3-Way Thursday: Behind the Chili

Celebrity.  If you look the word up in a dictionary, one of its definitions will be something along the line of “fame, renown”.  It’s something everybody wants, at least a little, even if they don’t admit it to themselves.  Secretly, deep down, there’s a tiny little voice that whispers, “if you do this, you might be famous someday.”  And everybody has their own personal this

Yes, even I’ll admit to having the occasional flight of delusion fueled by that stealthy whisper.  It tells me that someday I’ll sell a novel (oh, did you notice the 100% over there to the right; don’t worry, that’s so another post) and everyone will love it and they’ll make a movie of it and I’ll have a facebook profile of me on the red carpet with Angelina Jolie on one side and Hollywood’s flavor-of-the-month leading man on the other. 

Of course, then I chuckle to myself and go back to unclogging the toilet.

Blue Ash Chili, however, has gotten a taste of that celebrity.  When the Food Network’s BlueAsh 3Way 3 Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives was in town, they could have picked any one of a number of locally-loved chili parlors.  But they picked Blue Ash Chili.

And now I finally know why.

I made a few trips to Blue Ash this month, to sample their ‘ways, and I’m just going to say it upfront: they deserve their measure of celebrity.

Having decided to stick with the ‘try-it-both ways’ BlueAsh 3Way 1approach to evaluating a ‘way, I dined-in first and returned a week later to give the carry-out a try.  The single most impressive thing I found about Blue Ash Chili is that there is very little discernable difference between eating in and carrying out.  Much of the reason for that, I reckon, is that they use the proper container.  See the terrible pictures I took there?  Yep, that’s a boat made for a 3-way right there, not a carton made for egg-drop soup.  It makes a huge difference.

That’s not the only reason I liked Blue Ash chili, though, not by a long shot.  Basically, they seem to get everything about a ‘way right.  The chili is exactly what I’m looking for in Cincinnati-style chili: meaty, rich, and perfectly balanced in flavor.  The spices are all very evident and very flavorful, but all work together in harmony so you can’t really pick them out individually—well, at least I couldn’t.  I would classify their chili on the sweet side of the spectrum, and it has almost no real heat (just a tiny, almost imperceptible bit on the finish).  But that’s okay, that’s what hot sauce is for.

Without question, this is thickest chili we’ve tried so far, and that does tend to prevent it from seeping as deeply into the spaghetti as I’d like.  Each order I received came with at least two pre-packaged bags of crackers, but one is more than enough.  In fact, because I’m a two-bag kind of guy, I automatically dropped a pair into my first 3-way, and in the end I found several almost-dry crackers with just a thin layer of chili covering them.  That was a foreign experience for me.

Nothing’s perfect, of course.  For one thing, the beans on my 4-way were your basic dark red kidneys.  I prefer the smaller red beans I’m more accustomed to finding in my Cincinnati chili. 

Oh, and that celebrity I was talking about before?  Well, if you’ve ever seen Vh1’s “Behind the Music”, you know that forty minutes into the show there’s always the “price of fame” segment.  That holds true for Blue Ash Chili as well.  If there’s any one thing I would complain about, it’s that the service I had during my few visits could be…uneven.  The fact is, the place always seemed to be hopping, especially at lunch.  In my experience, the parking lot could have a “Thunderdome” vibe to it: sometimes you need to be assertive about which parking spot is yours.  Inside, while the employees were always moving quickly and with purpose, it seems that the occasional application of patience can be necessary when waiting to order, get your food, or even receive the check.  But I’m not talking about a doctor’s offices-style oh-for-the-love-of-all-things-holy-I’m-so-bored-the-beige-wallpaper-make-me-want-claw-my-eyes-out-with-a-bubble-wand kind of wait, so it’s just a minor blemish on an otherwise stellar overall experience.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I did also try the famous 6-way, which is your standard 5-way (beans and onions) with the addition of fried jalapeno caps.  While I wasn’t sure about it to begin with, man, it’s fantastic.  The trick is that the fried chiles provide the perfect level of both crunch and spice to compliment Blue Ash’s chili formulation.  This absolutely would not work with a more spicy chili or one with a thinner texture.  They’d end up soggy and confusing.  But here, well, let’s just say I think it might be my new favorite ‘way.

Blue Ash Chili is a celebrity in the ‘way trade around town nowadays, and frankly, was long before Guy Fieri came to town.  Sure, that celebrity comes with a few disadvantages, but make no mistake, it’s the real thing.  Substance, not just style, Dustin Hoffman, not Lindsey Lohan.  I’ll happily carry-out from them again.

Now I just need to fabricate some reasons to go to Blue Ash.