Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Empress Chili Giveaway

It's time once again to give back to our readers. We have a $10 Groupon for the Empress Chili in Hartwell up for grabs. Once again the contest will take place on Facebook and Twitter and the lucky winner will be randomly selected. Same rules apply, one entry per social media network (i.e. you can enter on both Facebook and Twitter, but not more than once on each platform). The Groupon expires on December 24th, 2011.

On Facebook comment on our status that says: "Who wants to win a $10 Groupon for Cincinnati's original chili parlor, Empress Chili?"

On Twitter send out this tweet: RT and follow us for a chance to win a $10 Groupon for @EmpressHartwell from @CincyConeyQuest!

Our Facebook page can be found at: and our Twitter page can be found at You have until 4PM Friday to enter. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Empress Chili Hartwell

Recently Joel Miller, the Director of Restaurant Operations for the Crown Trio Restaurants (owner of Empress Hartwell), extended us an invite to try out the recently reopened Empress Chili in Hartwell. We previously visited the Empress Chili in Alexandria and left disappointed. However, as we learned in a poll we ran earlier in the quest, different locations can turn out different results. So we decided to take Joel up on his invitation and check out the renovated Empress Hartwell.

Despite there being a busy lunch time crowd, Joel took some time to chat with us about Empress. This Empress location has been around for 25 years. It has gone through some ownership changes over the years and unfortunately the previous ownership did not put much care into the restaurant. The new ownership group reopened the restaurant in January. Joel described the new owners as "chili fanatics" and affirmed that they put a lot more care into the product. The vision they have for Empress is to make it a combination of chili parlor, cafe and diner. Business has been good since the reopen and it could get even better in the future. The Empress Chili in Delhi will soon close and move to Florence. This will make Empress Hartwell the only Empress Chili on the Cincinnati side of the river. Joel told us as business grows they would love to open an Empress downtown.

We found a lot to like about this Empress Chili location. It really is a complete 180 from the Empress we visited in Alexandria. The Empress in Alexandria felt like a fast food restaurant and they didn't embrace the history of Empress Chili. Empress Hartwell has more of a restaurant feel and they truly embrace the Empress history. Right above our table there was a framed photo of the original Empress in Downtown Cincinnati. They are also creative with their menu. The original Empress was located next to the Empress Burlesque Theater, so Empress Hartwell went with a theater theme for the menu. The menu is separated into categories such as Improv, Early Matinee, Curtain Call and Center Stage. The food was also an improvement. We both felt the coneys were more satisfying than the coneys we had in Alexandria and Alison enjoyed her gyro.

Overall we had a very pleasant experience at the Empress Chili in Hartwell and thank Joel for the invite. Empress Chili Hartwell can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Below are some photos I took and you can view the whole gallery on my flickr page.

Theater themed menu


Gyro and fries

Good crowd for lunch

Old photo of the original Empress

Making a 3-way

Souvenir cup!

I felt like getting artsy with my exterior shot of Empress

Empress Chili on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 22, 2011

Burger & Ice Cream Social

This post isn't about cheese coneys, but its about food and this event took place at Coney Island. That's close enough to warrant a blog post. This week Cincinnati Magazine hosted the Burger and Ice Cream Social at Coney Island. The event featured hamburger and ice cream creations from various local vendors. There were also mixed drinks to be enjoyed, the tequila drink was mighty strong. It was all you can eat and you received some drink tickets all for a very reasonable $10. Even though it happened on the hottest day of the year thus far, it was a perfect summer time event.

If I remember correctly, there were 7 hamburger and 6 ice cream tables. Out of the 7 hamburger stations, I visited 4 of them: Eckerlin Meats, Paula's Cafe, Colonel de Ray and Gabby's Cafe. I enjoyed all 4 burgers, I liked the Gabby's burger the best and it appeared most of the crowd did too as it was the most crowded table throughout the event. I visited each of the ice cream tables, it was hot it so I had to find a way to stay cool! You had your Cincinnati classics such as Grater's and Aglamesis', but there were some unique options as well. There was a Vegan friendly Ice Cream Sandwich from Phrozen that I wouldn't have known was Vegan if I wasn't told before hand. I also enjoyed the Ice Cream Sandwich that was created with Pop Tarts as the "bread".

