He Said | She Said: Chili Weather

Kathy: There’s not much that’s better at chasing away the chill of a cold autumn day than a hearty bowl of chili.

Russ: Surprisingly, though, it’s tough to find outside of taverns and diners. The days of the corner chili parlor – once a staple here in St. Louis – are apparently long gone.
K: Yet there are still chili cook-offs all over the area throughout the year; people still love the stuff.

R: The best chili is always the kind you make yourself. It’s renegade food, with no particular recipe. So can a restaurant bring that untamed taste to the table?

Kathy’s chili profile: I like to be surprised a little bit but not weirded out. Everyone makes it differently, and that’s what’s cool about chili.

Russ’ chili profile: Heartier than soup, with a good amount of heat. None of that chili-flavored gravy splashed over hot dogs and slingers; it’s gotta be rugged enough to make a cowboy say, “Whoa!”

Tin Can Tavern and Grille
3157 Morganford Road, St. Louis 314.865.3003 ∙ Mon. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. – 11 a.m. to midnight (Kitchen − Sun. to Thu. until 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. until 11 p.m.)

R: This sure isn’t what I expected. Whoever heard of sweet chili?
K: It isn’t what I expected either, but I like it. The flavor is more subtle than, say, your recipe, but who really expects to find bold, burn-your-taste-buds-off flavor?
R: Believe me, I don’t expect to find chili like mine in a restaurant. But I wouldn’t call this subtle. It’s distinctly sweet.
K: I was afraid it would clash with my Caesar salad, but the sweetness worked well with it.
R: Then there’s the lack of beans. The menu claims beans “just get in the way.”
K: You know, I thought that something would be missing, but it wasn’t missing a thing. It has plenty of beef, a full bowl of it, with a few visible tomato chunks to give it that homemade authenticity.
R: Sounds like you’re describing spaghetti sauce.
K: It would make a great sauce. I think that’s what I like about it, that it has body.
R: But is a body without beans worth having? “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. …”
K: Well, you wouldn’t top spaghetti with shredded cheese and onion. I like the raw onion.
R: Given the choice between beans and onions, I’ll take beans every time. And bring the heat, not the sweet. Chili’s just not chili without fire and brimstone.

PJ’s Tavern
123 W. Jefferson Ave., Kirkwood 314.966.2001 · Mon. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. – 11 a.m. to midnight
(Kitchen − Mon. to Thu. until 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. until midnight, Sun. until 10 p.m.)

R: Now this chili has some kick to it. Not a lot, but enough to make you sit up a bit straighter.
K: It hasn’t made my eyes water yet. It’s not the kind of heat that builds up. But it sure helps the beer go down!
R: This is also some of the thickest chili I’ve ever had. You could practically put this on a bun and call it a Sloppy José. Definitely a rib-sticking bowl of red.
K: It was so thick, I think it actually was piled higher than the rim of the bowl. Topped off with cheese and onions, it was like a little chili mountain.
R: This is what I’d call textbook Tex-Mex chili. Maybe not quite as fiery as I’d like it, but it’s got a good balance of meat and beans.
K: Yes, that’s it exactly – a good balance. It doesn’t taste only like chili powder; the spices blend nicely.

Meriwether’s at the Missouri History Museum
5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis ∙ 314.361.7313
Mon. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

R: I don’t know that I’d call Meriwether’s entirely upscale, but it’s not where I’d expect to park my horse for a bowlful of trail grub. It’s a bit too fancy for the range.
K: The Food Network once singled out Meriwether’s as having some of the best museum restaurant food in the country. So lack of cowboy ambiance notwithstanding, someone in the kitchen must be doing something right.
R: The menu said there were tomatoes in it, but I can’t find any. I’m not complaining – there are no tomatoes in my recipe, either – it’s just a bit puzzling.
K: I saw tomatoes. They’re in there. This chili has a nice meaty flavor to it. Bison, not beef; though because the meat has been ground, I can’t tell a difference. Everything in it seems really fresh, though – good quality ingredients.
R: The chili is actually pretty thin, but I’ll give them credit for serving it with oyster crackers. Nothing beats a handful of oyster crackers to crumble into your chili bowl.
K: True, but I’ll bet Lewis and Clark didn’t carry oyster crackers with them into the wilderness.
R: Nope, and it’s a sure thing they didn’t get shredded cheese served from a bowl resembling an oversized shot glass, either.

Blueberry Hill
6504 Delmar Blvd., University City 314.727.4444
Mon. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sun – 11 a.m. to midnight (Full menu − daily until 9 p.m.)

K: So here we have an award-winning chili, or so the menu claims.
R: The menu also says “spicy,” but I’d say that’s only because the chili is spiked with jalapeños.
K: Even then, I don’t think it’s hot at all.
R: The jalapeños taste vinegary, too, like the canned kind you get on ballpark nachos.
K: And the tomatoey base is sweet. Add the vinegar from the jalapeños and you’ve got sweet and sour chili.
R: That’s a little too bizarre. Chili should make your mouth tingle, not pucker.
K: And yet … it’s like Spam. I like it, but just a little. The lack of heat baffles me. How can they call it spicy when it just isn’t? I’ve got more spice in my little pinky.
R: Give me your pinky, then; let me gnaw on it awhile.
K: Chili isn’t finger food. Here, have a deep-fried mushroom.