For me, the stakes seem particularly high with this month’s 3-Way Thursday location, Dixie Chili. It’s one of the “Familiar Four”, the 4 brands of chili I’d eaten at some point before our hunt for the perfect 3-way began. While I’ve not made regular visits there through the course of my life, I know that many of my friends have a particular fondness for this, the most NKY of Cincinnati’s chili places. On top of that, my uncle used to own and operate a Dixie Chili franchise in Independence, KY.
In other words, here it is only my second month of reviewing 3-ways and already I’m looking at the potential for having my house toilet papered or car egged by people I know. Worse, I could end up getting the cold shoulder or banned from the beer cooler at the occasional family event.
If that wasn’t enough, it seems to me that at least anecdotally, Dixie has a small but fiercely loyal following that the other chains just don’t quite have. Which raises the risk of facing a pitchfork and torch-wielding mob.
Yep, the stakes are, indeed, high this month.
Which makes me wish I had praise equally as high for Dixie Chili.
Before I really get into it, I want to be clear: nothing about the food I carried out from Dixie Chili was bad. I found it a little disappointing, certainly, but there was nothing bad about it. And truth be told, I really thought the restaurant I picked the food up from was very pleasant and inviting, right down the lady behind the counter wearing the old school paper hat.
Unfortunately, though, the disappointment started as soon as I took my 4-way bean out of the bag. I know I covered the difference in carryout form factors for 3-ways last month, so I won’t go through it again. Besides, while I still prefer a 3-way on the correctly shaped plate in the diner, the point for me is to find the best carryout option. To that end, I’m getting used to eating them in paper bowl-cup-containers that look more designed for taking home potato salad from the deli.
What I learned this month, though, is that there’s an additional consideration besides the carryout container shape: size, my friends, does matter. Two basic schools rule so far when it comes to sizing a 3-way. There’s the regular/super approach and the pint/quart approach. Empress’s large 3-way was a volumetrically-based quart. Dixie’s large, however, the “super”, appeared to an arbitrary size.
The Voice in my head that makes me want to eat steaks the size of Cleveland howled at the injustice. While I told it firmly to shut up, I still feel it necessary to point out that a large 3-way at Dixie is a smaller one than you might get other places. If that matters to you.
Enough whining about containers. What about the chili?
Unfortunately, lunch suffered from a damning lack of balance; the ratios were all wrong. There was too much spaghetti, not nearly enough chili, and way too many beans. In fact, there were so many of the little red buggers in my 4-way bean, they completely ran rough-shod over the entire experience. Although intended to provide a delicate, slightly earthy counterpoint to the chili’s spices, the beans were all I could taste.
As for the chili itself, well, it’s hard to say much. Overall, the chili was savory, not sweet, and seemed very thick. Much thicker than I’m used to in a Cincinnati chili which, by design, is generally somewhat thin by chili standards. The purpose is to make it more sauce-like and more readily compatible with spaghetti or hot dogs and buns. My sample of Dixie chili, though, was so thick that it didn’t even take two whole bags of crackers. By comparison, for a large 3-way, I usually expect to use at least three bags of small oysters.
The most prominent thing I noticed, though, was the overall meatiness of its flavor. When I have a 3-way, I expect to pick up a number of exotic spices delicately interwoven in the chili. Sadly, I didn’t catch much spice at all, exotic or spicy. I simply tasted meat. Oh, and beans. Did I mention the beans? Lots of beans.
I will readily admit that the overabundance of beaniness and overall lack-of-balance in my carryout 4-way almost certainly hampered my ability to pick up on subtle flavors that might or might not have been present. But the fact of the matter is that if you screw up the 3-way, it’s easy to ruin perfectly good Cincy chili.
So I’m just going to say it straight out—I don’t see what so many other people seem to find so compelling about Dixie Chili. Yes, I love the chain’s story, and I love that they are right at home in the NKY. I even love that there’s a bit of a family connection for me, personally, too.
And with all that love, I wanted to love their 3-way. But I just didn’t*. I found it sadly out of balance, as well as too meaty, too chewy and lacking in the right spice. Overall, it was okay, but mostly disappointing.
In other words, I think the beans ruined it for everybody.
But I guess it’s probably not the first time love was ever ruined by beans.
*I might have to give the place a second chance some day. If for no other reason than to keep my cooler privileges with the family.