Chili Quest Vol. 1 - Camp Washington
I suppose it was my bro and his gurl that made Skyline a staple in my life. I had become infatuated with Cincinnati Style chili. I'm in no way a advocate of modern Cincy -- I think it's one of that last places on Earth I would inhabit (besides Cleveland) as there's little to do other than see Reds games (and a top-notch modern art museum). Full disclosure, the south beigns at State Route 104 on the south side of Columbus. But in terms of history (see King Records, their magnificently historic zoo, Hudepohl/Burger beer) it's ripe for visitations. I'm always reminded of the ol' Beastie Boys sample -- "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." All you need to see Cincinnati is day trips, amirite? I mean, my favorite president, Ulysses S. Grant is buried miles off Pete Rose Way. Connection?
Back to the chili. I always thought "chili" was something invented in the south-west. After some research I was amazed to discover that "chili," in the purest sense of the word was invented by a Macedonian immigrant upon opening a Greek restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio. Haters can hate, but "chili" with beans and outrageous spices came second to the gravy-esque sweetness of Cincinnati chili -- a recipe that incorporated chocolate, cloves, and cinnamon to the stew-like mixture. This is the real "chili" -- the "chili" we all know and love, and presumptuously base on spiciness and texture, and the quality of "powder" used is post-Cincy "chili." So with my latest obsession, I'm on the quest for the best.
On my recent visit to Red's Opening Day, I only saw it fitting that I visit what most say is the most original and the oldest. Yes, there's still Empress Chili (the absolute original) in three locations (but none are the original location), but by all reports Camp Washington is the best and the most traditional in the city. There are mom-and-pops all over, but this is supposedly not to be missed. Located in the decrepit Colraine (or Camp Washington) district, right near Vine, right off I-75, it has been updated from the first Camp. Washington store across the street. All the renovations and cleanliness of this store might subtract from the overall feeling of a real Cincy parlor. There's something to be said for homeliness and quaintness. But that said, the oyster crackers were thrown in front of us before the coneys even arrived, the owner was rubbing his sweating forehead regarding a Red's Opening Day beat-down, and the servers knew their stuff. The chili had a bite that I didn't normally register with my Skyline experiences, perhaps slightly more fresh amounts of clove and cinnamon (CMP WSHGTN is know for making it fresh everyday) and the buns were slightly crisp, maybe oven crisped. As I have nothing to judge these against, other than live Skyline and the store-bought "Cincinnati Style Recipe Chili" cans I buy from Kroger -- I can't honestly give this a rating in my Chili Quest. So stay tuned. My further adventures will include Empress, Dixie, and as many mom-and-pop parlors as I can visit in this endless summer of 2010. So far though, Camp Washington is king.