Inside Dixie Chili’s Erlanger location.

Chili is nothing new to the folks living in Kentucky. It’s not exactly a customary dish, but with Cincinnati less than two hours north there is plenty of love to go around for this spicy meat concoction.

Two of Cincinnati’s most beloved chains have outposts here. Louisville is Skyline country and Lexington has Gold Star.

Few moments are better than to be out for a long night on the town and hitting a Skyline late for three or four chili-cheese coney dogs. Top them with Skyline’s own vinegary hot sauce and that will fix all that ails you till morning.

What I didn’t know is Kentucky has its own chain of Cincinnati-styled chili parlors.

This week I discovered Dixie Chili in Erlanger, Ky.

Nicholas Sarakatsannis founded the original location in Newport in 1929, after having worked at Empress Chili, the originator of the Cincinnati-style, which is hallmarked by the use of seasonings such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and chocolate.

Sarakatsannis developed his own unique recipe and opened shop the same year as the Great Depression. It also happened to be 20-years before Skyline, and 36-years before the existence of Gold Star.

As a quirky aside, I find it amusing that chili is considered this uber-American dish, yet Dixie and Skyline are both owned by Greek families, and four brothers from Jordan began Gold Star. Whatever possessed this Mediterranean influence it’s much appreciated.

Dixie’s chili-cheese fries.

Dixie Chili has a retro-1950s soda shop/delicatessen look. It’s bright, clean, airy and orderly, with plenty of space between booths, and a bit funkier brand of music playing than its competition.

Dixie is set up like a cafeteria, whereby upon entering there is a big menu on the wall, then a refrigerated display case shows the Greek salads available and customers order what they want along the way.

Instead of waitstaff coming by to deliver the orders, they are picked up by patrons at the counter.

Dixie’s chili is a tad mellower in spice than others but more substantial in density. It’s less just a sauce and has more presence on the pasta or dogs, with a deep, rich flavor. There are a couple hot sauces available up front, including one of my favorites, Frank’s RedHot, in order to kick it up a notch.

The chili-cheese fries looked so good I had to get an order. They are substantial enough to share but not overwhelming. Waffle fries are used, which stand up well to the chili and are an excellent conveyance mechanism to move mad amounts of chili and cheese from plate to mouth.

Under all that cheese is a hot dog.

Kudos to Dixie’s chili-cheese coney as well. The bun is steamed just right, the hot dog is far from an afterthought and mine was swamped with cheese.

Dixie was a good find. I’ve been trying to expand my chili reference point. Empress was already on my list and I dearly want to check out the independent chili restaurants in Cincinnati like Price Hill, Blue Ash and Camp Washington.

[Check the Restaurants/Shopping page under Cincinnati for Web links]

So next time you are around Cincinnati or northern Kentucky don’t pass Dixie by because it’s unfamiliar, give it a try and dine locally.


733 Monmouth Street, Newport, Ky. 859-291-5337; open till 1 a.m., Fri/Sat till 3 a.m.

3716 Dixie Highway, Erlanger, Ky. 859-727-2828; open till 11 p.m., Fri/Sat till midnight

2421 Madison Avenue, Covington, Ky. 859-431-7444; open till 10 p.m., Fri/Sat till 11 p.m.

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