Given the dearth of decent chili options in the area, save for Urban Bar-B-Que‘s smokehouse version and the thick, meaty one at Bobby’s Crabcakes, I opted to do something I rarely do: shop the frozen food section at Harris Teeter. I had heard the chain sells Cincinnati’s famous Skyline Chili.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that, until I pulled the frozen block from its packaging and popped it into the microwave, I had never before sampled Skyline Chili. I was certain this was not the ideal way to taste one of the country’s signature stews. I was, in fact, prepared for it to suck hard. I had a block of Parmesan cheese and a bottle of Mexican hot sauce at the ready, to cover whatever disgusting flavors I found inside this factory-made hunk of rock-solid meat and pasta.
I was utterly surprised at my first bite, and it had little to do with the signature sweetness of Skyline Chili. Most agree, after all, that the ultra-secret, locked-in-a-vault Skyline recipe includes cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder, both of which contribute to its distinctive flavor. I will not argue with those palates that have come before; this stuff indeed has a pronounced cinnamon sweetness. But it has more, too. It has spice and depth. It has body, more than I would have imagined for a frozen product reheated in a microwave.
Still, I don’t count myself among the Skyline faithful. My own beliefs are far too rooted in savory flavors to instantly convert to the church of sweet chili. In fact, after a couple of courtesy bites of Skyline straight up, I applied my hot sauce and grated a healthy layer of Parmesan over the top. I liked it better that way.