It’s that time of year again. Finally, the heat and humidity have turned loose and given way to cool breezes and mild temperatures. Football season is in full swing. It’s time for chili.
Now, we know there are plenty of styles of and places to get chili, whether it’s with spaghetti or without, red or white, Texas-style or otherwise. Is it just meat and beans in a spicy, tomatoey base? Or is it clean-out-the-fridge chili loaded with everything from green peppers to mushrooms to corn? There’s even vegan chili.
Hey, it’s all chili, it’s warming to both the belly and the soul. One local chef, Richard Sible of Garage Bar, called chili “the perfect food.” Veggies, protein and soul comfort — what could be better?
I decided to check out a few chili spots around town for some examples. This is not a rating system, just a sample of a few places that can fill your belly with the stuff we crave every fall.
Check’s Café: There’s probably no better way to kick off a list like this. Hey, this stuff is billed as “Check’s World Famous Chili,” which says a little something in itself, and the menu suggests it’s been made the same way since 1944.
It’s a classic Louisville-style chili with big chunks of meat, tender beans, a rich tomatoey sauce and just enough spice. And yes, you can get it with or without spaghetti, per Louisville tradition. Top it with onions and shredded cheddar for a true homestyle classic.
The Café: Dubbed “Old Faithful” on the menu and bearing a style of “West Yellowstone Montana” chili, what you get here is a pretty basic red chili, lightly spicy, piled high with chopped green onions, sliced banana peppers and shredded cheddar.
Inside, you’ll find big hunks of ground beef, beans, onions, chunks of tomato, green peppers and a spicy finish. A nice touch here is the addition of baguette slices instead of crackers on the side.
Crave: Known for its delicious sandwiches and soups, Crave won’t have its signature chili every day, but you can call ahead to see what’s being served if it’s chili you crave.
I had a bowl of the stuff for lunch recently, and it was of the basic variety: ground beef, pinto beans, a few onions and lots of tomatoey base. I added black pepper to amp up the spiciness of this verging-on-sweet version. It was a bit tomato-heavy but still tasty and got the job done — although I found myself wanting a bit more beef in my bowl.
Dundee Tavern: Dundee offers both white and red chili, but when I go to Dundee Tavern, it’s the white chicken chili I want, loaded with chunks of chicken, white beans and veggies, which almost takes it in the direction of what would happen if a white bean soup got married to a chicken noodle soup and then decided to spice things up.
Get it topped with sour cream, pepper jack cheese and scallions (only 70 cents more) to put it over the top, adding a balancing creaminess to both the body and spice.
Kern’s Korner: If you want classic Louisville chili, this is a great option. Kern’s nods to Louisville-style with spaghetti optional, but the base is classic stuff with pinto beans and big chunks of ground chuck. Last time I had Kern’s chili, there was a hunk of meat so big that I called it a “Meatberg.” This one could amp the spice a bit, but all in all, it’s a big winner, especially if you top it off with onions and shredded cheese.
The Silver Dollar: The menu at The Silver Dollar includes a small section in the top left corner called “Chili Parlor,” where three options await: Texas-style chili, focused on meat and chili peppers (yes, it’s spicy!); Chili con Frijoles, made with tender brisket, beans and vegetables; and vegetarian, which is similar to the second version but without the brisket.
Hearty and tasty, you can get any of the above accented with white cheddar, pickled jalapeños, onions, cilantro and/or cornbread. Pair it with the whiskey shot of the day, and your belly will be eternally grateful.
Old Louisville Chili Bowl: How do you want it? At Old Louisville Chili Bowl, you can get it regular red, vegetarian, white or regular hot. How much chili do you want? You can get 8 ounces, 12 ounces, 16 ounces or a quart. You want more? You can also get a chili dog or chili cheese fries. You like chili cheese nachos? Old Louisville Chili Bowl has that, too. You can even get a grilled cheese to go with your chili of choice.
Mellwood Tavern: For years, people went to Rush Inn for the classic Louisville-style chili. When new ownership took over and reimagined the space at Mellwood Avenue and lower Brownsboro as Mellwood Tavern, co-owner Scott Crowder wasn’t about to let chili fall by the wayside.
But the Mellwood version is packed with everything from corn to sliced-up party sausages. You know them as “little smokies,” and they get fried before going into the mix. When it’s all said and done, it’s sort of like eating a chili dog in a bowl. Hearty.
Hilltop Tavern: Known for its tough-to-beat pub food, Hilltop, just a few blocks from Mellwood, is at the epicenter of chili every fall with the Great Chili Cook-Off.
The pub’s own chili is kind of its own creation, medium-hot to spicy with a hint of sweetness, and made with pulled pork and Falls City Pale Ale. The red chili is then topped with shredded cheese, onions and — interestingly enough — Chili Cheese Fritos. It’s like being a kid again.