Friday, May 31, 2013

Skyline Time

Former Cincinnati residents eat frozen Skyline.
I didn't like Cincinnati chili when I moved there after high school. I'd see the lines forming outside of the late-night window in Oxford after the bars let out and I'd think, "Why?" But enough of my native Cincinnatian friends dragged me there consistently over the years, that I think I built up a kind of critical mass of it in my system. Suddenly I started craving it all on my own.

Cincy's is a Cincinnati-style chili parlor in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. I know, I was shocked too. Located on a side street in downtown, it's a stone's throw away from the iconic Woolworth's lunch counter that's now commemorated by a civil rights museum. The restaurant is small, but it was packed on a Friday at lunch (they're only open for lunch). The place shows its age. There are faded Bengals and Tallstacks posters on the walls. It doesn't look anything like a Skyline Chili, isn't trying to look like a Skyline, and in fact from the street it barely looks like it's open for business. The comments in the local Yelp reviews are funny. "The cheese was processed!" "The chili wasn't spicy at all!" Yep, that's good old Cincinnati chili at its finest.

How I Knew I Wasn't Actually at a Cincinnati Chili Parlor in Cincinnati:
  • It took more than 40 seconds to get my food.
  • My waiter, bless his heart, called my coney a "chili cheese dog."
  • Lunch cost almost nine bucks.
  • My chili arrived with a completely reasonable amount of cheese.
I was impressed by the North Carolinians around me as plates of chili came out one after another from the kitchen. I kinda thought they'd all order sandwiches. I didn't give them enough credit.

I got my small three way and cheese coney (they do offer it with mustard and onions on the menu) and - thank god - a package of oyster crackers. At first glance it seemed there wasn't quite enough cheese on my little three way, and my coney was suspiciously hot-dog length, but when I twirled a bite of spaghetti around my fork, I got a whiff of the cinnamon in the chili and it smelled like the real deal. I actually closed my eyes and for a second, could convince myself I was in a booth at the Skyline on Ludlow and it was 2:30 in the morning.

The flavor was right on, but of course, there were some differences. The noodles Cincy's uses are thick, and more pasta-ish than Skyline noodles. And of course, the cheese. I realize how silly it is to quibble over processed cheese, but the texture of Skyline's shredded cheese is like nothing else. Actually, that's probably for the best. Cincy's gets some key things right, including the York peppermint patties at the register.

Cincinnati friends, do something for me - go to your favorite chili parlor this weekend. Blue Ash, Dixie, Camp Washington, Gold Star, I don't care. Just go, maybe bring someone who's new in town, and lift a forkful of authentic Cincy chili in honor of everyone you know who moved somewhere else.