A Little History of: Cincinnati Chili

March 5, 2013 at 5:46 PM | Posted in chili, Hot Dogs, Skyline Chili, spaghetti | 2 Comments
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Cincinnati chili (or “Cincinnati-style chili”) is a regional style of chili con carne characterized by the use of seasonings such as

A Cincinnati chili 4-way with oyster crackers

A Cincinnati chili 4-way with oyster crackers

cinnamon, cloves, allspice or chocolate. It is commonly served over spaghetti or as a hot dog sauce, and is normally of a thin, sauce-like consistency, unlike most chili con carne. While served in many regular restaurants, it is most often associated with several restaurant chains, such as Empress Chili, Skyline Chili, Gold Star Chili, Camp Washington Chili and Dixie Chili. Restaurant locations are found pervasively in greater Cincinnati with franchise locations also throughout Ohio and in Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida. Restaurants that feature Cincinnati chili are frequently called “chili parlors”.
According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than two million pounds of chili each year, topped by 850,000 pounds of shredded cheddar cheese. Each September, the city celebrates “Chilifest” at Yeatman’s Cove on the Ohio River, with food and entertainment.

 

Ordering Cincinnati chili is based on this ingredient series: chili, spaghetti, grated cheddar cheese, diced onions, and kidney beans. The number before the “way” of the chili determines which ingredients are included in each chili order. Thus, customers can order a:

 

Bowl: chili in a bowl
Two-way: chili and spaghetti
Three-way: chili, spaghetti, and cheese
Four-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
Five-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans
and optionally, the:
Four-way bean: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and beans (beans substituted for the onions)
The preceding basic menu is entirely traditional. Some chili parlors have altered the traditional menu method, declaring on their menus that a Four-way is chili, spaghetti, cheese, and either onions or beans. Other parlors have added ingredients to the traditional mix. For example, Dixie Chili offers a “Six-way” with the addition of garlic. Oyster crackers are usually served with Cincinnati chili, and a mild hot sauce is frequently used as an optional topping.
When served on a Coney style hot dog, dubbed the “Cheese Coney“, the chili is also topped with grated cheddar cheese. The default coney also includes mustard and a small amount of onion.

 

Cincinnati chili seems to have originated with one or more immigrant restaurateurs from Macedonia who were trying to broaden their customer base by moving beyond narrowly ethnic styles of cuisine. Tom and John Kiradjieff began serving the chili in 1922 at their hot dog stand, next to a burlesque theater called the Empress, after which their Empress chili parlor took its name. Tom Kiradjieff invented the style by modifying a traditional stew and serving it over hot dogs and spaghetti. The style has since been copied and modified by many other restaurant proprietors.
Empress was the main chili parlor in Cincinnati until 1949, when a former Empress employee and Greek immigrant, Nicholas Lambrinides, started another chili restaurant called Skyline Chili. Gold Star Chili came along in 1965, started by the four Daoud brothers who were originally from Jordan.

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