Yesterday I wrote about how my family prepped, ie, ate copious amounts of ribs, before Thanksgiving day. Reasonable minds would have been eating reasonably healthy fare before the great turkey day indulge, but my unreasonable brother moved to Ohio this year, so all bets were off. We bibbed up and ate ribs the size of my nieces our first day, but there was one more must-eat Cincinnati delicacy we still had to try, Skyline Chili.
Believe it or not, Skyline's story starts way beyond Ohio, and I don't mean in Texas. It goes even further to Kastoria, Greece and one young Nichola Lambrinides who grew up in a food-centric household with fresh, local Greek fare. His grandmother and mother indulged him in authentic cuisine that he went on to bring to the US, starting with his first restaurant overlooking the skyline of Cincinnati (see what they did there). You're not going to find Moussaka or Spanakopita on the menu, but you will see a Greek salad. You're not here for the salad though. You're here for the authentic chili with its Greek roots.
On the day before Thanksgiving, I was going to sneak out of the house with my 15 year old nephew who had been dying to try Skyline. I didn't think other's wanted another belly busting meal before we got to turkey. When it came time to go, all 10 of my family members were lined up and ready for chili. Many others had the same idea as Skyline was full when we arrived. The manager told us it's one of their busiest days since people home for the holiday have to stop by to get their fill of Cincinnati chili.
There are drive thrus in some of the Skylines, as well as counter wait service and family style booths and tables. After we ordered, we each received small bowls of oyster crackers. My brother called these our amuse bouche. Former Cincinnatians told me they love these plain or crushed with their chili for texture. Not sure that worked for us, but fine to snack on while waiting for our first try of Cincinnati chili.
We got chili in a few classic forms. There was the Coney with a specially made hot dog innocently sitting in a steamed bun with mustard. Then comes the secret recipe chili that hails from Greece, and lest that be a bit too healthy for you, ridiculous mounds of shredded cheddar cheese are scattered on top. It was everything I ever wanted in a chili cheese dog and I barely got a picture before the Coneys were gone.
Being a traditionalist, I went for my own dish of the signature chili. In Cincinnati, they serve their chili on top of a plate of spaghetti and under a large, and I mean obscenely large, cap of cheddar cheese. The one location we visited goes through 3 - 45 pound blocks of cheddar cheese every day. I'm pretty sure my family ate one block during our meal. You can get it like this for a 3 way, or go for it 4 or 5 way with the addition of onions and/or beans.
Chili is created and served in many ways depending on where you live - with or without beans, white, red, sweet, spicy, meaty, vegetarian. Cincinnati chili is red, served with ground meat, with or without beans. The taste falls into the sweeter camp though they will swear there's no cinnamon in their recipe, but will attest to a French spice I'd say is Piment d'Esplette, a staple in my pantry. It offers a little smoky heat. You can taste the unique flavor cloves add as well. The chili has a thinner consistency that they call more of a sauce, hence the spaghetti topping.
The verdict? It was awesome. Seriously. It was well balanced with a nice amount of sweetness, buttressed by a little heat and some flavorful meat. The entire family loved it. I was happy with my petite small serving (it's all relative) and actually left satiated, but not sedated and ready for a food coma. Had I eaten the large by myself, that might have been a different story.
The prices are very family friendly so it may be enticing to eat more than you should. Our family of 10 ate all the chili we could with salads and drinks for $70. At less than $10 per head, I'm almost glad Skyline Chili isn't closer to me, though at the airport I found cans to take home, and I just couldn't refuse. Those should get me through winter, until my next visit to Ohio.