Overall it was a fun and delicious event for a great price. Despite the heat there was a great turnout and I hope this can become an annual event.

Line for Gabby's

Does red wine go well with a hamburger?

Talenti Gelato

Pop Tart Ice Cream Sandwich!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Park Chili Review

The neighborhood of Northside has seen many changes throughout the years but one constant since 1937 has been Park Chili. As soon as you walk in you can tell it has been around for a long time. Park Chili has a 1970's greasy spoon diner feel to it. Lots of brown fake wood paneling surrounding the interior. By our booth there was a framed cartoon that said "I'm sorry, the recipe didn't include your opinion!" So I guess it doesn't matter what we think, but we shall review the coneys anyway.

To go along with the look, the menu features your standard greasy spoon items. The hours cater to more of a breakfast and lunch crowd, so breakfast and lunch items seem to be the most popular. Even though it is a chili parlor, I believe we were the only patrons in the restaurant who ordered chili items.

Alison's Review

Park Chili was not bad, but the whole product seemed to come right off the shelves of Kroger.  The hot dogs were plain, the cheese was clearly the pre-packaged variety, and the buns were pretty unimpressive. Though the onions were fresh (I saw them chopping up a batch behind the counter), the mustard came out of a big bottle of French's.  The hot sauce on the table actually was Kroger brand.

Though I can't confirm it, I do have concerns that the chili just came out of a can.  Our coney's were partially assembled behind the counter then taken to a back kitchen area where they appeared with chili on them.  Maybe they keep a pipping hot vat of their homemade, secret-recipe in the back.  But for all I know, it could have come from a generic brand, 10 pound can of chili that was zapped in the microwave before it was put on our coneys.  The taste was not bad, but it was definitely nothing special.  It actually reminded me a lot of J&J's Chili but with less spice.

I always hate giving such long-standing parlors a poor review, but this coney was a bit lacking.  Park Chili gets a 2.75 out of 5 from me.

Clint's Review

Average...that's about all I have to say about Park Chili's coneys, but I will elaborate. There was nothing bad about their coneys but nothing stood out either. The chili is kind of sweet, kind of savory, not real strong in either category, but it tasted ok. The cheese was not freshly grated and was more of a bagged store bought quality, but it was ok. The buns, could have been a little softer, but were ok. The hot dogs, not the most flavorful we have had, but yes, they were ok.

As you can see, I didn't hate anything about the Park Chili and I didn't think any single aspect of the coney stood out. Might be the most average coneys of the quest, so I will give them a 2.75 out of 5.

Park Chili Parlor on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cincinnati Chili Shirt

Today is the annual t-shirt sale on Fountain Square (runs until 11 PM tonight, if you are reading this on Friday the 15th). The sale features various local shirt producing companies. There are many great Cincinnati themed shirts to be found at the sale. During lunch I stopped by and visited the Look At Me Shirts booth, owned by my friend, comedian and proud new father, Josh Sneed. He has a Whiny Birds shirt, in honor of the hated St. Louis Cardinals on sale for $10, great buy if you are going to any of the Reds-Cards games this weekend. However it was this shirt that I knew I had to get as soon as I saw it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quest Stop #22, Queen City Sausage Festival and Wait...What?

Quest Stop #22
It has been a while since we have held an actual drawing to determine our next stop on the quest. We are now in the portion of the quest where most of our remaining parlors are only open during lunch and have limited weekend hours. So we have had to plan out our recent stops, but I always liked doing random drawings so I brought it back for stop #22. I chose three parlors that I knew would fit in our schedule and the winner is...

Park Chili! This is not our first attempt at visiting Park Chili. If you don't remember, Park was actually going to be our 5th stop of the quest, however we got there too late...or did we? It was a strange experience, hopefully we have better luck this time.

