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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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Archive for the ‘Chili’ Category

Monday, April 9, 2012 @ 09:04 AM

You all still with me? Well if you’ve been waiting for the results of our favorite Detroit Coney with bated breath, today is your day. However, if you are just joining us, two weeks ago we began with part one of a two part review of these famed D-Town dogs in competition where the focus was on one of the much loved originators of this dish, Lafayette Coney Island. While I won’t go into great detail about the history, since we have already discussed it in part one, I will mention again just how unique these restaurants are. Both owned by the same family who decided to go their separate Coney ways back in the day, literally just splitting the restaurant down the middle and birthing two very well loved Coney spots, literally right next door to one another; and while I mentioned last week that they are both beloved and each have their own set of fans, I thought it would be fun for you to see a clip of just what we mean…

 

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmnGTkYQmBg

 

You don’t have to watch the entire clip to see just how crazy each spots fans are for their signature dish, and with that love comes great competition and heated discussion. So we figured that being right in the heart of Detroit for a weekend last summer, what better way crown our favorite than to taste-test them both…back to back!

You can read all about what we thought of Lafayette. But after that initial Detroit City Coney experience, it was off for round 2 at American Coney Island…the originator of the dish. Of course it didn’t take us long to arrive at the next destination, being that it was literally right smack dab next door; and I must admit I felt a little silly eating a hot dog at one spot and then just picking up and walking a few feet to order another….silly but fun.

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The first thing I noticed different was how immediately more welcomed I felt upon entering. It was clear that in the past decade American had made not only huge décor changes and updates, but their staff seemed significantly younger and…well I hate to say it…more friendly. It was clear that American, unlike their counterpart, had grown over time…in all sense of the word… and embrace some of the more modern customer appeasing touches.

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We ordered immediately after being seated…2 traditional Coneys…dog, coney sauce, onions & yellow mustard. My mouth just begins to water listing off the ingredients!

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Now this being our 2nd Coney experience of the day, I was really trying to take each bite in and make sure I really examined the difference in flavor. It was pretty hard to discern a huge difference, but American’s chili was a bit sweeter, something I really enjoy in a Coney. Well, we gobbled those suckers down and at this point I knew I was Coneyed out for the day…, Adam on the other hand was still looking for possibly one more at the game. Smile

Because I’ll be the first to admit that first impressions are almost a make or break in the whole experience for me and that I can get pretty turned off pretty quick by a place that isn’t really trying very hard to win me over, I knew I already had a different feeling about the whole Coney situation when we walked into American. However, trying my best to keep all that aside, this is really about the food, so I made sure to keep an open mind…which I’ll share shortly.

SIGNATURE DISH: Coney’s are still the name of this game and if you stuck around from last week you know we are going to share which was actually our favorite at the end of the day!

TASTE: First and foremost, very good! Detroit Coney’s are an easy 2 for 2 after this. On the taste, however, American’s Coney sauce is distinctly sweeter…very much like a Greek-style chili. All the flavors come together very well and it is a very crisp taste.

AMBIANCE: I liked the modern updates American Coney Island had to offer and it is definitely bigger than its neighbor. Also, another thing I liked was the natural light with all the windows…great in the city.

PRICE: Possibly a few cents different, but still not a bank breaker…definitely worth it!

SERVICE: This was where American stood out. They were friendly, helpful and downright chatty…interested in where we were from, what we were doing, etc. It was clear they took customer service seriously and didn’t just stand on their popularity to keep people coming back.

I give American Coney Island 4 ½ ‘Little Piggies’

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THE COMPARISON & VERDICT

Alert the critic authorities…we have a split decision in the way of differing opinions in the PCC family! When it was all said and done, Adam was a fan of Lafayette Coney Island while my favorite was American Coney Island far and away. The deciding factor for him was that he felt the sweeter Spanish onions and vinegar mustard worked better for the overall taste of the Coney. Also, he liked that it still had that same early 20th century appeal.

I, on the other hand, much preferred the sweeter Greek-style chili. Also, I just enjoyed my entire experience there a whole lot more, which may or may not have made that Coney taste a whole lot better…you be the judge. Smile

In the end, I guess you will have to try both (in one day if you are daring) of these spots to make your own decision. For me it will always be American when I return (I guess Adam will have to go next door!), but I really enjoyed the entire experience of visiting both back to back and so glad we were able to experience this almost century old feud first hand.

