Friday, January 27, 2017

Cincinnati Chili

Skyline chili and cheese coneys are featured during the play Dead Accounts, but what exactly are they? This midwestern girl found that Wikipedia is actually dead on about it. From Wikipedia:

Cincinnati chili (or Cincinnati-style chili) is a Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce used as a topping for spaghetti (a "two-way") or hot dogs ("coneys"), both dishes developed by Greek-Macedonian immigrant restaurateurs in the 1920s. Ingredients include ground beef, stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, other Mediterranean spices and sometimes chocolate in a soup-like consistency. Other toppings include cheese, onions, and beans; specific combinations of toppings are known as "ways". The name "Cincinnati chili" is often confusing to those unfamiliar with it, who expect the dish to be similar to chili con carne; as a result, it is common for those encountering it for the first time to conclude it is a poor example of chili.
cheese coneys

While served in many local restaurants, it is most often associated with the over 250 "chili parlors", restaurants specializing in Cincinnati chili, found throughout greater Cincinnati with franchise locations throughout Ohio and in KentuckyIndiana, and Florida. The dish is the area's best-known regional food.

Origins and history

Cincinnati chili originated with immigrant restauranteurs from the Macedonian region who were trying to expand their customer base by moving beyond narrowly ethnic styles of cuisine. Tom and John Kiradjieff began serving a "stew with traditional Mediterranean spices" as a topping for hot dogs which they called "coneys" in 1922 at their hot dog stand located next to a burlesque theater called the Empress. Tom Kiradjieff used the sauce to modify a traditional Greek dish, speculated to have been pastitsio, moussaka or saltsa kima to come up with a dish he called chili spaghetti. He first developed a recipe calling for the spaghetti to be cooked in the chili but changed his method in response to customer requests and began serving the sauce as a topping, eventually adding grated cheese as a topping for both the chili spaghetti and the coneys, also in response to customer requests. To make ordering more efficient, the brothers created the "way" system of ordering. The style has since been copied and modified by many other restaurant proprietors, often fellow Greek-Macedonian immigrants who had worked at Empress restaurants before leaving to open their own chili parlors, often following the business model to the point of locating their restaurants adjacent to theaters.

Empress was the largest chili parlor chain in Cincinnati until 1949, when a former Empress employee and Greek immigrant, Nicholas Lambrinides, started Skyline Chili. In 1965, four brothers named Daoud, immigrants from Jordan, bought a restaurant called Hamburger Heaven from a former Empress employee, noticed the Cincinnati chili was outselling the hamburgers on their menu, and changed the restaurant's name to Gold Star Chili. As of 2015 Skyline (over 130 locations) and Gold Star (89 locations) were the largest Cincinnati chili parlor chains, while Empress had only two remaining locations, down from over a dozen during the chain's most successful period.

Besides Empress, Skyline, and Gold Star, there are also smaller chains such as Dixie Chili and Deli and numerous independents including the acclaimed Camp Washington Chili, probably the most well-known of the independents. Other independents include Pleasant Ridge Chili, Blue Ash Chili, Park Chili Parlor, Price Hill Chili, Chili Time, and the Blue Jay Restaurant, in all totalling more than 250 chili parlors. In addition to the chili parlors, some version of Cincinnati chili is commonly served at many local restaurants. Arnold's Bar and Grill, the oldest bar in the city, serves a vegetarian "Cincy Lentils" dish ordered in "ways". Melt Eclectic Cafe offers a vegan 3-way.

The history of Cincinnati chili shares many factors in common with the apparently independent but simultaneous development of the Coney Island hot dog in other areas of the United States. "Virtually all" were developed by Greek-Macedonian immigrants who passed through Ellis Island as they fled the fallout from the Balkan Wars in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The "way" system

Ordering Cincinnati chili is based on a specific ingredient series: chili, spaghetti, grated cheddar cheese, diced onions, and kidney beans. The number before the "way" of the chili determines which ingredients are included in each chili order.Customers order a:
  • Two-way: spaghetti topped with chili (also called "chili spaghetti")
  • Three-way: spaghetti, chili, and cheese
  • Four-way: spaghetti, chili, cheese, and onions
  • Four-way bean: spaghetti, chili, cheese, and beans (beans substituted for the onions)
  • Five-way: spaghetti, chili, cheese, onions, and beans
Some restaurants, among them Skyline and Gold Star, do not use the term "four-way bean", instead using the term "four-way" to denote a three-way plus the customer's choice of onions or beans. Some restaurants may add extra ingredients to the "way" system; for example, Dixie Chili offers a "six-way", which adds chopped garlic to a five-way. "Ways" are traditionally served in a shallow oval bowl. Cincinnati chili is also used as a hot dog topping to make a "coney", a regional variation on the Coney Island chili dog, which is topped with grated cheddar cheese to make a "cheese coney". The standard coney also includes mustard and chopped onion. The "Three-way" and the "Cheese Coney" are the most popular orders:10 and very few customers order a bowl of plain chili. Most chili parlors do not offer plain chili as a regular menu item. Oyster crackers are usually served with Cincinnati chili, and a mild hot sauce such as Tabasco is frequently used as an optional topping.


