Spolight's On: Real Chili

Real Chili, a Milwaukee tradition, serves bowls of chili with your choice of mild, medium, or hot, with or without spaghetti noodles, with or without beans, or with spaghetti and beans. I always order mine medium, with spaghetti and beans, plus sides of sour cream and shredded cheese. The secret is in the meat which is ground up super fine, like gravel, and has a unique indescribable taste. It's spicy, but not hot, and almost clove or cinnamon-like. The kicker, however, is that this meat is super oily. Dark orange oil sinks to the bottom of the bowl and gets soaked up by the oyster crackers that are served on the side. At least that what I do with the crackers; I toss them in the bowl and stir them in to soak up every last drop of that ju-ju and I am always left wanting more. The meat is ladled atop layers of noodles and beans and on top of the meat the customer then piles their optional sides: cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced onions. Each bowl comes with a side bowl of oyster crackers scooped out of a box that’s hidden under the counter, next to the cash register. A second helping , which I always think I will order but I never have room for, is offered at half price.

There’s nothing fancy about Real Chili. It’s actually kind of a time warp. I feel as though I’ve stepped back into Milwaukee, circa 1950, when I walk in the door. I'm catching a glimpse of the days when chili was still a Midwestern staple. Chili is ordered right up at the counter, there is no wait staff here, and then you sit at either the counter, a small table along the side of the room, or at one of the long communal tables on soda-fountain stools and dine family style. Chili and Coca Cola. That's how chili is done in Milwaukee - real chili.
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