It’s true, with over 100 operating chili parlors, and more per square mile than any other city in the world, Cincinnati is the chili capital. How did this all get started? Well, it was a long time ago, in 1922, when Tom Athanas Kiradjieff and his brother John moved to Cincinnati from Macedonia. He opened a hot dog stand named after a burlesque show nearby called “The Empress”. His stand served hot dogs and Greek food to the patrons in the area. They didn’t do very well at first, given the predominantly German heritage in Cincinnati, but success was just around the corner.
Tom took his traditional Greek stew recipe and modified it to include ground beef, chili powder and other spices and ingredients that remain secret to this day, while maintaining the Mediterranean spices like cinnamon and cloves. He called it “chili”, although it was a departure from the stew that most of the country had come to know as traditional chili. And they served it over spaghetti!
The brothers also started the tradition of ordering the Cincinnati style chili in “ways”. A two way is spaghetti with chili on top. A three way is spaghetti, chili and finely shredded cheddar cheese. A four way is spaghetti, chili, beans or onions and finely shredded cheddar cheese. And my favorite, a five way, is spaghetti, chili, beans, onions and finely shredded cheddar cheese.
It was some years later that Tom inspired the cheese coney, which is a hot dog with mustard, onions and a scoop of chili topped with shredded cheddar. It is said that this name came from his trip through the Coney Island area on his way to Cincinnati, where he first saw the hot dog served at the seaside resort area.
Although many restaurants and chains have populated the area serving “Cincinnati Style Chili”, there are still a few Empress Chili parlors that serve the original recipe of the Kiradjieff brothers. Each of the restaurants serves a delicious chili however, and when you are in Cincinnati, you have to stop at Skyline, Gold Star or Empress. Or, if you really want the full experience… all three!
A few chili facts:
According to owner Tom Yunger, Sarah Jessica Parker occasionally frequents the Clifton Skyline on Ludlow when she comes back to town and eats a large three-way every single time.
Chili lingo: Sloppy = more chili. Dry = less chili. Inverted = cheese and chili inverted. Cracker bomb = oyster cracker with hot sauce in it. Chili appetizer = oyster crackers.
Skyline has five Florida locations. Norma Rodenfels, the manager of the Skyline in Naples, says that the chain has a sizeable following in the Sunshine State. “Whether it’s from Cincinnati people on vacation or a new fan base in Florida, people love it.”
Edwards, a New York restaurant located in Tribeca, hosts a monthly Cincinnati Night, which features chili from Skyline.
In September 2008, Hurricane Ike knocked out the power in most places, except the Kings Mills Skyline. Owner James Chantilas says people came from 20 miles away: “We’ll never do business like that again.”
Cincinnati Ohio: The Chili Capital of the World!