Chilly, chili and barbecue

Our family spent a chilly weekend in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati while we visited my wife’s parents on spring break.
Or was it a chili weekend?

Actually it was both. It was a little nippy a couple of days, but the temperature was just right to enjoy one of my favorite things – Cincinnati chili.
Now, before you start thinking chili is chili, so why is he writing about it, Cincinnati chili is not chili. At least, not what we think of as chili around here.
No, Cincinnati chili is a concoction of ground beef and a lot of spices you would never put in chili. Think cinnamon and unsweetened chocolate, for instance.
And it’s not served in a bowl. It’s ladled over a pile of spaghetti on a plate. But when the waitress brings your order, you won’t see either. The entire plate will be covered with a heaping mound of grated cheddar cheese.  The technical term on the menu is “three-way.”
Order “four-way” and you get beans or onions added under the cheese mound. “Five-way” and you get both. And all of them come with oyster crackers.
Folks in the Cincinnati area love their chili, so much so that there are more than 100 chili parlors around the area. Most are restaurants selling one of two competing brands – Skyline and Gold Star – and chili lovers are almost fanatical in their allegiance to one or the other.
If you grew up in a Gold Star family (as Jenny did), you eat Gold Star. At least once a week. And if that’s not enough, the grocery stores all stock one or both brands in cans.
It’s sort of like a Coke or Pepsi discussion, and it’s not taken lightly.
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The lively debate over the best chili reminds me of growing up in the Kansas City area, where the discussion centers on the best barbecue.
Even though people around here say barbecue was invented by native Americans in north Mississippi, it’s not a claim you would want to bring up if you were in Kansas City.
There barbecue is synonymous with two restaurants, Arthur Bryant’s and Gates. Bryant’s has been around since 1930 and Gates opened a few blocks away in 1946. Both have their loyal followings of presidents, movie stars and all that, as well as branches throughout the area.
We were a Gates family, when I was growing up. When Jenny and I visit my sister in the Kansas City area, we sometimes still stop in for a barbecue-beef sandwich or a jar or two of Gates sauce.
Of course, Jenny says I seldom have a meal that I don’t pronounce as “yummy.”
Is it any wonder that my waistline continues its march toward the end of my belt?

T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached by phone at 662-534-6321 or by e-mail at