Cincinnati Chili: Pass the Tabasco

If you order chili in a Cincinnati restaurant, be prepared for the following question: "Wanna three-way, four-way, or five-way?"

Cincinnati is known for its chili, which is different from any other kind of chili in the world. Much different. Cincinnati chili is more a topping than a stew; it's a meaty ground-beef-and-plenty-of-secret-spices sauce ladled over a hefty plate of—are you ready for this?—spaghetti. But back to your waitress's question: When chili is served on spaghetti with mounds of shredded cheddar it is called a "three-way." Each additional topping ups the number a notch. Request onions and it's a "four-way." Add beans to that and it's a "five-way." Don't want the spaghetti? Ask for a "cheese coney"—a hot dog in a bun topped with mustard, a small ladle of chili, and cheese. (Plain coneys, without cheese, don't quite cut it.)

The original Cincinnati chili is said to have been concocted by two Greek immigrants, Tom and John Kiradjieff, more than 75 years ago. The brothers served it up at the Empress Chili parlor on Vine Street downtown. Cincinnatians took to the newfangled dish quite enthusiastically, and soon other folks opened chili parlors with their own versions of the recipe. (The original Empress recipe is still under lock and key.)

Today Cincinnati is the "Chili Capital of America," with more than 100 chili parlors in the metro area. The most popular are Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili. If you stop by one of their many locations, the experts will be more than happy to help you select a chili dish that suits you—and to order it by the correct name.

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