Camp Washington Chili
3005 Colerain Ave.
I can’t believe no one has covered one of this country’s greatest regional delicacies yet – Cincinnati Chili.
Well, my dear traveler, I’m just the man for the job.
And Camp Washington Chili located in the old meat-packing section of the city—not far from where the Reds played ball at Crosley Field for three quarters of a century—is just the place to start.
Like many of America’s great culinary traditions (think pizza, french fries, and cheap Chinese delivery), Cincinnati’s version of chili was created by an immigrant.
When Tom Kiradjieff arrived in the Queen City over a century ago from Greece, he brought with him a delicious recipe of ground beef, tomatoes, and exotic Mediterranean spices.
Cincinnatians have been eating it up ever since.
The city now has over 150 chili parlors ranging from big chains to small independents like Camp Washington.
Since I can only get it a few times a year, indulging in Cincinnati chili is one of those moments that still makes life worth living.
Worth getting up in the morning and enduring TSA lines. Worth being fondled by blue-gloved federal agents.
First of all, the aroma of Cincinnati chili is like your grandmother’s kitchen on Christmas Eve.
Sweet and savory at the same time. Your senses are immediately piqued by onion, peppers, cinnamon and ground cloves.
And as delicious as it is, no one eats Cincinnati chili straight up. You must get it served over spaghetti. With a mountain of shredded cheese piled on top.
That’s known at every chili parlor in Cincinnati as a “Three-Way.”
But why stop there?
A “Four-Way” adds onions. A “Five-Way” adds beans too.
Normally, I’m a “Five-Way” guy all the way. And with an extra-large portion.
But since I was trying to save room for a Graeter’s double-scoop of chocolate chip at Fountain Square and something at Great American Ballpark during the Reds game in a few hours, I decided to go easy today with a regular sized “Four-Way”.
I wasn’t disappointed. Never am.
Camp Washington’s version is a just a bit spicier than the big chain chili parlors like Skyline and Gold Star.
The Camp’s spaghetti is a little thicker too, which reduces the catastrophic splatter that always seems to end up on my Barry Larkin replica jersey (at least the color is right).
Almost as good as the “Four-Way” is the second most famous vehicle for Cincinnati chili – the Coney.
These are little three to four bite hotdogs smothered in chili and buried under an avalanche of shredded cheese. And a few diced onions for good measure.
Hot dog heaven!
Camp Washington can’t claim to be the originator of Cincinnati Chili. None of the city’s parlors can.
And Tom Kiradjieff’s original chili parlor is long gone.
But Camp Washington is the next best thing.
Founded in 1940, Camp Washington has been serving Cincinnati’s favorite meal here at the corner of Colerain and Hopple Street since Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi was crouching behind Crosley Field’s home plate.
Johnny Johnson, another one of Cincinnati’s Greek immigrants, began making chili here in 1951.
Unfortunately, the current building is not the original. While comfortable and popular, the new version of Camp Washington lacks the nostalgia an eight decade-old chili parlor deserves.
The new atmosphere is more like exit ramp Steak ‘N Shake.
But that’s OK.
When my senses are awakened by the aroma and taste of those ground cloves and my fork makes it through that mound of shredded cheese to the sweetly spiced chili and spaghetti, I’m not thinking about ambiance.
By the time I polished off the last bites of my “Four-Way” and Coney and took the last swig from my Amstel Light, all I could think about was how long until I could get back to Cincinnati.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!