Cincinnati Style Chili at Skyline Chili

There is a chain of restaurants centered in Ohio and Kentucky called Skyline Chili. If you’ve never had their “Cincinnati Style” chili, you will be surprised to learn that it doesn’t really taste like chili at all.

Skyline Chili started in Cincinnati. Nicholas Lambrinides brought his chili recipe to America in 1949 and started his first restaurant there. As time went on, Skyline Chili has grown up to be a successful Midwest franchise with locations in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, and now even Florida.

Skyline Chili is hard to describe. It starts with spaghetti which is topped with the chili and then a mound of cheddar cheese, and I mean a mound. Options are beans and/or onions. Skyline breaks these down into menu items knows at the Three-Way, Four-Way, and Five-Way. The Three-Way is just the spaghetti, chili and cheese. The Four-Way adds either the beans or the onions, and the Five-Way has it all. You’ll hear patrons ordering “Four-Way beans” or “Four-Way onions.” I like the Five-Way myself. Over the years I’ve grown to accept the onions. For added taste they offer an excellent hot sauce of their own brand. It’s very good.

The first time you try Skyline Chili, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Coming to the dish with the expectation of standard chili gets in the way of enjoying it. It is an acquired taste. The recipe is a secret so know one knows for sure what’s in it. A popular consensus is that it contains cocoa. Right there you see that this is not standard chili. I agree that if you savor it, you can taste a hint of cocoa.

When I first moved to Ohio in the Eighties, everyone talked about Skyline. So after a while I had to go and try it. My first response was “what’s the big deal, it’s kind of runny and tastes funny.” Like most Ohioans, I’ve come to love it. It is a treat now to have lunch at Skyline.

Their menu has expanded to include “Cheese coneys” which is a hot dog topped of course with the chili and cheese. There are burritos, potatoes, French fries, all of which have the omnipresent chili atop.

The French fries are known as “Sky Fries” and next to a Five-Way, is my favorite menu item.

These days, Skyline has expanded into the supermarket where you can buy it frozen, in cans and as a spice packet with recipes. Some others have tried to clone the taste in supermarket offerings know as “Cincinnati Style Chili” and have done a fairly good job of imitation. Making it your self at home yields good result but it takes hours to make from the raw spice packet. One of the secrets you’ll find is that you put ground beef into the mix raw and it cooks in the sauce over a period of hours.

If you’re ever in Ohio or the surrounding states, stop into a Skyline Chili and taste a regional favorite with an open mind. You may find as others have that if it’s not available where you live, you’ll try to have some shipped in.

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