3-Way Thursday: Empress Chili (Alexandria)

Before I really get into discussing my Empress Chili 3-way, I should probably explain the reason I decided to take up this quest that wasn’t covered in my recent Prologue post.  In a nutshell, as well as wanting to have an exhaustive knowledge of Cincinnati 3-way chili offerings, I also felt compelled to find out which places help you carry out a 3-way the right way.

As I’ve mention before, I’m a pretty busy guy.  With all the stuff I do, including work, writing, four kids, not ignoring my poor wife, complicating otherwise simple home repairs, etc, I don’t often get a chance to sit down in a chili parlor for half an hour and get my “way” on with a correctly shaped plate, a tiny bowl of crackers, and a squeeze bottle of hot sauce.  But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to let it be an infrequent pleasure in my life either.  Seriously, I’d have withdrawal.  So, a fella like me just has to get used to the carry out 3-way.

Now, let me tell you, the carry-out experience changes everything.  Remember what I wrote on Tuesday about the 3-way being a layered dish, never to be twirled?  Well, therein lies the single biggest difference between a good carry-out 3-way and a so-so one.  And it doesn’t matter if a parlor is importing nutmeg and cocoa that’s been handled only by certified virgins from the other side of the globe, no layers means no chance (at least of being my favorite).

3-way So when I opened the  take-out bag from Empress Chili and placed my piping hot 4-way (bean) on my desk, I immediately feared for the worst.  A deep, plastic deli-dish container rarely bodes well when it comes to my enjoyment of a 3-way.  However, we’re all about the science here, so I put my preconceptions aside, added my crackers and distributed my cheese.

Is it wrong (or perhaps disturbing) that my first thought was concern that the crackers being on top would impair the meltiness of the cheddar?  Thankfully, it’s irrelevant because that wasn’t the case.  Everything melted just the way it should.

Admittedly, the first few bites of this monstrosity were hard to dig out of the container without my desk resembling a third-grade classroom on science project day, when everyone brings in the infamous baking-soda volcano.  And yes, I desperately feared eating what was effectively a bowl of chili on top and then being left with a heap of dry spaghetti when I reached the bottom.  That does not a 3-way make.

Miraculously, I found that the physics of the deep container can be used to help.  Digging my fork to the bottom, I was able to lift some of the spaghetti up into the chili where it remained surprisingly suspended, and the chili itself filled the vacuum below.  In this manner, to my delight, I was actually able to approximate a pretty decent layered 3-way experience from the container.

So, what did I think overall?  Well, I’m not going to give you an in-depth analysis that breaks down all the components of the chili.  I honestly couldn’t tell you if it had cocoa, cumin, kitten, or Klingon in it.  As far as eating stuff goes, my mouth is pretty capable at giving my brain an overall perception of something (Mmmm…good or Blech! Bad!) but not so skilled at individual flavors.  That said, I found the chili much to my liking.  It was definitely more savory than sweet, which is always a good thing in my book, with subtle rather than smack-you-in-the-palette spices, and just a bit of heat in the finish.

Of course, nothing’s perfect.  The chili was a little too subtle at times, a slight bit weak, and the beans were somewhat undercooked.  Admittedly, that might have just been an issue that particular day, one can never tell, but regardless, nobody likes underdone beans.  My only other minor complaint is that I didn’t have enough crackers.  For a large 4-way, one tiny bag of oysters is not enough to ensure that all the chili gets in mah belly.

Overall though, I’d say I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, especially given my reservations when first facing the dreaded deep carry out carton.  I’m hesitant to give a numeric score because when I judge things that way, something I know I like a lot will inevitably get a cumulatively lower score than something I know I didn’t like.  How’s that for a head scratcher?  At any rate, for now, I’m going with a thumbs-up approach, and Empress, the birthplace of Cincinnati chili, gets a thumbs-up from me for their Way.  All told, I would carry out it from this place again.  And repeat business is probably the best score I can give.

Oh, oh, oh!  One thing that made me smile at Empress before seeing or tasting anything was the advertised dessert at their counter.  Yes, that’s right, they were pushing the pudding pies the day I stopped in.  If that doesn’t bode well for Puddintopia’s 3-Way Thursday, I simply don’t know what does.