[Pudn’s note: The author of this Puddintopia contributor post, Crankybear, aka Tom, is actually the ‘Tom’ half of Tom and Carla, the couple that created and maintain Hoperatives.com. He’s the one who rather infamously offered me the chance to ramble incoherently over there from time to time instead of wasting all my rants here. I was and continue to be honored with the opportunity to write for them, and I’m likewise both honored and very fortunate that he decided to chime in on our 3-way quest.]
Ah, 1969. I sort of remember it. It was the year of Apollos 9 – 12. The Cuyahoga River catches on fire the same day Judy Garland dies in June. The Haunted Mansion opens in Disneyland and that night the first of the horrible Manson murders happens across town. Woodstock was the next week. The Beatles release Abbey Road in September, the same month William Calley’s troops destroy My Lai.. The first message is sent across ARPANET and Wal-Mart is founded a few days later in October, setting the stage for two cultural forces that shape the final decade of the 20th Century.
I was six years old. Beyond the Apollo program, I wasn’t much aware of any of this. I started the year in my hometown of Independence, MO and ended it in the then-not-at-all-trendy town of Asheville, NC. Oh yeah, Nixon became president. I was convinced his full name was “That g****mn Nixon” because that’s all my father ever called him. Not a fan.
1969 is also the year Blue Ash Chili opened on Kenwood Road. I have no idea how much of a splash that made locally. They were the new kids on the block long before there were New Kids on the Block. It had been 40 years since Cincinnati-style chili was invented when they opened, and it was another 42 years before I managed to find a parking space to try the place out myself.
The truth be told, it wasn’t that hard to find a parking spot. They have a pretty big parking lot because they need a pretty big parking lot. If you go during the lunch rush as I did, be prepared to wait. You won’t have to wait too long. The first thing I noticed about the place when I walked in is that everybody was hustling. There had to be a dozen people behind the counter. The tables turn over. Notice that there’s a line for take-out and a line for sitting down. Keep that straight and it’ll all work out fine.
One of the things Blue Ash is known for is their six-way chili. Beyond the typical onions and beans that give us the 4- and 5-way, Blue Ash adds fried jalapeño caps to add one more. I didn’t get it that way because I always get a 4-way (onions) to be consistent with each place I go. I did get one of their hold-the-hotdog coneys that had the peppers. When I go back — and I will — I’ll be getting those things on my 4-way. I approve of them entirely.
The chili is hyped, and I understand why. It’s really a fine example of what the dish is supposed to be. It’s easily the thickest in consistency of any we’ve reviewed so far, but it’s not stiff. The liquid-to-meat ratio is perfect. I think they grind their meat very fine because you don’t find big chunks of meat, but if you look at it closely you see that a spoon of it is as much meat as liquid, if not a bit more.
There’s no heat to the chili at all, but it’s flavorful. I wish my order had come out at a warmer temperature. As much as the server was hustling, I think the order sat for a couple of minutes. On the other hand, when I started doing the mixing in the cheese melted, so it wasn’t like it was stone cold. I definitely classify the flavor as sweet, but the spice blend is so well-balanced no single one jumps out at you.
I’ve only been to Blue Ash Chili once, but based on that visit I can say that it’s my favorite of the places we’ve visited so far for 3-Way Thursday. If I were introducing someone to the dish, this would be a good way to do it. What’s interesting is that the place seems to be as well-known for its double-decker sandwiches and non-chili-based dishes as it is for its namesake. It could just as easily be called the Blue Ash Diner and be perfectly accurate.
I’ll probably never be able to shake the impression that Blue Ash Chili is a newcomer to the Cincinnati Chili scene, but I’ll also never get used to responsible adults being quite a bit younger than me. It’s a 1960’s thing. You kind of had to be there.