The name "Cincinnati chili" is often confusing to those unfamiliar with it because the term "chili" evokes the expectation of chili con carne, which it "bears no resemblance to." Cincinnati chili is a Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce for spaghetti or hot dogs and is very seldom eaten by the bowl as is typical with chili con carne. It is common for Cincinnatians to describe it starting with, "Well, it's not really chili..."Cincinnati chili is always seasoned with cinnamon, usually contains allspice and cloves, and often contains some combination of cumin, paprika, nutmeg, and/or chili pepper. Many copycat recipes call for a small amount of chocolate, but according to Dann Woellert, author of The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, "There is no chili parlor in Cincinnati that uses chocolate in its chili." It is normally of a thin consistency, closer to a soup than a stew, and contains no chunks of meat or vegetables, though it is common to find large pieces of cayenne pepper hulls in Empress chili. The consistency, seasonings, and serving method are more similar to pasta sauce or the spiced meat sauces used to top hot dogs in Rochester and other parts of Upstate New York, Rhode Island, and Michigan than they are to chili con carne.


Cincinnati chili is the area's "best known regional food". According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than 2,000,000 lb (910,000 kg) of Cincinnati chili each year, topped by 850,000 lb (390,000 kg) of shredded cheddar cheese. Overall industry revenues were $250 million in 2014.

National food critics Jane and Michael Stern wrote, "As connoisseurs of blue-plate food, we consider Cincinnati chili one of America's quintessential meals" and "one of this nation's most distinctive regional plates of food". Huffington Post named it one of "15 Beloved Regional Dishes". In 2000, Camp Washington Chili won a James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award. In 2013, Smithsonian named Cincinnati chili one of "20 Most Iconic Foods in America", calling out Camp Washington Chili as their destination of choice. John McIntyre, writing in the Baltimore Sun, called it "the most perfect of fast foods", and, referring to the misnomer, opined that "if the Greeks who invented it nearly a century ago had called it something other than chili, the [chili] essentialists would be able to enjoy it". In 2015, Thrillist named it "the one food you must eat in Ohio."
It is common for those unfamiliar with it, confused by the misnomer and expecting chili con carne, to "scorn it" as a poor example of chili. Deadspin went so far as to call it "horrifying diarrhea sludge".


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dead Accounts: The Playwright's Note

America doesn’t know how to talk to itself anymore.

It wasn’t always like this. I was born and raised in the
Midwest, where people were taught that decency and in-
tegrity and community were all important values. We were
democrats with a little ‘d.’ We were told that hard work and
talent and character would get you somewhere. At school,
we learned it was important to share. On Arbor Day, we all
planted trees.

And we admired the people who lived and worked on the
East Coast. Writers like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Wil-
liams were heroic figures. The great museums and orchestras
and universities were, to us, the jewels of American accom-
plishment. It was an unimaginable thrill, to go New York and
see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and
Times Square. To see a play on Broadway - which cost I think
about $25 dollars - was a dream beyond dreaming.

I don’t know what New Yorkers thought about Mid-
westerners during those years—and this wasn’t all that long
ago; I’m actually not a hundred years old. I do know what
New Yorkers think of the Midwest now, and I know what
the Midwest thinks of New York. When I go to Ohio to visit
relatives on holidays, I am often astonished by the level of
casual dismissal which is offered up by way of discussion.
At a time when the country faces deeply complex challenges
around it’s future and the future of the planet itself, there is
a sense that only crazy east coast liberals worry about that

There is a sense that the East Coast has lost its moral
center. The catastrophe of the banking industry, and the
scandalous waste of our character, perpetrated by our gov-
ernment and the media has offended the Midwest so deeply
they don’t want to even talk about it. Or, they do want to
talk about it, but they are so angry and simultaneously so
polite, they don’t know how to talk about it. So they bury
their heads in Fox News and pretend that reducing the deficit
will salve their anxiety.

Meanwhile, the East Coast cannot believe how stupid
the center of the country seems to have gotten.

How do you make this funny? There are times when I
wonder how I ever thought that I could dramatize the death
of a national discussion as a family comedy. But so many
of us are the spawn of this perplexing divide; we carry it in
our DNA. The question—How did we start there, and get
here?—is in fact a question of mortality. Which, as we all
know, is hilarious.

Death is coming to our little family, and so we fight to
live. Peculiarly, that is funny. And we do have things to teach
each other. As long as we can remember how to talk.

—Theresa Rebeck

Dead Accounts: Meet the Playwright

Theresa Rebeck is a widely produced playwright throughout the United States and abroad. New York productions of her work include Dead Accounts at the Music Box Theatre; Seminar at the Golden Theatre; Mauritius at the Biltmore Theatre in a Manhattan Theater Club Production; The Scene, The Water’s Edge, Loose Knit, The Family of Mann and Spike Heels at Second Stage; Bad DatesThe Butterfly Collection and Our House at Playwrights Horizons; The Understudy at the Laura Pels Theater in a Roundabout Theatre Company production; and View of the Dome at New York Theatre Workshop. Omnium Gatherum (co-written, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2003) was featured at the Humana Festival, and had a commercial run at the Variety Arts Theatre. Her newest work, Poor Behavior premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2011. Dead Accounts, commissioned by the Cincinnati Playhouse, premiered January 2012. 