Queen City Sausage Festival
Ok, go ahead and get your giggling about the name out of the way now...we good now? This weekend at Newport's Riverfront Levee is the Queen City Sausage Festival. According to their website the festival will feature "Over 15 delicious ways Queen City Sausages can be enjoyed. Brats, metts and more, including creative dishes will be sold by the area’s best food vendors!" The reason we are mentioning it here, according to the Enquirer's Polly Campbell, one of those "creative dishes" will be an Italian Sausage Coney. Not sure if we will make it down to the festival, but if we do, we will try an Italian Sausage Coney and report back.

Wait...What??? (c) Norm MacDonald
While doing some research for the blog I stumbled across this recent blog post from another blog. Hmm, looks pretty familiar. (Note: Aside from that post, I actually find their blog interesting.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Skyline Chili All-Star Coney Challenge Recap

Today on a sweltering hot day in Cincinnati, Skyline Chili held its "All-Star Coney Challenge" on Fountain Square. WCPO's All-Star Sports Director, John Popovich, emceed and provided play-by-play for the event. The goal of this event is to defeat the Skyline Chili "pro" and win a years supply of Skyline Chili. No matter what the temperature was, there are many people that would love to earn a chance at free Skyline!

The Amateurs
WCPO's John Popovich
Popo and Skyline pro Autumn
There were 2 preliminary heats which led to the semi-finals and then the final round where the last amateur standing took on the Skyline professional. To move on through the rounds you had to assemble the most cheese coneys (which included mustard and onions) in a minute. If there was a tie, whoever had the best looking coneys moved on.

Heat 1

Heat 1

Heat 1

Heat 2

Heat 2

The final round featured amateur Mark R. from Mount Washington, KY against the professional Autumn Baird of Northern Kentucky. It was a very tight battle and in the end Mark won in a shocking 6-5 upset!

Stare down!
Stare back!

It's go time!

So close!

Good sports


(This photo is courtesy of Skyline Chili)

For more photos of this event, visit my Flickr gallery.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mr. Hanton's Review

A great tradition in Cincinnati is the weekly party that occurs on Sawyer Point every Wednesday. At the party you have some food options to go along with the live music and adult beverages. Mr. Hanton's is one of those options and can be found when it is Party in the Park (the Gold Star Chilimobile can be found at Party on the River. Pretty much the same party, but they alternate weeks...yes, its kind of confusing).

We did a post in June about the Mr. Hanton's food truck, so we won't go into too much detail here. Basically they sell a variety of hot dogs and sandwiches and can be found at various Cincinnati events. I previously had a Philly Cheesesteak from Mr. Hanton's and it was pretty solid. So if chili isn't your thing they will most likely have something on their menu you will like.

Clint's Review

The Mr. Hanton's cheese coney is not your typical cheese coney, and for the most part that is a good thing. It is by far the LARGEST coney of the quest. They use a 1/4 lb. grilled beef hot dog on their coney. After the mediocre coney at Sam's Chili I had wondered if a beef dog could work on a coney. Now I know that yes it can. Since the hot dog is the specialty at Mr. Hanton's, its no surprise that the dog was so tasty. Easily the best tasting dog of the quest thus far. The bun was also very soft, fresh and did a great job of holding together such a big coney.

However, having such a flavorful dog does have some drawbacks. It took a couple of bites to pick up on the flavor of the chili. Eventually I did notice that it was a sweet chili but it does get lost in the flavor of the dog. On its own it was a decent tasting chili, but I would love to taste a stronger chili, like Camp Washington's, on this coney. The cheese was only ok, had more of a store bought bag quality than a freshly grated cheese we have enjoyed at other parlors.

Overall I really enjoyed the coney that Mr. Hanton's served. It definitely isn't your traditional Cincinnati cheese coney, but that's part of its appeal. If you don't like Cincinnati style chili, I highly recommend finding a hot dog on their menu you would like, as their dogs are so good. I give Mr. Hanton's a 4 out of 5.

Alison's Review

Mr. Hanton's, quite simply, offers a great hot dog. No matter what you put on it, it's bound to be delicious. The beef frank turned out to be so large that after Clint's two-coney order came out and we saw the size, I offered to take one off his hands. So this time around I didn't have mustard and onion on my coney.

