If you’ve ever been to Cincinnati, someone has probably insisted that you try Cincinnati chili. It’s what we’re known for, like barbecue in the south or lobsters in Maine.
Cincinnati chili is unlike any other. It’s nothing like Tex-Mex, or any other thick bean stew you’re used to. Cincinnati chili is a no-bean chili made with boiled ground beef, cinnamon, cloves and unsweetened chocolate in a beef and tomato base. It’s runny and served over spaghetti with a huge mound of finely grated cheddar cheese on top. Or we pour it over a hot dog and mound a pile of cheese on top of that to make our signature coneys. Either way, it’s delicious. And it’s so popular that there are two big competing Cincinnati chili chains in town: Skyline and Gold Star.
Now, if you ask a local Cincinnatian, he or she will tell you which one they prefer. We’re brand loyal, though the two restaurants have identical menus and serve the same things. There are other independent restaurants that serve Cincinnati chili, too: Camp Washington Chili, Blue Ash Chili, Empress Chili, etc.. And guess what? They all have the same menu items as Skyline and Gold Star. Like I said, we love our Cincinnati chili.
But I wondered: did they really all taste the same, or could we tell the difference? And did those of us who claimed to like Skyline better really know if we did? There was only one way to tell: we had to do a blind taste test.
We got regular coneys from Skyline and Gold Star. My husband told Skyline what we were doing, so they took extra care in making sure that our coneys looked good. I didn’t tell Gold Star our plans; I just brought home five coneys. In a side-by-side comparison, Skyline won hands down. Theirs looked much better.
But this was all about taste. And since they looked different, we really did do it blind and blindfolded each other one at a time so that we were judging by taste and taste alone.
Before we started, I took a poll. I was a Gold Star fan. My husband claimed to like Skyline better. So did my mom. My son said he preferred Gold Star’s chili for its thickness, but liked Skyline’s cheese better. We all seemed to be quite the aficionados. Then we put our coneys in our mouths. One by one we sampled each. I thought for sure there would be some indecision; I thought they would probably taste so much alike that some of us wouldn’t be able to choose. But that wasn’t the case. We all chose. Fairly quickly, too, and based on the spicier richness of the sauce.
It was unanimous: we all picked Gold Star.
We were all a bit surprised. Both coneys were delicious, but there was something about Gold Star’s that we just liked better. We hadn’t expected such a difference in flavor, but side-by-side, there was. Let me be clear: we like Cincinnati chili and there’s never a bad place to get it. But I guess we learned we liked Gold Star a little better than the others. Who knew?
Have you had Cincinnati chili?