Friday, July 29, 2011 @ 08:07 AM

093Man it’s HOT out there! I know if you are anywhere close to the Midwest you know what I am talking about; and this segues nicely into our next topic, Chili… Cincinnati chili to be exact. If you know anything about this kind of chili, you know it really has nothing to do with heat at all, rather is a Greek style spice. However, this next spot definitely sets itself apart…but we’ll get to that.

If you have been following the blog for any length of time, you know I don’t do spicy. I will take a little bit here and there for flavor, but I really don’t enjoy the spicy foods, which is partly why I enjoy Cincinnati chili so much. It’s a much sweeter chili, and along with its lack of beans makes it a favorite of Adam’s.

Now many cities are known for specific dishes, with many places being known for a that unique specialty. When it comes to chili in Cincinnati, this is no different. There are quite a few famous spots, probably one of the most notable being Skyline, which we will showcase at a later date, and PCC has already featured Blue Ash Chili a few months back. So we knew that when we were back in the Cincinnati area, we would definitely have to pay a visit to one of the other of the city’s famous favorites…, Camp Washington Chili.

Camp Washington Chili is a true legend in the area, with its patriarch Johnny Johnson (who we had the privilege of meeting) manning the helm since 1951 when he emigrated from Greece. Open 24-hours, six days a week, this chili parlor is no joke in how many coneys and 3-ways they are churning out in a day. It’s so popular, Travel Channel even saw fit to feature it as #65 on its “101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown” (Chowdown Countdown). So we knew it certainly was a place we needed to try.

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We were in downtown Cincinnati for a whirlwind birthday weekend for Adam and planned our visit to Camp Washington on a Saturday. We found it fairly easily, but noticed when we arrived it seemed to be pretty popular given that the whole parking lot was packed. Now granted… the parking lot wasn’t huge, but we definitely had to wait a little bit to get a spot. Luckily, once inside we noticed it was not as packed as the parking lot would have you believe, so we were easily led to a table. Our waitress was super sweet and chatted with us all about their chili vs. the other popular spots in the area, and it didn’t take us long to decide on our order. I went with my typical order of one coney with onions, but this time decided to give their onion rings a go since they sounded tasty. Adam went with his typical order of 2 cheese coneys (mustard only) and a 3-way, which if you are unfamiliar, is served over spaghetti noodles and topped with a mountain of shredded mild cheddar cheese.

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Like most other Cincinnati chili joints, the orders come out quick. The first thing we both noticed with each or our respective first bites is that Camp Washington definitely has a bit more “bite.” In other words…it’s hot! While I would hardly say it was too spicy for me to eat, I was considerably taken aback by the impactful flavor of their chili. It’s not that it wasn’t good, it just was not what I was expecting based on my other Cincinnati chili experiences. It just was much spicier than any other sweet Cincinnati chili I am used to; and while I was so hungry that I practically inhaled my coney, I have to be honest in saying it just wasn’t my favorite due to the amount of spice. In my opinion, it just took away from the typical sweet aspect I so enjoy about the other local chili I’ve had.

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Adam definitely agreed. He said the hot sauce or whatever it contained made the chili a lot more watery, therefore not adhering it to the noodles as well. Plus, unlike Skyline or Blue Ash, these noodles were not cooked in the sauce either, a big fault in his book.

The one saving grace of the food was the onion rings. These were AMAZING and all but made up for the unfortunate chili. They were perfectly brown, crispy, and sweet, while not losing all the breading from the onion in one bite. We both agreed these were some pretty awesome-tastic onion rings, maybe not the best ever, but still SOOOO good.

Sadly, even the rings were not enough in the end to overcome the spice that lingered in our mouths, and unfortunately we left Camp Washington feeling a tad disappointed and dissatisfied. I had a hard time feeling as if I ate when I really didn’t enjoy my meal to its full capacity. So while I enjoyed the experience of visiting Camp Washington Chili, it definitely does not rank highest on my list.

SIGNATURE DISH: Cincinnati Chili! While like the other chili joints in the area they do have other items on the menu for you non chili fans. But, they don’t call these Cincinnati Chili restaurants for no reason.

