Skyline Chili & Graeter’s Ice Cream

For as long as I’ve known my friend Lisa (and I’ve known her for over 10 years (see the Lisa A.G. archive)) she’s been singing the praises of her hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio. There were many times where she tried to convince me to visit her and her family there, and there were many excuses why I couldn’t go; but this past weekend, Lisa got married in the Natti and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The best part about the trip, besides the wedding itself (which was beautiful), was seeing a ton of my old college friends. These are people who knew me back when I was an overly eager, slightly abrasive, chatty, neurotic (if you can imagine me in such a way); seeing all of them and their post-college familial acquisitions (husbands and babies) was a delight. It was also a delight to join them in consuming two foods that Lisa’s been telling me about for ages: Cincinnati-style chili and Graeter’s ice cream.

Since Lisa doesn’t eat meat, she’d merely informed me when she first told me about it that Cincinnatians serve their chili over spaghetti. The first time I heard that I thought “ewww.” But Lisa’s step-mom Mary, at the pre-wedding cocktail party, explained how to best approach it: “Think of it like a meat sauce, not like a chili.” Ah, meat sauce makes sense on spaghetti. I can deal with that.

Well the bad news was that on Sunday (the only full day we were all there) Skyline chilis all over the city were closed. I thought to myself: “Oh no, I came all this way to experience Cincinnati’s celebrated chili and now it’s closed??” But Lisa’s friend Lauren did some reconnaissance work and discovered that over in Fountain Square there was some kind of festival that had a Skyline Chili booth. We could experience the chili after all:


That, as you can see, is the booth in Fountain Square. And this, as you can see, is the menu:


Yes, there were the requisite “walking 3-way” jokes (how immature!) but very important work was accomplished as Craig and I decided that we’d each have our own Cheese Coney (basically: a chili dog) and each have our own Walking 3-Way. And here, in all its glory, is the Walking 3-Way up close:


Observe the giant mound of shredded orange cheese. What lurks below? Only one way to find out:


Those crackers you see on the side are meant to go in there too.

So my first reaction, upon eating this was, “hmmm, how bizarre!” Bizarre because I was experiencing foods and flavors I’d experienced in totally different contexts (chili, spaghetti, crackers, grated orange cheese) coming together in an entirely different and unexpected way. And, needless to say, I liked it. I liked the strange cinnamony taste of the “chili”; though, it was a far cry from the spicy, cumin-scented chili I’ve made many times before. The best way to understand it is to understand its Greek roots; for, as someone explained to me, the meat sauce is specifically Greek in origin. And that explains some of the unexpected spices that go into it (cinnamon most prominent among them.)*

* I just Googled “cinnamon Skyline Chili” and, sure enough, the presence of cinnamon in the sauce was corroborated. That’s called “fact checking.”

I think I enjoyed the Cheese Coney even more than the Walking 3-Way:

There it is, looking like a teenager in desperate need of a haircut. Here’s mine one bite in:


I’ve always been a big fan of chili dogs and this did not disappoint. Whereas the chili and spaghetti combo was a bit unnerving, the marriage of hot dog, bun, chili, mustard, onions and cheese is certainly one made in heaven. I would eat this again in a heartbeat. A clogged artery heartbeat, but a heartbeat nonetheless.

But all of this is just a precursor, an overture to the main event; the ice cream store whose praises Lisa would never stop extolling. “Graeter’s ice cream is the best,” I remember her saying, “it’s amazing. They take melted chocolate and pour it into the ice cream as its mixing so you get these huge, fudgy chocolate chips.” The biggest tragedy of Lisa’s wedding was that she was too busy getting ready for the ceremony to join us as we finally experienced Graeter’s:


Inside, the place feels rather conventional; like any American ice cream chain.


Would it live up to the hype? Only one way to find out:


Ummm, yeah, so the hype? This lives up to it. IN SPADES.

Lisa wasn’t kidding: that top scoop of chocolate chip ice cream (beneath it was a scoop of black raspberry chocolate chip) had the fudgiest, most enormous pieces of chocolate studded throughout. The key word there is “fudgy.” Whereas, other chocolate chip ice creams have hard bits of chocolate, these are much more like fudge. They’re soft and pliant and very pleasant to chew on as you make your way through each creamy scoop.

Craig and my college friends had to agree…


…this was good ice cream.

So thank you Lisa for getting married in your hometown! And thanks, also, for reuniting all your old college friends. We loved your city and loved eating its food.


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