Your Guide to Authentic Regional Eats
Sign In | Register for Free!
Restaurants Recipes Forums Eating Tours Merchandise FAQ Maps Insider

Camp Washington Chili Parlor

3005 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, OH - (513) 541-0061
Posted By Michael Stern on 11/16/2008 4:55:00 PM
Cincinnatians are mad for five-way chili, which is spiced meat atop spaghetti noodles, topped with beans, cheese, and onions. Many agree that Camp Washington makes the best. This one-of-a-kind hash house, named after its neighborhood (which had been a Civil War encampment) features all the proper ambiance, including a great gleaming neon clock on the back wall and great vats of bubbling chili visible from the long row of stools that face the kitchen. The air smells of onions and spice; and by late in the morning the dining room is packed with cheap-eats fans who fork their way into plates of five-way and heft chili-cheese Coneys and mile-high double-decker sandwiches.

The proprietor, John Johnson, began working at Camp Washington when he was a boy. “It is the only place I have ever worked,” he says with glee as he stands at a huge pot of simmering chili, stirring it like a sorcerer concocting magic potion. Mr. Johnson’s uncle, Steve Andon, along with partner Anastasios “Fred” Zarmbus, founded the Camp Washington parlor in 1940. When young John Johnson arrived from Greece in 1951, his uncle took him in and eventually imparted the secrets of his spice mix. Finally, in 1977, Mr. Johnson bought the business – along with the top-secret formula. “But you know something,” he confesses with conspiratorial glee, “I have tinkered with the recipe. Not much, and nothing big. A little here, a little there. I believe I have improved it .”

It is sensational. Made from lean beef that is finely ground on the premises and brewed in batches of sixty gallons each day, it is dark and meaty, kaleidoscopically spiced but not painfully hot, and thick enough to blend perfectly with the tender noodles onto which it is ladled. Always fresh, never frozen, it is a meal that has been savored by generations of Camp Washington customers twenty-four hours a day, every day, for the last fifty-seven years … with the exception of the hours from 4am on Sunday to 5am on Monday, when the parlor is closed. But every Monday at dawn, a line begins to form at the locked door: hungry Cincinnatians eager to fork into a morning plate of five-way chili and start the week right.

Chili isn't the only unique Cincinnati food served at Camp Washington. For those unfamiliar with Queen City diner culture, here are thumbnail definitions of some of John Johnson's other specialties:

Goetta: a slab of breakfast meat that is reminiscent of scrapple, but made with pin oats instead of cornmeal and laced with sweet bits of onion. Goetta is spicy, porky, unctuous, and rib-sticking, like sausage but even wickeder. It is sliced thin and grilled to a crisp, and its traditional role is as a companion to a plate of eggs and fried potatoes.

Double decker sandwiches are not, technically speaking, exclusively Cincinnati’s; but no place even comes close to the Queen City’s passion for mile-high sandwiches made with three slices of toast and ridiculous amounts of cold cuts, bacon and eggs, cheese and tomatoes. Most chili parlors offer double-deckers; Camp Washington’s are particularly lofty and beautiful: amazing monuments of food that are quite literally impossible to fit between one’s jaws.

Coney Islands are minuscule hot dogs: pale pink, lightly grilled, customarily served in a soft white bun on a bed of mustard and topped with chili and chopped raw onions. A fluffy mantle of shredded cheddar cheese is a popular option that makes an ideal Coney crown.

And finally, it must be understood that Cincinnati chili bears little resemblance to chili served outside the Midwest (it IS similar to Green Bay chili from Wisconsin), and is virtually a different food group from Texas-style bowls of red. To a Cincinnati cook, chili always means meat sauce piled onto a bed of soft-cooked spaghetti noodles. There are multiple variations: “Two-way” chili is simply noodles and sauce; “three-way” adds cheese; “four-way” includes either beans or onions; and “five-way” is the whole shebang with beans and onions. There is also a variation known as “chili bean,” which lacks the layer of cheese. Aside from the fascinating stratification, what makes Cincinnati chili so intriguing is the meat sauce itself. It is spicy but not fiery hot, curiously sweet, and deliriously aromatic. We have long believed Camp Washington’s chili is the very best.