TASTE: We’ve made it our goal to try the major players in the Cincinnati chili discussion and Camp Washington was far from our favorite. Unfortunately, the spice they gave it completely overpowered the sweetness we have come to love in its typical flavor. However, if you are a “standard” chili fan…this might be right up your ally.

AMBIANCE: Where I felt Camp Washington lacked in the traditional flavor I was looking for, it definitely made up for in charm. The restaurant was very clean, yet had a certain old fashioned feel about it and you certainly did get the sense that it has been around for a long time. In fact, their logo alone is quite fun and Adam even bought a t-shirt to commemorate our trip.

PRICE: Another perk of Camp Washington was it was not very expensive, so while it wasn’t our favorite meal, at least we didn’t leave feeling as if we had hurt the pocket book.

SERVICE: As I mentioned above, our waitress was another good selling point. She was super cheerful, talkative, and helpful in guiding us in some options of things to do after lunch. It is always nice to have a waitress who genuinely seems as if she wants to be there helping you out.

Unfortunately Camp Washington just didn’t pan out and this time around…we vehemently disagree with The Travel Channel’s experts. However, that isn’t to say that many people in the area don’t love it and maybe you might too, especially if other Cincinnati chilis have not been something you’ve enjoyed. Who knows…maybe this one is for you. We just didn’t really enjoy the flavor; so while I still urge you to try it for yourself, I give Camp Washington 2 ‘Little Piggies.’

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Monday, March 21, 2011 @ 08:03 AM

124Last week we hit 65 degrees in Northern Indiana, and if you are a mid-westerner like me, you know how joyful that was.  This winter has been particularly harsh and I was hoping the warmth was around to stay, even though my husband (being a local) said it was sure to get cold again and even snow at least one more time. Alas…although I hate to admit it…he was right, and this past weekend has been freezing and even started to flurry a little.

Still, my mind remains fixed on those nice days last week which let me know that Spring & Summer are just around the corner. I can’t help but let my mind wander and I start daydream about those lovely events that mark the warm months, particularly as it pertains to the foods I start to crave once again.  There is something about warmer weather that begins that yearly itch of wanting to head out to baseball games and family barbecues.  I just crave those American past-times and that #1 food I associate with them…HOT DOGS!

Now I know for some, hotdogs are an item that you turn your nose up at. I mean…what ARE THEY exactly?  To be honest…I’m really not sure either, but I choose to look beyond that, and figure in my relatively healthy life, I’ve decided I can fit in a hotdog every now and then. Heck….I think everyone needs a little hotdog in their life every once in awhile. Smile I don’t care what you say…, they taste good so don’t even try to tell yourself they don’t! LOL

Hot dogs have been around for ages and seem to be making quite the comeback amongst trendy foodies out there, with all sorts of spots centered around fancy artisan encased meats.  In fact, hot dogs are so synonymous with our culture, the Travel Channel dedicated a whole program to featuring the best and most unique dogs out there on their "Food Heavens" series, "Hot Dog Paradise." That would be one of the places where we first noticed this next famous eatery.

The Varsity, located in the heart of Atlanta, GA, has been serving up thousands a day at their large drive-in since 1928.  What makes them so unique is really how large of a place this truly is! They are the largest hot dog stand in the country and cover an entire city block of downtown Atlanta.  It all started when, fed up with the unpalatable cafeteria food, a young Georgia Tech student decided to start up his own restaurant down the street, and with that…The Varsity was born.  It is so popular nowadays, that on any given day you better be prepared to know what you want as you move through the line until you reach the front to hear “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” loud and clear from every cashier down the mega line…and you best be prepared to place that order and quick, because they have to feed A LOT of people…Some 600 cars outside and 800 inside to be exact.  Also, this isn’t just a place where you can say "hotdog" and get what you want. No Sir. There is a lingo at The Varsity and you must read in correctly!

Yeah…they ain’t lyin’ when they say this place is big! We actually drove right by it when we passed through Atlanta on our way to Florida and it was easily noticeable from the freeway.  We knew we would be coming back through and figured it would be a perfect lunch stop on the Saturday we were headed home.  Well, we were right in thinking that…and evidently weren’t the only ones. It seems that everyone headed to the Georgia Tech-Wake Forest football game that afternoon had the same idea, so let’s just say they aren’t kidding when 30,000 people might pass through there on a game day. But we didn’t let that deter us.  We just drove around until we found a spot and headed on in to survey the scene.

