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February 28, 2019
It’s a fact. Cincinnati, and the entire Tristate, loves Cincinnati-style chili. That’s no secret of course. Folks in these parts have been enjoying this unique concoction since 1922. Since then, it has become woven into the fabric of the community along with another unique food, goetta, as well as beer, sports, and the mighty Ohio River.
1. Empress was first
Cincinnati chili aficionados know where it all began. In 1922, brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff, newly arrived in Cincinnati from the Macedonian region of Greece, set up shop next to the Empress Burlesque Theater where they served a modified beef sauce from their homeland over hot dogs which they called Coneys. Soon, they were serving it over spaghetti and the rest is history.
Dixie Chili came along in 1929, Camp Washington Chili in 1940, and Skyline in 1948, the latter started by a former Empress employee. Price Hill Chili opened in 1962 and Gold Star debuted in 1964, starting off as Hamburger Heaven. Pleasant Ridge Chili opened the same year. Five years later, Blue ash Chili opened its doors. An that’s just the tip of the Coney.
2. The number of places you can enjoy it
There are 52 different establishments that serve Cincinnati-style chili in over 250 locations.That includes locations in Louisville, Lexington, and other nearby cities, that outlets of the two big chains.
3. Sorry sweetie, there’s no chocolate
While Wikipedia lists it as an ingredient, there is no chocolate in Cincinnati-style chili. Well, none that we know of. None of the 52 establishments are open about their particular recipes, though Gold Star CEO Roger David told The Cincy Shirts Podcast there was no chocolate in their chili. That belief started back in the 1980s and was based on an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
4. The rest of the country doesn’t understand
There have been attempts, mostly by Cincinnati natives, to bring their hometown delicacy to other parts of the country with mixed results. Cafe Blue American Grill, in Gunbarrel, Colorado and Cincy’s in Greensboro, North Carolina are chugging along, though their main focus isn’t chili. Establishments in Chicago, Tacoma, and Los Angeles haven’t fared so well. There have been a few attempts in Los Angeles, but as of now the only place to get anything like Cincinnati-style chili there is Chili Joe’s. It’s a West Coast outlet of a famous chili place in Wisconsin that serves a dish similar to Cincinnati-style chili.
5. The Middle East understands
A chain called the Chili House has locations in Afghanistan, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Qatar and serves a variation on the original Mediterranean meat sauce that is reportedly very close to Cincinnati-style chili.
6. The rest of the country is confused
Some visitors don’t like it, while others love it and make sure they enjoy some Cincinnati-style chili before heading back home. The uninitiated are sometimes confused about exactly what Cincinnati-style chili is. An article at AXS.com notes several places in Central Florida that serve Cincinnati-style chili. However, the places listed, including Steak & Shake, serve traditional chili over spaghetti. Not the same thing AXS.
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