I need to get my Cincinnati fix on a regular basis -- say at least once or twice a year. Usually, one of the visits is devoted to exploring the Queen City's cultural attractions (it has more than you might think) and the other to checking out favorite restaurants (again, more than you might imagine.)
This time the trip was mainly for the purpose of eating, with a few other activities thrown in between meals. First things first -- let's get to the food.
Cincinnati's culinary scene is, at least in part, influenced by several things: German roots, access to abundant regional produce, a tradition of good beer to go with good food, and its residents' devotion to longtime favorite eateries.
Let's start with the latter. Chili doesn't immediately come to mind when visitors arrive in Cincinnati, but those who know the city well usually gravitate to one of its iconic chili parlors (there are more than 200 to choose from).
My choice was Camp Washington Chili, a James Beard "American Regional Classic" designee, and a Smithsonian Magazine pick as one of "America's 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations."
Modeled after a 1950s diner -- think "American Graffiti" and you'll get the picture, Camp Washington is open 24 hours a day, six days a week (closed on Sunday). Current owners Johnny Johnson and his daughter Maria Papakirk welcome a regular clientele ranging from socialites sporting pearls to rural workers sporting bib overalls.
While the restaurant has an extensive menu, you come here for its 3-, 4- and 5-way chili. For novices, don't expect Texas-style chili con carne in a bowl; the Cincinnati version is more akin to a thick sauce to top spaghetti or slather on a hot dog. While its main ingredients are ground beef and tomato paste, it also has a variety of toppings or "ways" that include cheese, onions and beans.
The real surprise is the number of unusual spices in the flavor profile. In addition to chili powder, there's nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, cumin, bay leaf and in some cases, dark chocolate.
It doesn't matter whether you choose to have your chili 3-, 4- or 5-way; just be sure you choose to have it at Camp Washington Chili. campwashingtonchili.com
Almost as beloved as Camp Washington is Montgomery Inn Boathouse. If the former is known for its chili, this place wrote the book on mouth-watering ribs.