After being thwarted by a Northside power outage a few weeks ago, we finally made our way to Park Chili on Hamilton Avenue, Northside. Park Chili is located across the street from the Northside Tavern and is flanked by a convenient pay lot making it an easy location to visit. According to the owner, Park Chili has been in business in the same location since 1937 and his father opened his first chili parlor in Oakley in 1921 — all making for a lot of chili history in one location! The parlor itself has an 8 stool counter, a row of booths along the wall and a few tables in the middle. Most of us sat at the counter so we could watch all the steam table action firsthand. While seated at the counter we were treated to an education on the history of Cincinnati Chili from the friendly and exuberant owner and staff. After the history lesson, we were ready to dig into some of this historic chili — how did it rank? Read on to find out!Overall Rating:
Park Chili has the friendliest chili parlor owner and team you will meet. The history was strong in this chili parlor. Unfortunately the burnt taste of chili in my bowl of plain had me struggling to take a fifth spoonful as it was overcooked, just warm, and had a mix of flavors that didn’t agree with my taste buds. I was very disappointed and had to stop back to Gourmet Chili this week to correct my chili tastebuds. My Cincinnati Chili score is 4 of 10 based on how friendly everyone is there. A colleague reported the breakfast and made to order foods were good so there is hope.
Friendly and steeped in Cincinnati chili tradition, Park chili in many ways exemplifies what Cincinnati chili parlors are all about. Phil, owner and chili slinger extraordinaire, kept us entertained throughout our meal with tidbits of the history of Park Chili and of Cincinnati chili in general along with a running patter worthy of a Vaudeville stage. I think I liked the chili more than most of the others. To me it was thick and hearty for Cincinnati chili with just enough spice and bold, powerful flavors. It also went well in a cheese coney, though the coneys suffered from the same “short” grated cheddar that a few other places have fallen victim too. The real highlight at Park’s though is the owner and staff who clearly know their regulars by name and order and welcome newcomers with a smile.
Park Chili. In business since the 1920’s, and at it’s current location since 1937. The owner Phil told me the rich history of how many chili parlors were named after the theaters next to them (Empress is another example) and how he and his father have been selling chili the longest, but he did not lay claim to being the first. The diner itself is a land that time has forgotten. The poster on the wall of the 1957 the UC Basketball team with Oscar Robertson has probably hung in that space since Mr. Robertson’s Freshman self delivered it. Phil’s conversation routed through history, chili making, the Bearcats, and a joke more likely heard in barber shops. The chili, he mentioned, tastes much better right after he makes it, which must be true because it had a burnt after-taste to it. Meatier than it is soupy, stronger than it is spicy, served with typical oyster crackers and lackluster Kroger brand hot sauce, this chili isn’t a top contender in my books. The 4-way’s spaghetti was pretty typical and firm, not runny nor stale. The coney’s bun was about a medium in softness, and the cheese on both appeared freshly shredded and softer than some other local contenders. What they lack in chili, they excel in ambiance and character. I will definitely revisit, and may even call first to see who fresh the chili is. A solid 6 on a scale of 10, I’m hoping my return visit can knock it up a point or so.
Service: 6 Very Good
Quality: 4 It tasted burnt
Quantity: 6 Very meaty chili
Facilities: 4 Not sure how clean it was?
Park Chili has a lot of things in their favor; the location is Northside, a community with old school markets, night clubs and a an old fashioned hardware store. Unfortunately, disappointment set in the moment I walked into the restaurant. It wasn’t clean and the air was stale and musty. On the plus side, friendly speedy service is always well received and bonus points for the way they initiated conversation and the cook and waitress loved to talk history of the area. Unfortunately, when it came to tasting chili, it wasn’t one of my finer experiences. The chili was little on the dry side and the cheese wasn’t fresh. I couldn’t bring myself to order my usual 3-way and a cheese coney, which turned out to be a good decision, I only ate half of my 3-way. Definitely will try again, we all have off days.
My regular order is 2 cheese coneys without onions, when my coneys finally arrived at Park Chili they were covered in onions…..which killed any chance I had of enjoying them. The staff was fantastic and the pancakes looked amazing, but the coneys and fries left a lot to be desired.
First time out on the tour. Park chili had what I call true chili parlor look. Chili was meaty, not too wet. The serving was one of the largest portions I have every gotten for a 4 way. Flavor was sub par. The biggest set back was the beans were extremely dry to the point that I had to pick them out.