Posted On: 11/01/2008
Kathy: Thereís not much thatís better at chasing away the chill of a cold autumn day than a hearty bowl of chili.
Russ: Surprisingly, though, itís tough to find outside of taverns and diners. The days of the corner chili parlor Ė once a staple here in St. Louis Ė 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. Itís renegade food, with no particular recipe. So can a restaurant bring that untamed taste to the table?
Kathyís chili profile: I like to be surprised a little bit but not weirded out. Everyone makes it differently, and thatís whatís cool about chili.
Russí chili profile: Heartier than soup, with a good amount of heat. None of that chili-flavored gravy splashed over hot dogs and slingers; itís gotta be rugged enough to make a cowboy say, ďWhoa!Ē
Tin Can Tavern and Grille
3157 Morganford Road, St. Louis 314.865.3003 ∙ Mon. to Sat. Ė 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. Ė 11 a.m. to midnight (Kitchen − Sun. to Thu. until 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. until 11 p.m.)
R: This sure isnít what I expected. Whoever heard of sweet chili?
K: It isnít 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 donít expect to find chili like mine in a restaurant. But I wouldnít call this subtle. Itís distinctly sweet.
K: I was afraid it would clash with my Caesar salad, but the sweetness worked well with it.
R: Then thereís the lack of beans. The menu claims beans ďjust get in the way.Ē
K: You know, I thought that something would be missing, but it wasnít 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 youíre describing spaghetti sauce.
K: It would make a great sauce. I think thatís what I like about it, that it has body.
R: But is a body without beans worth having? ďBeans, beans, theyíre good for your heart. ÖĒ
K: Well, you wouldnít top spaghetti with shredded cheese and onion. I like the raw onion.
R: Given the choice between beans and onions, Iíll take beans every time. And bring the heat, not the sweet. Chiliís just not chili without fire and brimstone.
123 W. Jefferson Ave., Kirkwood 314.966.2001 ∑ Mon. to Sat. Ė 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. Ė 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 hasnít made my eyes water yet. Itís 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 Iíve ever had. You could practically put this on a bun and call it a Sloppy Josť. 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 Iíd call textbook Tex-Mex chili. Maybe not quite as fiery as Iíd like it, but itís got a good balance of meat and beans.
K: Yes, thatís it exactly Ė a good balance. It doesnít taste only like chili powder; the spices blend nicely.
Meriwetherís at the Missouri History Museum
5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis ∙ 314.361.7313
Mon. to Sat. Ė 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
R: I donít know that Iíd call Meriwetherís entirely upscale, but itís not where Iíd expect to park my horse for a bowlful of trail grub. Itís a bit too fancy for the range.
K: The Food Network once singled out Meriwetherís 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 canít find any. Iím not complaining Ė there are no tomatoes in my recipe, either Ė itís just a bit puzzling.
K: I saw tomatoes. Theyíre in there. This chili has a nice meaty flavor to it. Bison, not beef; though because the meat has been ground, I canít tell a difference. Everything in it seems really fresh, though Ė good quality ingredients.
R: The chili is actually pretty thin, but Iíll 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 Iíll bet Lewis and Clark didnít carry oyster crackers with them into the wilderness.
R: Nope, and itís a sure thing they didnít get shredded cheese served from a bowl resembling an oversized shot glass, either.
6504 Delmar Blvd., University City 314.727.4444
Mon. to Sat. Ė 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sun Ė 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 ďspicy,Ē but Iíd say thatís only because the chili is spiked with jalapeŮos.
K: Even then, I donít think itís hot at all.
R: The jalapeŮos taste vinegary, too, like the canned kind you get on ballpark nachos.
K: And the tomatoey base is sweet. Add the vinegar from the jalapeŮos and youíve got sweet and sour chili.
R: Thatís a little too bizarre. Chili should make your mouth tingle, not pucker.
K: And yet Ö itís like Spam. I like it, but just a little. The lack of heat baffles me. How can they call it spicy when it just isnít? Iíve got more spice in my little pinky.
R: Give me your pinky, then; let me gnaw on it awhile.
K: Chili isnít finger food. Here, have a deep-fried mushroom.
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