On July 24, 2000, Camp Washington Chili Parlor moved to its new location ... next to the old one at Colerain & Hopple. If you need an excuse to return to Cincinnati, the obligation to check out the new location is a good one.

16 out of 17 people found the review helpful. Was it helpful to you?

No Yes

Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Rate this place

Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

A close-up of the 5-Way shows the quintet of ingredients working in perfect harmony.
"A close-up of the 5-Way shows the quintet of ingredients working in perfect harmony."
Cliff Strutz





The cheese coneys here are small and overrun with cheese.
"The cheese coneys here are small and overrun with cheese."
Cliff Strutz


Camp Washington Chili makes a fine version of that unique Cincy breakfast meat, goetta.  It reminds me of the scrapple we have back in Pennsylvania, only leaner.
"Camp Washington Chili makes a fine version of that unique Cincy breakfast meat, goetta. It reminds me of the scrapple we have back in Pennsylvania, only leaner."
Cliff Strutz


Camp Washington is a fine place to try another of Cincy's local specialties, the double decker. This sandwich is ham and turkey on toast, all being held together by a toothpick!
"Camp Washington is a fine place to try another of Cincy's local specialties, the double decker. This sandwich is ham and turkey on toast, all being held together by a toothpick!"
Cliff Strutz


In Texas, you'd be strung up for serving chili with beans and spaghetti.  In Cincinnati, it's the only way.
"In Texas, you'd be strung up for serving chili with beans and spaghetti. In Cincinnati, it's the only way."
Michael Stern


A modest bacon and egg sandwich breakfast at Camp Washington Chili Parlor ... with lettuce and mayo, of course.
"A modest bacon and egg sandwich breakfast at Camp Washington Chili Parlor ... with lettuce and mayo, of course."
Michael Stern


Jane (top) forks into a plate of five way at Camp Washington.
"Jane (top) forks into a plate of five way at Camp Washington."
Michael Stern


Keepers of the secret chili recipe! This picture is from three decades ago, when we first met John Johnson after he bought the chili parlor from his uncles. He has since won a James Beard award for excellence and the restaurant is new and shiny ... but the chili is the same classic plate he made in 1977.
"Keepers of the secret chili recipe! This picture is from three decades ago, when we first met John Johnson after he bought the chili parlor from his uncles. He has since won a James Beard award for excellence and the restaurant is new and shiny ... but the chili is the same classic plate he made in 1977."
Michael Stern


John Johnson stands by one of the great vats in which his chili is currently steaming. These silver vessels were moved from the old location.
"John Johnson stands by one of the great vats in which his chili is currently steaming. These silver vessels were moved from the old location."
Michael Stern


Camp Washington's new counter is broad and roomy, with plenty of booths behind for those who prefer a more intimate chili-eating experience.
"Camp Washington's new counter is broad and roomy, with plenty of booths behind for those who prefer a more intimate chili-eating experience."
Michael Stern


Note the time on the wall. That's A.M.; John Johnson was already hard at work brewing the day's chili; and the customers included some who were concluding a long night with plates of five-way as well as others who were beginning their day with goetta and eggs.
"Note the time on the wall. That's A.M.; John Johnson was already hard at work brewing the day's chili; and the customers included some who were concluding a long night with plates of five-way as well as others who were beginning their day with goetta and eggs."
Michael Stern


This is the new Camp Washington Chili, just yards away from where the old one used to be, with the same round-the-clock hours and the same delicious chili.  (Jason Buchsbaum photo)
"This is the new Camp Washington Chili, just yards away from where the old one used to be, with the same round-the-clock hours and the same delicious chili. (Jason Buchsbaum photo)"
Michael Stern



What is Roadfood?  |   Submit Content  |   Privacy Policy  |   Contact Roadfood.com   Copyright - Roadfood.com