until 5PM Tuesday June 14th to enter. You can find more information and the entry form here. Neither of us are entering, but we will be there taking photos of the event, so feel free to say hi to us if you are on the Square watching the event.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Skyline Chili Review

When many people think of Cincinnati chili the restaurant that comes to mind is Skyline Chili. Like how many Southerners will refer to all soft drinks as "Coke", many refer to Cincinnati style chili as "Skyline". To further expand on that, Skyline Chili is the #1 brand associated with the entire city of Cincinnati. When people visit Cincinnati they make sure to try this Skyline Chili they have heard so much about. On my Tweet Deck feed I have a search dedicated to Cincinnati chili, its always fun to see peoples reactions to their first Skyline experience. We haven't had Skyline since December so it was a fun experience to go back and look at their chili in a new way. Would we still enjoy it like we did pre-quest or has it fallen behind some of the other parlors we have visited?

We visited the Skyline on Ludlow in Clifton, near UC's campus. We chose this location because it is one of the oldest Skyline's and many say it is their favorite Skyline location. The exterior has a cool retro look with the original sign while the inside is more modern looking like most Skyline locations. The interior is decorated with various images from Cincinnati, the University of Cincinnati and pictures of celebrities who have visited such as local stars Nick Lachey and Sarah Jessica Parker. This is one of the busiest Skyline locations and they are prepared for the large crowd as we have never seen such a large staff working at any other parlor we have visited.

Skyline features a large menu and pretty unique compared to other parlors. Of course you have your typical items like cheese coneys and ways. If you like potatoes and chili, Skyline has you covered with chili cheese fries and a 3/4/5-way potato. If you just don't like Cincinnati chili but your friends drag you to Skyline, there are some options for you, such as a variety of wraps, burritos and salads. One of our favorite items at Skyline isn't on the menu, its the complimentary oyster crackers. Before the quest we just assumed that every parlor would give you oyster crackers, but we have found it to be surprisingly rare for a parlor to give you oyster crackers while you wait for your food.

Clint's Review

Even though I go past two Skyline's almost every weekday (3 if you count the Fountain Square location), I have resisted the urge to visit Skyline during the quest. It had been 5 months since my last Skyline coney and it was nice to visit an old friend. Since we have tasted such a wide variety of coneys during those 5 months the  differences between Skyline and the other 16 parlors stood out as soon as I took my first bite.

For better or worse, most of the preconceptions and descriptions people apply to Cincinnati chili can be attributed to Skyline Chili . It is one of the sweeter chilies we have had on the quest, not much heat level here. This is always one of the dividing points on weather or not someone enjoys Skyline. I do like the sweetness, but I grew up on Skyline.  It is different and more pronounced at Skyline than others, so I can understand why an outsider might not enjoy it. Another complaint some have about Skyline is their chili is too watery. I do agree with this complaint and its the one thing I would change about Skyline's chili. It is not the meatiest chili you will find, even for Cincinnati chili standards, definitely more of a sauce like consistency. However, there was an ample amount of chili on each coney.

I enjoyed all the other aspects of the Skyline coney as well. One area where the Skyline coney excels is their cheese. Much like the chili, you get a large amount of cheese on each coney and it has a good freshly shredded cheddar taste. They are also very consistent with the cheese, I can't think of one Skyline visit where the cheese disappointed me. The hot dog could be a little plumper, maybe the amount of chili and cheese makes the hot dog seem even smaller, but I felt it had a good flavor. The buns were soft and fresh.

Overall I still enjoy Skyline Chili a lot. They put together a solid coney. Looking at it through a different perspective I can see why some love Skyline more than anything else in Cincinnati, but I can also see why others just don't like it at all. In my opinion they are still one of the best parlors in town, however I do not believe they are THE best in town.

I give Skyline a 3.9 out of 5.

Alison's Review

Before the quest began Skyline had been the only chili parlor I had been to. It was incredibly interesting to sample 16 other varieties of Cincinnati style chili and then come back to the brand that first introduced me to the cheese coney.

Skyline's flavor is very distinct to me. Though it's has a lot of similarities to many of the other sweet chilis we've sampled, I could pick it out of a blind taste test pretty easily. It has a lot of warm, cinnamony overtones. But the flavor is all in the forefront, and by the second coney the taste is somewhat lost. The added mustard is essential and boosts the base flavor a little. The onions are mostly unnoticeable.

