Real Chili serves bowls of chili mild, medium, or hot, with spaghetti or beans, or spaghetti AND beans. The full and complete arrangement is known as the Marquette Special. (The original Real Chili parlor has long been a favorite of Marquette University students.) The degree of heat is determined by the amount of meat; i.e. more meat = more heat. The meat is ground fine, brilliantly spiced, and deliciously oily. It goes atop layers of noodles and beans; and on top of the meat is piled a large fistful of shredded cheese (melting from the heat). You can also get sour cream and raw onions as a garnish. Every bowl comes with a side dish of oyster crackers to crumble on top or to eat as a sort of palate-cleanser between bites of chili.
This true downtown chili parlor (of which the original branch is at 1625 W. Wells St., phone: 414-342-6955) is the sort of beanery once fairly common in big cities throughout the region. With the exception of Cincinnati, where chili has remained a bona fide mania, most of the Midwest has forgotten its chili passions; and old-time chili parlors are a rarity. That is one reason we are so enamored of Real Chili.
Granted, heartland chili gets little respect from gastronomes who prefer the southwestern kinds, but even for the Texas-style chili purist, Real Chili is an inspiring and enjoyable adventure in declasse dining. Sit at a counter or at one of two communal tables with backless stools and accompany your chili with beer or cherry Coke. A fast, friendly staff dole out second helpings at half price of the first, and if you have any doubts about this chili's raison d'etre, consider this house motto: "Preventing Milwaukee's Hangovers since 1931."
"Surrounding the bowl of extra-hot are oyster crackers, sour cream, and chopped raw onions."
"The Marquette Special: From the side, you can see how it is layered: spaghetti noodles topped with beans, topped with chili meat, topped with cheese. It is up to the customer to add raw onions and/or sour cream."
"Former owner Dan Helfer shows off a bowl of chili"
"Midwestern-style urban chili parlors are now scarce in cities where they once thrived. In that light, Milwaukee's Real Chili is rare Americana."