Chili John’s Restaurant

Chili Parlor | Diner
excellent
Worth a detour
Michael Stern | March 18, 2019
Save

If you are a Texas chili formalist, please move along. There is nothing for you to eat at Chili John’s. This is the home of Midwestern-style chili, which means the meat is ground, not chunked, and it customarily is served on a bed of spaghetti noodles along with beans.

Specifically, this is Green Bay chili, which Chili John’s invented over a century ago and which has become a benchmark throughout the upper Midwest. It differs from Cincinnati chili in that cheese and onions are only optional (whereas most Cincinnati plates include them) and, more importantly, in its degree of heat and how that heat is conveyed. Cincinnati chili can be spicy, but is rarely very hot. Here, there is significant heat in the oil that saturates the meat. That means that the more meat you get, the hotter your chili will be. But not to worry. Even extra-hot is not ferocious, at least not like down in Springfield, Illinois, and certainly not like in the chile-pepper-worshipping areas of the American southwest.

In fact, it’s a nicely balanced dish of food, even if it is completely different from traditional chili con carne. Its beans and soft-cooked noodles are just the right balmy cushions for peppery, unctuous beef. And if you need a little more in the way of mouth assuagement, there always are oyster crackers to add on top. They are set out at every place as soon as a customer sits down.

In fact, several decades ago there was a fable going around the food world that credited “Chili John” Isaac, the creator of this brew, with also inventing oyster crackers. To quote an early edition of Roadfood, “some time in the 1920s, he came to believe that the old-fashioned store cracker, at least an inch in diameter, was too unwieldy to garnish his chili, so he convinced cracker manufacturers to downsize.” In fact, that’s not true. Oyster crackers pre-date Green Bay chili. Mea culpas.

What to Eat
Chili John’s Restaurant, Chili
Chili
Must-Try
Regular bowl, hot, with beans & spaghetti
Directions and Hours
Information
Price
$
Seasons
Open Year Round
Meals Served
Lunch, Dinner
Credit Cards Accepted
Yes
Alcohol Served
No
Outdoor Seating
No

Other Nearby Restaurants

  • Kroll’s West

    Green Bay, Wisconsin

    Kroll’s West is loved by fans of the Green Bay Packers (whose home field is directly across the street). Signature dish: a deliciously sloppy butter burger.

  • White Gull Inn

    Fish Creek, Wisconsin

    The Door County, Wisconsin fish boil — whitefish and red potatoes followed by cherry pie — is at its best at the White Gull Inn restaurant in Fish Creek.

  • Basil’s II

    Denmark, Wisconsin

    Well out in the country in north Wisconsin, Basil’s II serves some of the most buttery butter burgers in the state. On the side: cheese curds!

  • Beerntsen’s Confectionery

    Manitowoc, Wisconsin

    Beerntsen’s is a glorious little Wisconsin candy store where you can have a nice, inexpensive lunch and spoon into expertly-made sundaes.

  • Kurtz’s Pub & Deli

    Two Rivers, Wisconsin

    Kurtz’s is a German-style delicatessen where you can count on excellent sandwiches and great imported beers and ales on tap.