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This place is NUTS! I couldn’t believe how many people were crowded in that building and around the car hop stations. But what was so odd was it didn’t appear to be moving slow.  They really move through the crowds quickly. Still, with that many people, we figured the best option would be to have Adam order and I would go stake out a seat.  So we looked over the menu so I could let him know what sounded good, and although they do have burgers and other sandwiches like a drive-in would, we wanted to stick to what they were known for… their dogs, particularly the chili dog.  So Adam went ahead and ordered us two 2-dog combos, 2 chili-cheese dogs (one with mustard), a slaw dog, and a chili-cheese slaw dog.  And for our sides we opted for both the fries and onion rings. Hey…this meal wasn’t going to be healthy in any way, so we might as well enjoy it.

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We each dug in and tried bites of each, but oddly enough the ones each of us thought we would like the best was actually the opposite.  I thought I would really enjoy the chili but wasn’t a huge fan, while Adam thought he would like the slaw and instead preferred the chili.  He also both really liked the chili-cheese slaw dog…one of the most interesting dogs we’ve ever had. I highly recommend it. We also both agreed the fries and onion rings were particularly good, but let’s be real…those are always up my alley.  We had no problem finishing off our meal in record time!  However, after we were done we realized one thing we had forgotten to order was their famous Varsity Orange…, a creamy slushy type drink that tastes just like a dreamsicle.  So we grabbed one to go and boy was it refreshing! It really hit the spot after such a heavy meal.

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I realize those pictures don’t do it justice, but I’m sure you get the idea.  For how many people were in and around the restaurant, I think we were maybe inside for a grand total of 30-45 minutes.  I could hardly believe how quickly we moved through, so I guess they truly still operate at a fast food level, even though they still accommodate a ton of people.  And what is also so lovely is just how nostalgic the whole experience felt. It is rare that places have remained true to their original building, location, or décor, and even more rare is finding an old time drive-in that is still in operation; and this one is not only still running, but they can hardly breathe they have so many people coming through.

SIGNATURE DISH: “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have?” Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs! Although this is an old time drive-in that serves up all sorts of dishes, they are truly known for their hot dogs and the variety of ways from naked, to chili, to cole slawed; and their chili is so popular, in fact, that it can be purchased in cans for your own use at home.

TASTE: Adam and I were both quite impressed with these dogs.  Both having had a lot of dogs in our day, it is sometimes hard to distinguish what really makes a dog stand out above the rest.  But as dogs go, these were truly good as far as taste, bun texture, and condiments.  They just cook up a fantastic no frills dog; and it is no wonder they have been in business for 75 years.

AMBIANCE: I really loved the entire experience of The Varsity, most of all for its old time feel and originality.  You would be hard pressed to find a lot of original drive-ins still open, much less ones that take up an entire city block, but this one is still going strong.  And not really having made seemingly too many modern changes I think is what gives this place such charm.

SERVICE: They seriously are not lying when they say you better know what you want, because trying to get 30,000 patrons through on any given day is work!  Still…, they do it and are nice, just with a very don’t mess around attitude, which for an impatient hungry patron like me is always appreciated. Winking smile And better yet, although the service is fast, the food is as good as if they took their sweet time….always nice.

PRICE: This is another thing I liked.  They have clearly raised their prices over the years, but not so much that they are offensive.  At $6.99 for a 2-dog combo plus your choice of fries or rings, and a drink…, I would say that is a great deal.  Often Adam and I overspend in wanting to try as much as possible, but here we were able to try all that we wanted for under $20, which I consider a deal!

So even though we were just passing through and only stayed a short time, I really enjoyed my experience at The Varsity.  This was a meal we were able to get quickly and still get back on the road in a decent amount of time, while still being able to do something fun and adventurous, rather than just your old McDonalds quick-trip.  And the bonus…we really enjoyed our meal, and I would say that if we are ever driving through Atlanta again, we would likely have to make a little pit stop.  "What’ll They Get? What’ll They Get? What’ll They Get?… 4 ½ ‘Little Piggies.’

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