Picture this. It’s dinner time and sitting at the table, a plate is put in front of you. It looks like traditional spaghetti, but it’s all wrong. I give you Cincinnati chili.
Growing up in northern Ohio, I’ve had the opportunity to try many unique foods.
I’ve had some unique ethnic foods like pierogies, gefilte fish, frog legs, snails, chopped liver, artichokes, and beef tongue just to name a few. Growing up, my siblings and I would argue over what we wanted for dinner. One would want Italian and another would want French, but everyone agreed on sushi. That was always special for us.
Then there’s Cincinnati chili. What is this sludge that looks like it came from a Halloween B horror film or after a night of bad Tex-Mex?
See, Cincinnati chili is less of a chili and more of a sauce, hence the more fitting name of Cincinnati sauce. It rolls off the tongue. Cincinnati sauce, Cincinnati slop. Take your pick. It’s a Mediterranean-based meat sauce, with unique ingredients like allspice, cloves, and chocolate. More modern commercialized recipes have dropped chocolate, but it’s still worth mentioning. You slop that sauce on some spaghetti or a coney(hot dog) with a massive amount of shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and/or beans.
One has to wonder why a place like Skyline Chili loads so much shredded cheese on top. Is it to cover up something aesthetically unpleasing? The truth is out there. Cue the X-Files theme.
One day for dinner back in the mid-1990s, my mom tried making some Cincinnati chili. Thankfully, I was at a friend’s house that evening. It was so bad that even the dog wanted nothing to do with it. Thankfully, it has never been made again and has been the butt of many jokes over the years.
Since I missed that abomination of a dinner, the first time I tried the stuff was at a Skyline Chili down in Fort Lauderdale something like 15 years later. My then-girlfriend, now wife, brought me. I forgive her.
This stuff is truly an acquired taste, like absinthe, banana-flavored candy, olives, and pineapple on pizzas. Ironically, those are all things I don’t like and no, pineapple does not belong on a pizza.
That first time at that Fort Lauderdale Skyline Chili? Not so good. I like a lot of unusual foods, but not this. I had to hold my nose to eat it. However, a friend of mine has always said that he’s willing to try something three times. There’s always the possibility that whoever made something was having an off day or something didn’t go right. Things happen. This is fair and I tried it at another location years later. This other location is run by the mother of a friend of mine and it was a definite improvement over the previous batch. I guess not all Skyline Chili locations are created equal. This stuff still has an unconventional flavor no matter where you go. I prefer the chili mac supreme at Steak n Shake though. If I want the essence of nutmeg, I’ll drink a Hefeweizen. It’s much more enjoyable.
I don’t know about you, but if you’re packing your chili in a can like this, you’re competing with Hormel, the Chef Boyardee of canned chili.
Please don’t take my word for it though. Players and coaches from Big 12 schools have some opinions about good old Cincinnati sauce too.
Despite what UCF head coach Gus Malzahn says, I recommend everyone at least give it a try but be forewarned as it is not for everyone. OK, here’s an idea. Have a friend who likes it order it and be ready to disown that friend and order something something else. If you’re courageous enough to make your own, here is a recipe. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.