3-Way Thursday: The start of it all

I’m going to just come right out and be honest from the get-go: I eat Camp Washington Chili frequently.  As in, often.  Like, probably maybe too often.  You know, kind of, um, weekly.  In fact, it was Camp Washington Chili (with a hint of inspiration from our friends at the Cincinnati Coney Quest) that set me onto this whole silly search for the best 3-way chili in Cincinnati.

If I didn’t make it clear when we reviewed US Chili, the Camp’s arch-nemesis across the corner of Hopple Street, I work within walking distance of both chili parlors.  And as a lover of Cincinnati-style chili, when that odd day almost every week finds me without lunch food or adequate time, I typically walk the short distance from my office to their counter and gather some carry-out.

Yes, that same infamous carry-out 3-way I’ve been talking about for the past four months.

To be perfectly honest, then, if I eat this stuff weekly, this review should be all sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops, right?  Yeah, no quite.  In fact, I’m feeling a good bit of trepidation about this month’s 3-Way Thursday post.  Because, see, I love Camp Washington Chili, from the think, spicy chili to the wonderful people that work there.  Unfortunately, I don’t love Camp Washington’s 3-way.

I’ve taken a lot of heat (see what I did there?) over the years for my opinion on Camp Washington.  Years ago, before I worked in the area, it was something I had maybe once a year, if that.  Many of my friends, though, are staunch, die-hard Camp-faithful and have always been quick to rise to the well-renowned parlor’s defense. 

And truly, what’s more fun than a good, old-fashioned, friendly chili debate in these parts, anyway?

After moving into the ‘hood, though, I began to see the attraction to the place.  It’s family-owned and operated—heck, the founder still works at the restaurant—and you get the sense that the world will end before the chili recipe changes or the place closes.  Heck, they fought the city of Cincinnati over the corner where the place stands for over 20 years.  And the chili, well, the chili is just Damned. Good.  It’s thick, meaty, spicy (heat spicy, the spiciest of any Cincinnati Chili I’ve ever had), and yet still full of all the wonderful exotic spices, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, allspice, that make our chili what it is.  Just thinking about it now has me salivating.

Unfortunately, as I’ve said before, chili itself does not a 3-way make.  And somehow, the spaghetti and the cheese in a Camp Washington 3-way never seem to quite come together the way they should, into one coherent dish.  The spaghetti is real spaghetti, wide-gauge and round.  It’s cooked to within an inch of it’s life, not quite mushy, but probably as well-done as any 3-way spaghetti I’ve ever tasted.  Those well-cooked noodles, though, for whatever reason, don’t grab and hold to the chili.  Rather, they slip and slide in it, like pool noodles at the swim club.

Slippery spaghetti, unfortunately, makes devouring their 3-way a sloppy, hard to wrangle affair.  In fact, the cut-bites approach to eating it is extremely difficult.  Eventually, you find yourself almost forced to swirl, and nothing ruins the experience for me faster than that.

The cheese is good, although I oddly find that you get more of it when carrying out a 3-way than dining in.  That’s especially problematic in the restaurant, because the heat of the chili nearly demands that cheesy component for balance.  Without the proper level of cheese, the spices we’ve come to look for simply disappear behind the chiles.

I want to have wonderful things to say about Camp Washington Chili’s 3-way.  I really, really do.  I love the people that work there, always smiling and happy to give me an extra bag or two of crackers, and they’ve never gotten my order wrong.  I love that the place gets so much notoriety, both in and out of town.  And truly, I love the chili.  So far, it’s my favorite Cincinnati-style chili, on it’s own.  Unfortunately, the 3-way dish it goes into doesn’t stand up to it, and the much lost in the chili’s shadow.

Camp Washington chili is really, really good, and a bowl of it will never disappoint you.  But the 3-way just isn’t quite integrated the way one should be.

Ultimately, that’s what set me on this quest to begin with.