In television, Ms. Rebeck has written for Dream On, Brooklyn Bridge, L.A. Law, American Dreamer, Maximum Bob, First Wave, and Third Watch. She was the creator of the NBC drama Smash. She has been a writer/producer for Canterbury’s Law, Smith, Law and Order: Criminal Intent and NYPD Blue. Her produced feature films include Harriet the Spy, Gossip, and the independent features Sunday on the Rocks and Seducing Charlie Barker, an adaptation of her play, The Scene. Awards include the Mystery Writer’s of America’s Edgar Award, the Writer’s Guild of America award for Episodic Drama, the Hispanic Images Imagen Award, and the Peabody, all for her work on NYPD Blue. She has won the National Theatre Conference Award (for The Family of Mann), and was awarded the William Inge New Voices Playwriting Award in 2003 for The Bells. Mauritius was originally produced at Boston’s Huntington Theatre, where it received the 2007 IRNE Award for Best New Play as well as the Eliot Norton Award.  Other awards include the PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Award, the Athena Film Festival Award, an Alex Award, a Lilly Award and in 2011 she was named one of the 150 Fearless Women in the World by Newsweek.

Ms. Rebeck is originally from Cincinnati and holds an MFA in Playwrighting and a PhD. in Victorian Melodrama, both from Brandeis University. She is a proud board member of the Dramatists Guild, a Contributing Editor to the Harvard Review, an Associate Artist of the Roundabout Theatre Company, a Playwright Adviser and Board Member of the LARK and and has taught at Brandeis University and Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dead Accounts: Meet the Cast

Michael Champlin (Jack) Michael is a South Bay actor and director who has been part of a few dozen productions at theaters such as The Pear, The Dragon, Bus Barn, Northside and TheatreWorks. He was most recently seen in The Dragon's production of Waiting for Godot, and he couldn't be happier to return to this stage again so quickly with the incredibly talented cast and crew of Dead Accounts. Much love and thanks to his wife Katie and his boys, Jack & Henry.

Janine Saunders Evans (Jenny) Janine very proudly returns for her 8th show at Dragon and is excited to tackle this poignant and relevant play with such a strong and committed cast. She holds a BA in Theatre from Santa Clara University and has also worked at Santa Clara Players, Palo Alto Players, Renegade Theatre Experiment, Silicon Valley Shakespeare, Pear Theatre and Shotz SF.  Favorite roles include Meena in Rx here at Dragon - which earned her a Theatre Bay Area Award nomination in 2014 - and Ivy in August Osage County at Pear this past summer. A Bay Area native, Janine lives in Mountain View with her husband and 2 daughters. She thanks you for supporting the arts.

Brian Flegel (Phil) A life boomerang brought Brian back to the Bay Area from the hustle and bustle of NYC where he had been seen playing many a Shakespearean role. Here in the Bay Area Brian has worked with the Playwrights Center of San Francisco as well as SJ Real shows at the San Jose Rep. Brian has worked with The Dragon Theater Company in Redwood City being seen in both Rx by Kate Fodor and Smash by Jeffrey Hatcher as well as Superheroes with Wily West Productions in San Francisco. He has also been seen at the Pear Avenue Theater in both House & Garden by Alan Ayckbourn and Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. 2016 saw Brian in Palo Alto Players Death of A Salesman directed by Kristen Kaye Lo and at the New Pear Theatre’s Beard Of Avon by Amy Freed directed by Karen Altree Piemme. Brian is very happy to be in Dead Accounts. Not only is he back with friends but he gets to not have an English accent.

Kristen Kaye Lo (Lorna) Kristen Lo is so excited to be back at Dragon Productions. She was last seen on the Dragon stage as Holly in Jane Martin's Anton in Show Business. Some of her other favorite roles include Belinda in Noises Off, Miss Forsythe in Death of a Salesman, and Hilda in The Master Builder. She received a BA in Theater from Emory University and an MAT from Brown University. Currently, she teaches theater and stage tech at Gunn High School in Palo Alto. She would like to thank her mom, dad, in-laws and husband, Felix, for supporting her through this project, and her sons, Anders and Erik for giving her a good example of what siblings act like.

Jackie O’Keefe (Barbara) Jackie is excited to perform at the Dragon for the first time.  She has been performing in the Bay Area for over 30 years  Jackie was last seen at The Pear Theater in Tribes last year.  Recent performances include Pygmalion and Death of a Salesman both at The Pear, Looking for Normal at Palo Alto Players and August: Osage County at City Lights Theater. Jackie has studied with Richard Seyd and attended The New Actors Workshop in New York City.