Monday, November 21, 2011

The Thrill of Cincinnati Chili is Never Gone

Camp Washington Chili
3005 Colerain Ave.
Cincinnati, OH

I can’t believe we’re up to 200 reviews on this website and no one has covered one of this country’s greatest regional delicacies – Cincinnati Chili.

Well, my dear Suits in Strange Places readers, Suit757 is just the man for the job.

And Camp Washington Chili in the old meat packing section of the city, not far from where the Reds played ball at Crosley Field for three quarters of a century, is just the place to start.

Like many of America’s great culinary traditions (think pizza, French Fries and cheap Chinese delivery), Cincinnati’s unique version of chili was originated by an immigrant.

When Tom Kiradjieff arrived in the Queen City almost a century ago from Greece, he brought with him a delicious recipe of ground beef, tomatoes and exotic Mediterranean spices that Cincinnatians have been lapping up ever since.

The city now has over 150 chili parlors ranging from big chains with dozens of outposts to small independents like Camp Washington. If you’re in Cincinnati and hungry and can’t find one, you’re not trying very hard.

In our homogenized information age we live in, I’m surprised Cincinnati chili hasn’t caught on nationally.

But in a way, I’m glad.

Nothing extinguishes a pleasant craving like too easy access.

Not to get all overly sappy about a pile of spicy ground beef, but you don’t want to end up like B.B. King where “The Thrill is Gone.”

Since I can only get it a few times a year, indulging in Cincinnati chili is one of those crave-worthy moments that still makes life worth living.

Worth getting up in the morning. And enduring TSA lines. And being fondled by blue-gloved federal agents.

First of all, the aroma of Cincinnati chili is like your grandmother’s kitchen on Christmas Eve.

Sweet and spicy at the same time. Your senses are immediately piqued by the onion, peppers, cinnamon and ground cloves.

Nope. The thrill is definitely NOT gone.

As delicious as it is, no one eats Cincinnati chili straight. You must get it served over spaghetti. With a mountain of shredded cheese piled on top.

That’s known at every chili parlor in Cincinnati as a “Three-Way.”

But why stop there?

A “Four-Way” adds onions. A “Five-Way” adds beans too.

Normally, Suit757 is a “Five-Way” guy all the way. Extra large.

But since I was hoping to save a little room for a Graeter’s double-scoop of chocolate chip at Fountain Square and a Great American Ballpark grilled Mett with peppers and onions at the Reds game in a few short hours, I decided to go a little easy today with a regular sized “Four-Way”.

I wasn’t disappointed. Never am.

Camp Washington’s version is a just a bit spicier than the big chain chili parlors like Skyline and Gold Star. The Camp’s spaghetti is a little thicker too, which reduces the catastrophic splatter effect Cincinnati chili always seems to take all over my Barry Larkin replica jersey (at least the color is right).

Almost as good as the “Four-Way” is the second most famous delivery vehicle for Cincinnati chili – the Coney.

These are little three or four bite hot dogs smothered in chili and buried under an avalanche of shredded cheese. And a few diced onions for good measure.

Hot dog heaven!

Camp Washington can’t claim to be the originator of Cincinnati Chili. None of the city’s parlors can.

Tom Kiradjieff’s original chili parlor, located next door to a strip joint called “The Empress”, is long gone.

But Camp Washington is the next best thing.

Founded in 1940, Camp Washington has been serving Cincinnati’s favorite meal here at the corner of Colerain and Hopple Streets since Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi was crouching behind Crosley Field's home plate.

Johnny Johnson, another one of Cincinnati’s Greek immigrants, began making chili here in 1951.

And guess what?

He’s still here making that chili.

Unfortunately, the current building is not the original. That was torn down a few years ago and replaced with a gleaming, freshly scrubbed 21st Century chili parlor.

While comfortable and popular, the new version of Camp Washington lacks the nostalgia such a seven decade old chili parlor deserves.

The new atmosphere is more like highway exit ramp Steak N Shake.

But that’s OK.

When my senses are awakened by the aroma and taste of those ground cloves and my fork cuts through the top of that mound of finely shredded cheese and sweetly spicy pile of chili and spaghetti, I’m not even thinking about ambiance.

By the time I polished off the last bites of my “Four-Way” and Coney and took the last swig from my Amstel Light, all I could think about was how long it would be before I can get back to Cincinnati.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!

Camp Washington Chili on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Empress survives in Hartwell and Northern Kentucky and remains the favorite chili of many loyalists.