Chili, Rockabilly style
In preparation for WMSE’s ninth-annual Rockabilly Chili Contest on Sunday, where 50 competitors will offer more than 60 varieties of chili, we decided to sample a few of the participating restaurant’s variations of this truly American dish. We randomly zeroed in on three of the contestant-restaurants who regularly serve chili at their establishments to get an idea of what you can expect.
First up was the Horny Goat Hideaway located in a charmingly refurbished, two-level pump house on the river’s edge at 2011 South 1st Street. Here, sports fans are accommodated with giant, wall-to-wall, flat-screen TVs showing American football, European football (i.e., soccer) and everything in between. A spacious outdoor dining area features a covered bar and dock-side service, if you’d like to call in an order to be picked up in your boat!
Mild, but quite beefy, their chili is soft and sweet, with lots of black beans. It is served topped with lots of shredded cheese by the bowl for $4, or in a bread bowl for $6. While there, we couldn’t resist trying a couple pints of their own, tasty micro brew. At just $4 a pint, it was the perfect accompaniment to their chili. We also couldn’t resist trying one of their gourmet pizzas which have a unique, crisp crust worth exploring. We had the mushrooms and prosciutto pizza that is served drizzled with luxurious truffle oil for $12.
Next, fate had us visit Chili Lili’s Chili Bar, a rather upscale eatery (for a chili restaurant) with a bright, modern interior featuring a large pool table and games with lots of fine art on the walls. It’s in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward at 525 E. Menomonee Street. Owner Jay Schiek states on his web site “Chili Lili’s Chili Bar is breaking away from the soupy chilies that your Mom made for you (let’s face it, not everything Mom made was healthy or tasty.)” Well, we both happen to love our moms’ chili recipes (check out the recipe below for one of Mr. M.’s mom’s favorites), but neither of our mothers has ever made it Cincinnati-style, which is the star attraction on Schiek’s menu (take a look at our October review of Harley-Davidson’s chili cook-off to get the scoop on Cincinnati’s famous spaghetti chili).
Chili Lili’s offers at least seven kinds of chili, ranging in price between $8 and $9.50, including Texas chili, vegetarian chili, Buffalo chili made with chicken, and “spicy pizza chili” that contains Italian sausage and pepperoni. A single bowl of almost every variation will only set you back $5, but you may also order it by the platter on either garlic bread or corn bread for $8. And for only $9, you can get any kind served over a platter of macaroni and cheese (yes, please). If you can’t decide on which chili you want, you can order “splits” – two kinds served side-by-side.
Among other chili-centric items on the menu are the “sloppy Lilli” which is a chili sloppy Joe sandwich for $8, a classic chili dog also for $8, a chili burger for $12, chili cheese fries at $8 and a “chili parfait” for $27 – that’s a “Mount Everest” of chili (3 pounds of the stuff!) topped with a whole pound of shredded cheese, jalapeño peppers, dollops of sour cream, garlic croutons and scallions. If you can finish it all off by yourself in 50 minutes or less time (sure, as if), then it’s free. They should shoot an episode of Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food at this place!
Mrs. M. opted out of having chili all together and ordered the big, succulent Kobe beef burger with crisp, seasoned waffle fries for $10, with a glass of sauvignon blanc was $7.50.
Mr. M. ordered the ultimate, five-way Cincinnati-style chili that consists of piping-hot spaghetti covered with their special chili, which is then topped with a small mountain of shredded Wisconsin Cheddar cheese, chopped Vidalia onions and slow-cooked red beans. The chili recipe is true to its Cincinnati roots with delicate overtones of sweet, exotic Greek and Mid-Eastern spices and no beans at all. Try their “Dirty Peppertini” for $11 – they make it from a glass vat of fresh habaneros and other hot peppers filled with Vox vodka, which they allow to steep together for several days. It’s got a nice kick!
Finally, we drew The Wicked Hop’s name out of the hat. This place is also located in the Historic Third Ward at 345 N. Broadway. Its cozy, bi-level, stone-walled interior is dominated by a high, wood-beam ceiling and is eclectically decorated and offers a balanced atmosphere; the bar doesn’t dominate the restaurant and vice-versa. In the summertime, they have lots of outdoor seating under a very large metal awning.
So, what kind of chili is regularly served up at a place with ‘wicked’ in its name? A spicy classic with beef and kidney beans that they call “red” in Texas! This is the only kind they serve here, and they call it “buffalo” chili because it’s got just the right amount of heat to it. It is served by the bowl with a little assortment of garnishes at a price of just $3.95. A cold Weiss beer goes great with it at only three bucks a glass.
Who knows which recipes these restaurants will offer at WMSE’s Rockabilly Chili Contest, where participants seem to unveil super-secret concoctions to please the massive crowd of chili connoisseurs. Whether it’s “Red”, white or green; vegetarian or a meat-lover’s delight, we’re sure you’ll walk away satisfied.
For more information and details about the 2011 Rockabilly Chili Contest on Sunday, March 6, click here.
Mr. M.’s Mom’s favorite Chili – “Taco Soup”
The owner of Chili Lili’s Chili Bar wouldn’t like this at all – it’s a little soupy (but we sure do love it)!
1½ lbs. ground chuck
1 15-oz. can each of red kidney beans, black beans and pinto beans, drained and rinsed
28 oz. diced tomatoes (we like to use whole, Italian San Marzano tomatoes which we crush by hand)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 – 2 tsp crushed red-pepper flakes (to taste – we like it hot!)
Chopped green chilis to taste (we use two serranos)
½ tsp cayenne powder
½ tsp celery seed
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 cup beef boullion
Brown the beef in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once browned, add in the onion and sauté until it becomes translucent. Add the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer at least 45 minutes (preferably up to an hour).
Serve piping hot with shredded cheese and corn chips on the side!