The Great Chili Showdown!

Cincinnati-style chili is a regional food characterized by the use of specific seasonings, including cinnamon, cloves, allspice, or chocolate. It is a sweeter, less spicy version of traditional chili. It is commonly served over spaghetti or on top of a hot dog. Arguably the most popular way to have the chili is in the form of a 3-Way. This is a layer of spaghetti covered by a layer of chili covered by a heaping mound of cheese. 

We've tried Cincinnati chili several times since we've been in town, and we've both really liked it. There are two regional chains that we pass frequently, Gold Star Chili and Skyline Chili. We decided it was time for the great chili show-down to see which of these restaurants served up the best Cincy-style grub.

We swung into Gold Star first and picked up a regular Veggie 3-Way. $5.39 and a couple minutes later, we headed over to Skyline.  Skyline was $0.50 more at $5.89, but there was hardly any wait at all.  A quick swap of credit cards and receipts and our bag of chili was in hand. Hmm, so one had speedier service and one had a lower price...let's see how else they compare.

Yes, I even judged the bags - Skyline's was sturdier!
Now what's inside?!  Goldstar contents: Chili, 16.6 oz; Crackers, 0.8 oz; Cheese in Styrofoam cup, 1.8 oz. There was also a plastic fork sealed in plastic (points for hygiene).
Skyline contents: Chili, 15.7 oz; Crackers, 1.7 oz; Cheese, 2.5 oz; Unsealed plastic fork; Promotional Peel & Win game card. (I won a free Coney, BTW. They don't have veggie dogs though so that's a useless prize to me, LOL.)
To be fair, Skyline had a separate paper bag inside the plastic bag that held everything but the chili.
So, here we have Skyline on the left and Gold Star on the right.  Notice the difference in coloration? Honestly, before we decided to have this showdown, we hadn't given any thought to the formulation between the two chains - we just figured they were fairly similar.  So, we both agreed that Gold Star looked more appetizing - it looks like a hearty meal with large beans.  Observed ingredients include kidney beans, pinto beans, corn, tomato, carrots, and perhaps lima beans. Skyline's chili appeared almost gray. It's comprised of just black beans and rice. Interesting to note that Skyline's noodles were pre-cut - which makes it easier to eat the chili the 'proper' way: you're supposed to cut the noodles with your fork, if necessary, not twirl. 
Then it was time to load up the chili with a mound of cheese and get ready for the tasting.

It was a blind taste test, so we took turns and noted our reactions. The first chili I tasted had a hint of salt, good texture and taste but the noodles were a little soft. The oyster crackers were perfect.  I gave it a 9/10. The second chili had a sweeter taste but I detected of hint of alcohol. The crackers were crisper but a little less salty; I preferred the others. Overall, I gave it a solid 8.5/10. Venturing a guess, I thought Gold Star was the second chili. Somehow I was fooled by the texture of the beans - since they were so large and prominent in this dish, I thought I was detecting them in the second dish. I guess it was just the black beans. It turns out I preferred Gold Star.

Francisco had similar thoughts. He thought Skyline had just enough spice to give it a little kick and noted that the noodles and beans had good texture together. In his first bite, he detected a hint of alcohol but didn't taste it in his second bite. (Not sure what's up with the alcohol taste!) He thought this hit a good middle-ground between being sweet and savory and the crackers were nice and crisp. He rated it an 8/10. As for Gold Star, he deemed this chili less spicy and a touch sweeter and noted that it was a little bland without the crackers.  Overall, he preferred this chili, rating it 8.5/10.

So, we both preferred Gold Star! I was genuinely surprised just because we've probably chosen to go to Skyline a few times over Gold Star.  Both of the chilis were very tasty though, and I would happily eat either one again.  I checked the calorie content online, and it looks like a Regular Vegetarian Black Bean & Rice 3-Way has 820 calories, while a regular Veggie 3-Way from Gold Star has 650.  My guess is the rice is what adds on that additional 170 calories.  I should also note that Francisco said while it's evident that he prefers Gold Star, he would choose Skyline just because of the larger helpings of cheese and crackers. Assuming the take-out containers weighed the same, we received almost an ounce more of Gold Star chili, but we received 0.9 extra ounces of cheese and 0.7 extra ounces of crackers from Skyline. I reminded him that there was that 50-cent price differential still to consider. When all is said is done, it's a close call!


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