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Hot as Cincy

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.



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.




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.




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.’


One Response to “Hot as Cincy”

  1. […] you regularly follow PCC, you’ve read about 2 other Cincinnati locations (here and here) that specialize in this signature dish; and while there are still many places in the […]