My thoughts on this cheese coney are consistent with Clint's. The beef frank was the most flavorful dog that we've encountered. The chili, though decent, needed a more powerful kick. It was somewhat difficult to taste. The cheese was mediocre but not bad. The bun was soft and did a great job holding up everything on this humongous coney.

Its not often in our coney quest that the hot dog is the star of the show. If you are a diehard, traditional cheese coney fan, you may not like this product because it is so different. And if you've never really gotten into Cincinnati style chili, this may be an alternative you could get behind. Or you could be like me and enjoy the Mr. Hanton's cheese coney as much as a classic coney. I'm giving them 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Mr. Hanton's Handwiches on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Yelp Eats!

The good people of have put together a fun and tasty event called Yelp Eats! Restaurant Week. It's a week long event where many restuarants in Cincinnati will have various menu items on sale. To kick off this event Yelp is holding a Yelp Eats Kick-Off Cook-Off this Thursday (cook off event is full, but you can join a waiting list). Some of the top chefs in Cincinnati will be in a cooking competition where they will have to use one of these special ingredients, chosen by Yelp the night of the event:

Frisch's Tartar Sauce
Glier's Goetta
Skyline Chili
Montgomery Inn Saratoga Chips
Eckerlin's Bratwurst

We will be in attendance and obviously think it would be great if Skyline Chili is the secret ingredient, but I'm sure whatever ingredient is chosen the dishes will be delish. If you can't make this event, be sure to check out some of the restaurants taking park in the Yelp Eats Restaurant Week. Our friends over at Wine Me, Dine Me and Cincinnati Nomerati have more details on these great events.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Skyline Chili Hosts “All-Star Coney Challenge”

It's time for another coney related event on Fountain Square! Skyline is going to have an All-Star Game themed coney competition on Fountain Square on July 12 from 11:30-12:30. This will also be part of the Strauss & Troy’s Market on the Square which happens every Tuesday on Fountain Square (which I recommend checking out). This coney contest will feature "Amateurs" vs. "Skyline All-Star's". It isn't a coney eating contest, it is a coney making contest. If the amateur makes more coneys than the all-star, they win a year’s supply of Skyline Chili. Amateurs will also compete against one another in several heats for an opportunity to win additional prizes, including gift cards and exclusive Skyline Chili prize packs. If you are interested in participating you can register at; registration opens at Noon on Tuesday, July 5 and runs through Noon on Friday, July 8. Press release is below.

Skyline Chili Hosts “All-Star Coney Challenge”

During Strauss & Troy’s Market on the Square

Contest will pit Skyline aficionados against a Skyline Chili coney professional for a chance to win a year’s supply of Skyline Chili

CINCINNATI – As the Major League Baseball All-Star Game looms on next week’s horizon, Skyline Chili is celebrating with the Skyline Chili All-Star Coney Challenge at Strauss & Troy’s Market on the Square on July 12, 2011 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Local contestants will compete head-to-head against a Skyline Chili All-Star to determine who can make the most coneys in one minute. Should an “amateur” contestant make more coneys than the Skyline professional, he or she will win a year’s supply of Skyline Chili. Interested participants can register to compete at; registration opens at Noon on Tuesday, July 5.

“The All-Star Game is really exciting for the teams and players, so we wanted to create something fun for Cincinnatians to get excited about a little closer to home,” said Skyline Chili Marketing Director Sarah Lapham. “The All-Star Coney Challenge at Strauss & Troy’s Market on the Square is the perfect opportunity not only celebrate the game and the Cincinnati Reds playing in it, but also to compete for great prizes and a year supply of Skyline Chili. It’s going to be a blast.”

Before the contest begins each contestant will get a crash-course in coney-making as part of Skyline’s “Coney College,” during which the Skyline All-Star will give a brief overview on how to build the perfect coney. Once the contest begins, participants will compete against each other until a finalist is crowned. The finalist will compete against the Skyline Chili Coney All-Star in the final round for the grand prize.
In order to participate, contestants must be at least 18 years of age and available from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the day of the contest. Registration will close at noon on Friday, July 8, 2011, after which contestants will be selected and notified. Some restrictions may apply. For more information and to register, visit