I have lived in Cincinnati for nine years, and not one single time have I ever eaten the chili. And frankly, I had no plans to change that -- until my boss asked me to do so.
I moved to the Queen City in 2007 with my then-boyfriend. At our farewell party, a friend warned me that the chili “isn’t what you think.” I laughed, because, well, how seriously could we take a warning about chili?
Then we came here and saw it for ourselves. Uh, bless your hearts, but no thanks, y’all. We’ll pass.
A Vow Is Born ...
The Boy and I vowed to each other that we wouldn’t touch the stuff. It became a running inside joke. And though we eventually broke up, our friendship, and thus the Vow, endured.
My Cincinnati friends have long known of the Vow, and thankfully, they don’t take it too personally. They have asked how I can say I don’t like it if I haven’t even tried it.
Fair enough. I have three basic objections:
The aesthetics: It kind of resembles dog food topped with cheese. (No shade.) And it doesn’t appear even remotely healthy. Not that I’m the picture of health, but I’m not actively trying to raise my cholesterol levels. Overall, it looks like #teambaddecisions.
The composition: It has spaghetti on the bottom. The chili I grew up eating does not incorporate noodles of any kind. And the mountain of cheese on top is too much for me. For one thing, should any human being eat that much cheese in one sitting? And WHY DOES THE CHEESE NOT MELT? (I’m sure some of you will write me and tell me that in fact it does melt if I give it time. I’ve never seen it happen. And I’ve watched a lot of drunk friends eat chili at 3 a.m.) However, I get that this is a Cincinnati thing and, well, you do you.
The hype: Since moving here, many people have tried to sell me on the glory of (in this order): Graeter’s, Montgomery Inn and chili. Graeter’s is good but it didn’t change my life. And Eli’s is my favorite barbecue, with Jim Dandy’s right behind it. So, yeah, I’m not getting my hopes up.
… And Then It Dies
I was holding fast to the Vow until late last year when the death knell sounded.
As entertainment editor for WCPO.com, I arrange coverage of local dining news. After publishing Julie Niesen Gosdin’s story on the Top 9 Chili Parlors, several people started discussing an idea: What if we visited them all in one day? What if we created the Cincinnati Chili Trail?
I liked the idea but certainly wasn’t planning on participating myself. And all was well until I offhandedly admitted that I’ve never eaten the chili.
Have you ever heard traffic screech to a halt? That’s what that moment was like.
As everyone turned to look aghast at me, I briefly explained the Vow and my reasons. Many side-eyes ensued. And then my boss said, “Oh, you definitely have to go!” He thought it would be good to have the perspective of someone who has never eaten it.
I hesitantly texted the Boy about the request. It was then that he confessed that his own boss had treated him to lunch at Skyline last year, and he, too, had buckled under pressure. (My reply: “What about our Vow? You couldn’t have ordered a salad???”)
So, on Thursday, I will join my colleagues and embark on the Cincinnati Chili Trail, armed with Tums, a bib and their support.
The things I do for this job -- it’s not all glitz and glamour, folks.