Six ways to Sunday

Sunday, August 5th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Events, Travel

Over the Ohio River into Cincy. Aside from the pair of office buildings we spied in Lexington, KY this was our first glimpse of an urban setting in almost a week.

Cincinnati has one of the largest collections of 19th-century Italianate architecture in the United States, primarily concentrated in Over-the-Rhine, just north of downtown Cincinnati; at the time of their construction, Over-the-Rhine was one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the Midwest. We saw none of those buildings, though, as the Garmin led us through the desolate, rather seedy-feeling landscapes of downtown to our hotel — more on this later.

After dropping off our bags, we went out in search of some famous Cincinnati chili. According to renowned foodies Jane and Michael Stern, who compiled a book on the nation’s chili recipes, “Cincinnati is a city bewitched by chili; there are at least a hundred joints in town that make a specialty of serving it. And we do mean joints, for chili, Cincinnati-style, tends to be one rude plate of food, best eaten off a Formica counter under humming fluorescent lights after midnight in the company of other chiliheads.”

Back in 1922, Empress Chili became the first chain to serve Cincinnati chili. Just three of their parlors remain, but numerous spin-offs and battlers for chili supremacy abound in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky – most run by Greek immigrants as was the original.

We decamped from downtown Cincinnati in favor of the greener, more friendly streets of Newport, Kentucky across the river to try one of Empress’s first followers: Dixie Chili. Dixie’s was started by a former Empress employee Nicholas Sarakatsannis in 1929.

Dixie Chili

We pulled up to the joint, and one glance at the menu underscored the sense that aside from also being called “chili,” this had very little in common with Texas red. Dixie’s Cincinnati chili is thin, brown, sweet, and (though I’m sure there are variants) scented with cinnamon. (The actual recipe is a family secret.) A “bowl of plain” is how locals refer to the chili alone, but more commonly, it is served over spaghetti(!) – a.k.a. a “two-way” – plus any number of toppings : “three-way,” i.e., a two-way with shredded American cheese; “four-way” – a three-way with sweet onions; “five-way” – a four-way with kidney beans, up to a “six-way” (for chili connoisseurs only), which is topped with chopped, raw garlic cloves. Ay! All bowls are accompanied by oyster crackers.

Dixie Chili

The wonderful Calvin Trillin, in American Fried: Adventures of a Happy Eater (1974) (excerpted in his Tummy Trilogy), devoted a section to Cincinnati chili which I just happened to read the following morning. In it, he claims that Dixie’s once offered a “seven-way,”(!) which included an egg (fried or scrambled), and chopped frankfurters. The chain has since abandoned their egg-cooking operations. (They do, however, still offer a “Coney,” which is a hot dog with chili, topped with onion and/or shredded cheese.)

After dinner, we strolled along the Newport Riverfront Levee with its 10-acre pedestrian walk and shopping mall. The annual Glier’s Goettafest was taking place on the waterfront. (Insert obvious “sausagefest” joke here.)

Great bridge-filled view, but very strange: an entire event devoted to German breakfast sausage. There was live entertainment (a pretty mediocre cover band and assorted clog dancers), cooling stations, food vendors serving an almost staggering variety of Goetta-inspired offerings and the “World’s Only Goetta Vending Machine” — being reloaded as we watched — dispensing one pound rolls of Glier’s Goetta for $2.





Check out flickr for the rest of the fest.

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