Cincinnati, OH – Gold Star and Skyline

What is it with Greek restaurateurs and a loyalty to Pepsi products? Like Chicago’s oft-parodied Billy Goat Tavern (“No Coke, Pepsi!”), I’m hard pressed to find a Greek-owned place that sells Coca Cola. Maybe the Greeks’ sweet tooth makes Pepsi a preference?

(Late note from Ed: Bill Charuchas, 75 years old, Mr. “Cheezbooga” himself at the Billy Goat, died Halloween night. It is said that during his tenure, he served more than 3,000,000 customers, and drank more than 100,000 beers.) (That’s slightly more than YOU had the day we were there, Magoo!) Now, back to our regularly scheduled program….

For some reason, Cincinnatians are fanatical about their chili – the city boasts over 300 yellow page listings under “Chili Parlors” with two local chains “Gold Star”, and “Skyline” battling it out for first place with over a hundred outlets each. Skyline is the older of the two establishments, Gold Star presently has a few more locations.

What exactly is a “chili parlor” you might ask? A chili parlor, in Ohioan parlance (and Detroit has the same affinity) is a lunch counter which serves chili as the only entree – albeit you can have it served in a number of different ways.

At the top of the menu at both places are the “chili plates” – served “2,3,4, or 5 way.”

Two-way chili is covered spaghetti noodles; three-way adds shredded cheddar; four-way adds onions OR beans; and “five way” is “da woiks.” All meals at both locations include complimentary oyster crackers. Go figure.

Both menus also include chili dogs, $1.10 at Gold Star, $1.15 at Skyline. These dogs were pretty lame, about 4 inches in length, and maybe coming 8 to the pound, at least! They are not in a natural casing, and it’s difficult to tell the content ratios, whether they are beef, pork or poultry based dogs. They are served in the “traditional” coney island style, or at least the way I see most often, that is, a generous portion of yellow mustard on the bun, the dog next, ample chili, and chopped raw onion.

I prefer a natural casing, all beef wiener. The kind that “bites back.”

To me, there was no discernable difference between the two leader’s “secret recipes”, they tasted the same; locals will argue (and the staffs, as well, I found out!) their respective loyalties and the differences til they are blue in the face. The flavor seemed identical to me. Skyline’s is a little thinner than Gold Stars; Gold Star seems to have more chopped onion.

Locals debate the “secret ingredients”, which may (or may not) include licorice, coffee, cinnamon, and / or chocolate, depending on whom you ask.

I thought they both tasted like a can of prepared tomato sauce, unseasoned browned ground beef, and a half of cup of celery salt.

Skyline started in 1949, with Nicolas Lambrinida at the helm. Gold Star came on-line in 1965, started by four brothers who scrapped together $1200 to launch their chili empire.

Skyline has gotten a little more daring than the young up-start Gold Star, adding chili rolled in a tortilla, and chili-stuffed baked potatoes to its menu. In an homage to the old country, they even offer a Greek Salad.

How did Gold Star respond to all these innovations? They came up with one of their own: Chili Salad. Oh, yum.


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