Legendary | Worth driving from anywhere
The Chili Parlor | Mild to Firebrand 4-Alarm | Springfield, IL
Review by: Michael Stern
An Essential Stop for Chiliheads
Chili in degrees of spiciness from Mild to Firebrand puts The Chili Parlor on the great chili map of America. Even a diehard Texas chilihead might take a liking to its foundational chili con carne (chili and meat). However, in this little cafe, cooks amend that formula with such anti-Texas elements as beans, macaroni, cheese, and sour cream. Chili dogs, chili burgers, and chili-topped tamales also beckon for attention at this eatery formerly known as Joe Rogers Original Recipe Chili Parlor and, before that, as The Den.
Chili or Chilli?
Spelling is one thing that sets The Chili Parlor apart from other chili joints in downstate Illinois. When referring to the dish, most American menus do use a single L, just like here. (Chile with an E generally refers to the pod, as opposed to the dish.) But Springfield, Illinois, begs to differ. In 1993, when the state legislature formally declared Springfield to be the “Chilli Capital of the Civilized Universe,” it purposely used the double-L spelling of the word, which was ordained by force of Senate resolution. (Brits also tend to spell chilli with two L’s.)
Anatomy of Chili
Matters of style aside, Springfield chili, as made here, sets off all kinds of alarms. Fastidious epicures, look away! The cooked ground beef, which resembles Iowa loosemeats, virtually swims in grease — known slightly more politely as hot oil. Beans almost always accompany it; and in this case, they function like asbestos, blocking the heat of the oil. You can ask for the kitchen to skim some oil off when you order a bowl, but that would negate the purpose of the little oyster crackers that come alongside. They sponge up the oil, absorbing its chili pepper zest.
On the subject of zest, be careful when you consider the degree of heat you want, from Mild to Firebrand. Medium, Medium-Hot, and Hot come between those extremes. Old time customers know Firebrand as the J.R. Special in honor of founder Joe Rogers. If you eat a bowl of it, your name gets inscribed on an honor roll posted on the restaurant wall. That makes it easy for your survivors to come and salute your daredevil spirit. Frankly, I never have tried Firebrand. Hot delivered plenty of spice for me. Too much, I dare say.
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