Lovers of Cincinnati chili probably are familiar with the loaded chili cheese fries offered by our regional chili parlors like Skyline, Gold Star, Camp Washington and others. Pleasant Ridge chili takes it up a notch with the addition of gravy for that poutine-y edge. My favorite are Chili Time’s in St. Bernard. They fed my over active teenage metabolism many late Friday nights after a football game.
But a newer entry to this family of Cincinnati chili products is the Cincinnati Chili Totcho, what some might call Queen City Poutine. Totchos are basically like nachos but with tater tots instead of tortilla chips as the base. Then Cincinnati chili is ladled on, with your choice of sweet Vidalia onions, beans, and a mountain of shredded cheddar cheese. If you need some spice, don’t forget the tobasco or sriracha sauce or a few sliced jalapenos.
Now the totcho was not invented in Cincinnati, but our chili version was.
A man in Portland, Oregon is given credit for inventing the totcho – or any other of its aliases – like dirty tots. Jim Parker, is the man behind the totcho. He opened the Oaks Bottom Public House in 2006 with partner Jerry Fechter. Their opening was the first mention of the tater tot nacho – later shortened to totchos. Parker is a well established pub man. If you’ve been served beer in Portland, the chances are high that it was by Parker. He’s worked at Concordia Ale House, the Horse Brass, the Green Dragon and other pubs in Colorado and Washington State. Today he’s a brewery consultant and part time bartender at Baerlic Brewing.
Jim Parker, Portland, Oregon pub-hound, who invented totchos.
Parker originally suggested the idea with one of his bartenders Jonathan Carmean, suggesting they be called nacho tots.
It’s appropriate that the totcho was born in Portland. In 1952 brothers Nephi and Golden Grigg bought a foreclosed freeze-drying plant in Ontario on the Idaho Border to make frozen frnech fries. They named the business Ore-Ida. The production at the plant left a lot of waste in the form of potato shavings, which were sold as livestock feed, at very low profit. The Griggs brothers came up with a more profitable and ingenious waste solution. They mixed the shavings with spices, extruded them in pellets and par fried them. The tator tot was an immediate hit and has donned grade school cafeteria and football fan tables since then.
The original totchos come with melted cheese sour cream salsa and other nacho toppings like say jalapenos. In Portland, totchos are a mainstay of sports bar menus and the concession stands at Providence Park. In 2013 totchos started trending nationally as they appeared in hipster faux dive bars from Seattle to Brooklyn and filled up the food blogs.
Other versions exist around Portland and beyond. Boxer Ramen has ‘okonomiyaki tots’ with spicy mayo, worchestershire-like tonkatsu sauce, bonito flakes, togarishi spice and dried seaweed. Seasons and Regions Seafood Grill has a salmon and cream cheese version. Jolly Roger bar has a garlic and parmesan version.
Add our Cincinnati chili version to the mix, and another permutation is born. Unfortunately, there are no chili parlors yet that offer this hearty comfort dish. But, they’re perfect for the upcoming Superbowl.