Tips are encouraged. Contact Elaine T. Cicora at elaine.cicora@aol.com.

Side Dish 

The Short-Term Outlook: Chili

The Short-Term Outlook: Chili

A good bowl of chili is one of winter's ultimate comfort foods and deserves a place in the cold-weather diet of every hearty Northeast Ohioan. Ah, but there's the rub: What, exactly, makes a "good" bowl of chili? Fiery hot or roundly seasoned? With beans or without? Over spaghetti? Topped with cheese? And never mind all the other permutations, like vegetarian, black-bean, green, or varieties based on pork sausage -- a version my southern Ohio friends insist is the One True Chili. As with most regional American dishes, it ultimately comes down to personal taste. Happily, area eateries turn out enough different concoctions that there should be something to please us all.

Take, for example, the fiery brew cooked up at Hudson's Mary and Ted's (80 North Main Street), which grows hotter as the season progresses. With a satiny-smooth tomato base supporting a small amount of ground beef, tiny specks of green pepper and onion, and lots of tender kidney beans, this medium-weight, sinus-clearing chili gets its kick from hot pepper flakes. A cup, served with packaged saltines, will set you back $2.45. At the other end of the flavor spectrum simmers Guv'nor Pub's thick, classic midwestern blend of lean ground beef, chunks of tomato, red and green pepper, onion, and lots of herbs and spices. Served in a mug, the subtle-flavored chili, with a cumin-and-chili-powder kick, can be had topped with cheese and/or onions, but is hearty, comforting, and full-flavored, even without the frills. Cost of a cup is $1.95; the restaurant is in the lower level of downtown's Huntington Bank building.

Great Lakes Chili, in the Halle Building's downstairs food court, covers all bases with both Cincinnati-style (a ground-beef-and-tomato blend, in which beans are optional) and what is incorrectly called "Texas-style" chili (ground beef and beans in a tomato base; authentic Texas chili is generally tomatoless, beanless, and made with diced beef). Both types are available five ways: plain ($2.75), over spaghetti ($2.99), with cheese ($3.49), with onions and beans ($3.69), and with onions, beans, and cheese, over spaghetti ($3.89). Our favorite is Cincinnati chili with the works: a tasty dish with a fresh, mild, and vaguely sweet flavor. All chili comes with the traditional accompaniment of packaged oyster crackers.

For another version of Cincinnati chili, try Skyline Chili (5706 Mayfield Road, Lyndhurst), a local outpost of one of the Queen City's original chili parlors. Made of super-finely ground beef in a thin, flavorful tomato-paste sauce and served any of five ways -- our favorite being with onions, beans, and cheese on spaghetti ($4.15), with a package of oyster crackers -- the tasty blend tickles all the taste buds, with a little bit of heat, a little bit of sweet, and a whisper of cinnamon.

Of course, it's fun to do it yourself, too. For what may be the ultimate Cincinnati chili, with more than 18 seasonings, including garlic, paprika, chili powder, honey, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and unsweetened chocolate, it's hard to beat the recipe in Jane and Michael Stern's Square Meals cookbook (Knopf, 1984). Despite the long list of ingredients, the ground-beef chili -- which can be adapted to ground turkey or even frozen, thawed, and crumbled tofu -- is a snap to throw together. And as for flavor, well . . . you just may find yourself wanting to open up a chili parlor of your own.

More by Elaine T. Cicora

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