Skyline's cheese is delicious, and it's really loaded on. Unfortunately, the buns do not hold up well against the generous amounts of cheese and chili, and all three of my coneys were spilling apart.  The hot dogs were decent but not the most flavorful.

Skyline coneys will always bring back a lot of memories for me. Its an iconic institution, and I have no qualms about introducing Cincinnati style chili to a non-native here. In the quest for the best coney, Skyline gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars from me.

Skyline Chili on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Skyline Chili History

This year, a poll ranking the Business Courier's Top 100 Cincinnati Brands placed Skyline Chili at number one, beating out brands such as the Reds, Bengals, LaRosa's, Graeter's and P&G. (No other chili parlors made the top 25.) For the majority of people, Skyline Chili is the face of Cincinnati style chili.

Skyline's emergence, however, was as humble as any other Cincinnati chili parlor's. Greek immigrant, Nicholas Lambrinides scraped together a living by using his cooking skills in local dining establishments. After working at Empress Chili for awhile, Lambrinides and his sons opened a restaurant in 1949. Located on Glenway Avenue, the parlor overlooked the city, which inspired the name Skyline. It gained a strong local following. It was said to be especially busy on Thursdays and Saturdays since the neighborhood was predominantly Catholics who observed meatless Fridays.

A second restaurant was opened in 1953, and the franchise continued to steadily grow for the next few decades, including the introduction of frozen chili into grocery stores.  In the 1980's a man named Thomas Bell became chief executive and lead a passionate campaign to make Skyline a national chain. With attempts to push into markets where there was little Skyline name recognition, such as Washingotn D.C., the company lost money and stocks went public. During the 1900s the company pulled out of these markets and focused on growth in Cincinnati.

Lambrinides died in 1962, and the original Glenway location was demolished in 2002. But the Skyline legacy continues with over a hundred locations and name recognition as the "official chili" of the Reds, Columbus Blue Jackets, Kings Island, and the Crosstown Shootout.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A New Location and Promotion From Gold Star

Typically if most people receive an email with "3-way mania" in the subject, they assume some junk got past their spam filter. But of course I am a Cincinnatian and chili is the first thought we have when we hear "3-way", so I knew the email would have some good and tasty news.

Earlier in the year Gold Star Chili had a "Coney Mania" promotion where cheese coneys only cost 99 cents. "3-way Mania" is in the same vein, all day long Gold Star is selling their 3-ways for $3. If you are a fan of Gold Star Chili and their 3-way's, this sounds like a good promotion to take advantage of.

In more Gold Star news, one of our twitter followers informed us that Gold Star is opening a new location in Ashland, KY on June 7th. With "3-way Mania" the following day, this opening is great timing for those in Ashland.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Quest Stop #17 Drawing

We did not make a Coney Quest stop this past weekend and instead chose to stuff our faces at Taste of Cincinnati. Even though it was a very hot weekend, we both enjoyed ourselves during our multiple visits to Taste. It does kind of surprise me that there is no Cincinnati chili to be found at Taste, but it doesn't really upset me either since if there was a Skyline or Gold Star booth I would make fun of it like I do the LaRosa's booth (nothing against LaRosa's, but people should branch out and try the other pizza joints there). I do think one of the smaller chili parlors could do well at Taste, but I am sure there are logistic and costs reasons why they don't.

I could on and on but what I did and did not like at Taste, but this blog is about cheese coneys, so lets get back to that. Stop #17 will take us to the furthest eastern location of the Quest: Moon-Lite Chili in Batavia. Moon-Lite finds themselves in a good spot as they follow the Mike's Chili disaster, we can only go up from there!

***UPDATE*** We planned on going to Moon-Lite Chili this past Sunday, it is located in Batavia, which isn't very convenient to us, so I decided to call to see what their hours were. I tried a couple of times but no one ever answered. Since so many chili parlors are family owned it can be risky to plan a quest stop on a Sunday when many family owned restaurants are closed. We really wanted coneys on Sunday so we decided to choose a different parlor to go to. The one chili parlor we knew for sure would be open was Skyline, thus we postponed Moon-Lite and made Skyline our 17th stop on the Quest. We will have a history post and review posted sometime this week. If anyone knows the hours Moon-Lite is open please pass them along, I will try calling them tomorrow afternoon.

In one more chili related note, be sure to check out the Puddintopia 3-Way Thursday posts, as they are out to find the best 3-way in Cincinnati. They recently made their first stop at Empress and had some of the same thoughts we had during our visit.