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Restaurant Sun Dec 28 2008

Sinful Cincy Chili at Cinner's

cinnerchiliBack in August, I made my first-ever visit to Ohio's Queen City, Cincinnati. Much to my surprise, I was completely blown away by the place--and especially by the chili. I can still picture the shocked look on Cincinnati Jamie's face as I scarfed down five-way after coney seemingly (okay, literally) at every Skyline and Gold Star chili parlor that we passed for three days. It wasn't until I got back to the Windy City that I discovered our one, lonely, yet exceedingly authentic Queen City chili joint. Dear Cinner's in Lincoln Square: you own me now.

Since Cincinnati chili is little known beyond Ohio borders, a little explanation is in order. First off, we're not taking about a spicy stew here by any means. True Queen City chili is a mild affair, variously flavored (depending on the parlor in question) with chocolate, cinnamon, and allspice, and having the consistency of a sauce. In fact, that's how it's generally served--as a sauce over spaghetti, as a filling for hot dogs, or as a base for dips.

Opened in spring 2008 by soft-spoken Cincinnati-native Tony Plum, Cinner's doesn't miss a trick to create a classic Queen City menu, served up in a kitschy, 1960s-era Cincinnati-lounge atmosphere. You won't find open vats of chili and massive warming grills sitting in the middle of the room like at the chain chili parlors in his hometown, Plum's place is actually a neighborhood bar--but one that serves up every version of Cincy chili you can think of.

I opt for "five-ways"--(1) spaghetti topped with (2) chili, (3) onions, and (4) red beans and then smothered in (5) shredded cheddar cheese. However less adventurous folk (as apparently are many Cincinnati natives) can opt for three-ways (nix both onions and beans) or four-ways (nix one or the other.)

However, my heart truly belongs to the "coneys"--the curiously named Cincinnati hot dogs whose monicker always gives this NYC-native a giggle (they're named after a local Queen City amusement park itself named after, well, you know.) These mild German sausages don't have the snap or garlicky zing of Chicago dogs. Instead, their role is to serve as a delivery mechanism for (you guessed it) chili, onions, and cheese. And mustard--these are still hot dogs, after all.

Proportions are slightly off at Cinner's, in Plum's hometown chili tends to be less chunky and the coneys less, well, long, but those differences don't take away from the exceptionally tasty, curiously smoky chili that infuses everything here (read the Yelp reviews for yourself.)

To fully test your chili stamina, start with the Cinner Dip, a layered chili and cream-cheese dip covered in onions and cheddar cheese that serves as a staple at Cincinnati parties.

Plum serves up a variety of hometown brews from his full bar, too. I'm partial to the full-bodied Morelein O.T.R. (named after the historic African-American Over-the-Rhine neighborhood adjacent to the Queen City's dowtown), but the Morelein Lager House will do in a pinch (apparently Ohio deliveries don't always arrive as planned.)

I can't tell you the number of times I've happily eaten and imbibed myself perilously full and wobbly at Cinner's. You should, too--check out the specials menu for a variety of daily food and drink deals. (Best times to find me there: for Tuesday's $2 coneys or Friday's $3 Moreleins.)

Tony's joint sits on Talman, half a block south of the CTA's Lawrence bus and a block west and north of the Brown Line's Rockwell station, so you'll have plenty of public-transit rationalizations for opting for that second O.T.R.

Or five-way.

Cinner's
4757 North Talman, Chicago
773-654-1624

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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