The food editor of The Miami Student, Madeline Phaby, is a dear friend of mine. We laugh together, we cry together, we eat together. We enjoy each other’s company.
But boy, do I have a bone to pick with her.
Or rather, I have a ‘fork wrapped with spaghetti, chili and cheese’ to pick with her.
Nearly a month ago, Madeline wrote a story detailing her first experience trying Cincinnati chili as a Chicago-native. Her experience was less than pleasant, as she described the texture of the signature dish (a three-way) as “wet” and said the spaghetti had a “weird energy.”
These are fighting words.
I grew up in small-town Lebanon, Ohio, about 45 minutes from Cincinnati. Seasons are questionable in Ohio, but I’ve always been excited about the fall, especially the smells that came with it — cinnamon candles, hot chocolate, bonfires.
But nothing compared to opening my screen door after school to be blessed with the sweet scent of Cincinnati chili wafting through my house.
Even made with Kroger-brand ground beef, Kroger-brand Cincinnati chili seasoning and Kroger-brand cheddar cheese, I would be scarfing down the meal in my living room. The second I joined the clean-plate club, I would either be paralyzed in a food-coma or eager for seconds.
Not everyone’s favorite food is Cincinnati chili, and I get that. I understand that it is a strange, acquired taste, but it should still be given a fair chance; Something I don’t think Madeline did (partly through no fault of her own).
First of all — and this is a controversial opinion — I would have taken Madeline to Gold Star Chili. Be mad at me all you want, Cincinnati-natives, Gold Star is better than Skyline.
Their chili is less chunky and there’s always a pool of liquid at the bottom to submerge the dry oyster crackers into so they can soak in the delicious flavor. Gold Star’s chili is also more chocolatey/cinnamon-ey, which adds a layer of sweetness necessary for such a bizarre creation.
Maybe that means Madeline would have liked it less since it’s arguably more “wet,” but at least bringing her to the superior restaurant would have given it a fighting chance.
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I also have a problem with the way our mutual friend, Campus & Community Editor Abby Bammerlin and accompanier to Madeline’s taste test, told her to eat the pasta. You don’t just cut up the three ingredients as they are, you mix them together to create a blended experience of pasta, chili and cheese.
It was also a little unfair to not give a coney a try. Yeah sure, Chicagoans are partial to hot dogs, but coneys are a whole different experience of soggy bread (it’s better than it sounds) and questionably pink hot dogs (I can’t vouch for why they’re pink, but they’re safe to eat … probably).
The real issue though, Madeline says, is the concept of even pouring chili over spaghetti in the first place. She asks:
“What makes Skyline chili different from spaghetti with meat sauce?”
“Why is a three-way considered a chili dish rather than a pasta dish?”
“Honestly, is it still chili if it’s nothing more than ground beef and broth?”
Well one, spaghetti with meat sauce is an entirely separate entity. No doubt you picture pasta with red sauce when you say those words, and when you order it, you are likely at an Olive Garden or Paesano’s.
Second, the argument that a “three-way [is] considered a chili dish rather than a pasta dish” is fundamentally flawed. A three-way is a pasta dish. It’s a pasta dish in the same way chicken alfredo is a pasta dish; Both have pasta, sauce and cheese on top.
Finally, the last question is just wholly unfair. Reducing Cincinnati chili to “ground beef and broth” takes away all the special spices that go into the seasoning. Namely chili powder, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt, as listed in the original recipe from the Greek restaurant that first served the meal, the Empress.
My home in Lebanon is right off the infamous “fast food lane,” where we have over a dozen restaurants, including a skyline and a Gold Star right next to each other. I have fond childhood memories of gathering in my living room with my family, watching TV and eating the chili on paper plates. When asked my favorite food, I always answer the same — Cincinnati chili.
Of course I’m partial to this niche food that defies the definition of chili, but that doesn’t mean my food editor’s arguments against it are correct.
To Madeline: I still love you even though I have completely obliterated your article.
Let me make it up to you … Gold Star date this weekend?