Chili is often a make-at-home dish, but when it makes it onto a menu, you know the chef is into it.
You’re never far from a bowl of chili. Somewhere the ingredients flourish together, each blooming from slow waves of heat within the humble ecosystem of a worn-in 5-quart pot. There’s a good chance that you know someone who covets a legendary recipe for a bowl of red. Are you in Deep Ellum right now? If the answer is yes, you’re walking distance from a 30-year-old recipe of the good stuff ― a simple and old-school bowl of simmered beef, tomato paste, jalapeño, and soft pinto beans at Angry Dog. It was on the menu on Day One, around August 1990, enrobing a griddled hot dog.
To some, chili will always and forever be a cook-at-home dish. Chef Brian Luscher, who recently jettisoned The Grape, has a go-to “Northerner recipe.”
“A recently self-realized eccentricity of mine is that I would never order soup out,” Luscher says.
Texas home-cooking master Lisa Fain (her chili recipes are the literal bomb) can’t remember the last time she ordered chili at a restaurant.
“I’m picky about my chili, and I find that small-grind beef and tomatoes are the bane of most restaurant versions, so I prefer to prepare it at home,” Fain says. Fair enough. She does submit to a Frito pie (who doesn’t) at a ball game. To paraphrase Stephen King, Frito pie is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
To others, chili seems to find its way onto restaurant menus by fate. Talk with some chefs and owners about when and where the chili originated, and you’ll watch as a dreamy haze washes over them, ensconced in an elusive memory like they’ve lined up to see the ghosts of old baseball players in Field of Dreams.
By Nick Rallo
6:00 AM on Feb 27, 2020