What’s the Highest “Way” You can Eat Cincinnati Chili?

We all know that a 3-Way in Cincinnati is different than a 3-Way in Los Angeles. A Cincinnati 3-Way, of course, refers to our beloved Cincinnati Chili served over tender (never al dente) spaghetti and topped with shredded cheddar cheese. There are variations on the three way at some parlors. Skyline has its habanero cheddar cheese, and Gold Star had a srirracha cheese for a while. Some people crush oyster crackers on top or as they eat into it – but that’s not officially a “Way.” You always cut into a threeway, never swirl it like Italians eat their spaghetti. Some add tobascco or another hot sauce. My recent addition to a threeway is South African Peri Peri Sauce, which is a bit hotter than tobascco and has an interestingly different taste.

Originally, the grandfather to our Cincinnati Threeway was called Chili mac or chili spaghetti. The Macedonian brothers John (Ivan) and Tom (Athanas) Kiradjieff, at their Empress Chili Parlor, served Cincinnati chili over spaghetti without shredded cheddar cheese for the first few years. Founded in 1922, in the Empress burlesque theatre, they were actually serving an Americanized version of their Mediterranean saltsa mi kima. After seeing a ‘hoochie coo’ show at the Empress Burlesk (the sign was never correctly spelled) – a customer could sit at a small counter, order a chili mac, have a Turkish coffee and smoke an Ibold Cigar from the humidor in the corner. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that a customer suggested that shredded cheddar cheese on top would make it even better. The name of that customer is lost to history, but that day, in the height of the Depression, the Cincinnati 3-Way was born.

Later, a 4 –Way became the addition of either chopped fresh onions or beans on top of the chili, and a 5-Way became beans and onions on top of the chili. I’m a 4-way onion with habanero cheese type of guy myself.

But two of the independent chili parlors have added a 6 – Way to their menus, just to assure the evolution of Cincinnati Chili Culture. The first to do this was Dixie Chili, founded in 1926, by Nicholas Sarakatsannis, another Macedonian immigrant, who worked for Empress Chili to learn the trade. Dixie’s 6- Way starts with a standard 5- Way, and adds fresh chopped garlic on top. I’ve never tried it myself, but some people swear by it. And, there were a lot of Italians in Newport, Kentucky. In fact, the hillside neighborhood of Newport was nicknamed ‘Spaghetti Knob,’ because of all the Italians in the area. And there were restaurants like Pompilio’s where you could get garlic infused ‘tomato gravy.’ So maybe it was all the Italians of Newport that spawned the Dixie 6-Way.

Blue Ash Chili is the other independent parlor, but theirs came much later and is different than Dixie’s. Blue Ash’s starts with a standard 5-Way, but adds fried jalapeno pepper caps on top of the cheese.

No other chili parlor has stepped up to the plate to add other ingredients for a 6 or greater Way, and they should take this as a challenge. In my opinion there should be a crunch component adder, maybe under the cheese – say for example, tortilla strips, pickle chips, or jalapeno chips. Sliced black or green olives on top of the cheese might be a nice salty adder. And, I definitely don’t think all the parlors have experimented enough with different types of cheese. I would love to see a shredded horseradish cheddar cheese, or a mix of feta and cheddar.


One thought on “What’s the Highest “Way” You can Eat Cincinnati Chili?

  1. I haven’t been by there in a while but Bluebird Restaurant in Norwood had a 7-way on its menu, which added tomato and jalapeno to a 5-way.


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