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Free-for-All Friday: Guest Blog: Skyline Chili

You all know Kate by now, right?

I ran the Color Run with her, she introduced me to her aunt who is a former Bon Appetit editor and she braved the homemade Cheez-it journey with me. She’s quite simply the best, if not for her accent alone.

You see, Kate hails from Ohio. Ask her to say any word with a short “o” sound and it will inevitably come out as a short “a” that lingers. You know what I’m sayin?

Kate cooks every night for her man (which happens to be Max’s cousin) and last week she whipped up some “Skyline Chili.” I just stared at her when she told me that because I had no idea what she’s talking about. Have you ever heard of this supposedly infamous Skyline Chili? Well you’re about to…

I’m Kate Sullivan and I’m honored to be contributing to the stellar Melissa’s Love of Food. Melissa and I have become PiYo (pilates, yoga and cardio, OH MY! But that’s for another day) enthusiasts together and before one of our sessions last week, I happened to be throwing together some Cincinnati Chili and mentioned it to her. We got to talking and I realized that there’s a lot to be said about the subject. Coincidentally, on Wednesday, Nicholas Lambrinides, the founder of one of the first “chili parlors,” passed away at the age of 88; and that’s when it was decided that an entry had to be made about this fantastical phenomenon that is Cincinnati Chili.

I was raised in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio and have vivid images of my dad insisting that every family and friend coming to visit eat one thing: Skyline Chili. Most visitors were a little weirded out by the thin, saucy thing that we call chili in Cincinnati.

It is said that this “Cincinnati”-style of chili originated with immigrants attempting to increase their restaurant traffic by branching out from their ethnic styles. The chili began as a sort of stew and was served over hot dogs and spaghetti in the 1920s. Empress Chili Parlor was the first to serve this type of Chili. Not much has changed about the recipe, but in 1949, Nicholas Lambrinides started Skyline Chili. And, I must admit, among the several different chains of chili parlors today, I’m partial to Skyline.

The three top dogs in the Cincinnati-chili franchise business are now Skyline, Gold Star and Dixie. Aside from its catchy radio jingle whenever you’re feeling good and hungry, it’s Skyline time… and friendly staff, it’s the tastiest. Skyline now has franchises throughout Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana as well as a few in Florida, so the craze is spreading.

Skyline Chili is to Cincinnati what In-N-Out is to So Cal. There are some wanna-bes, some restaurants are new and some are incredibly nostalgic, but the style of eating is the same—it’s not just eating, it’s an experience (and they both offer drive-thru).

The recipe has a base of ground beef, water and some tomato but what really makes this chili unique are the spices, including, but not limited to: garlic, Worcestershire sauce, unsweetened coca, cayenne, cumin and cinnamon. Is your mouth watering yet?

Sure, there are “recipes” available on the internet and grocery stores now sell canned product (in local groceries) and even frozen Skyline but there’s just nothing like having it hot out of the pot at the restaurant. And, as the craze spreads, the menu becomes more extensive, including things like burritos and chili cheese fries, but stick to the basics. You’ll thank me later.

As if the chili itself weren’t unique enough, there are several different ways of getting this stuff in your belly, and we natives call them the 3-way, 4-way, 5-way and Coney. All of the ‘ways’ include a bed of spaghetti, a layer of chili and then the 3-way has a heaping pile of finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese, the 4-way has cheese and onions and the 5-way has cheese, onions and kidney beans. The cheese coney begins with a hotdog on a bun and a layer of the yummy stuff itself topped off with cheese and your choice of mustard or onions (neither or both). Ya dig? Now, of course, bowls of the stuff are available, but they’re reserved for the people we call boring.

So now that you have a preliminary education on the experience that is Skyline, you might be closer to understanding what a Cincinnati Native goes through living in Southern California (could you live without your In N Out?!) I hold this stuff in such high regard that I will not attempt to create it from scratch. Instead, during my trips back and forth from Cincy, I load up on packets of the pre-made spice combos.

From there, the job is easy. You simply beat a pound of ground beef with a fork into a couple cups of water and a can of tomato paste and add the packet of spice. Let that beautiful “stew” simmer for a couple hours and while that’s happening, you boil your pasta (following all of Melissa’s PERFECT spaghetti-cooking advice), chop your onions and rinse your kidney beans. It must be said that you’ll NEVER find the gloriously thin-shredded cheese they use in the restaurants, but I’ve gotten close by buying a brick of sharp cheddar and grating it myself using the teensy option on the grater. If you’re into dogs, this would be where you prepare the hotdogs (but I usually go the spaghetti route at home).

And, if you ever find yourself roaming through the Heart of it All, find yourself a parlor and have a four-way. Together, at last, it’s Skyline time.

Don't you dare judge this book by its cover

Are you all itching to try Skyline chili, now? I’ve told Kate she’s gotta make it for me. If just for the fact alone that I can ask her for a three-way. ;)

And a random poll, because it’s Friday:

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