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Chocolate Chili

55 Hours Article / Delaware Online

On hot days, chili rewards

Check out some of the best places to fire up your taste buds

By Eric Ruth • The News Journal • August 13, 2009


With apologies to all the hard-working folks out there who toil endlessly in hot kitchens for crummy pay, we hereby recognize one sad fact about 90 percent of the restaurants in Delaware:

None of you all can cook a decent pot of chili con carne.

Mostly, restaurant chilies are sour, gloppy, sexless concoctions, stocked with far too little beef, and doused with far too much tomato. Most kitchens here seem convinced that chili is some sort of demented cousin to spaghetti sauce, forcibly cross-bred with canned kidney beans, then tossed onto the bottom of the menu with the rest of the soupy riff-raff.

One otherwise sane local restaurant even insists that chili is "in season" only during cool months, a contention that would inspire knee-slapping derision from countless sweating chili-heads in the desert lands of the American Southwest.

Luckily, it turns out that some Delaware restaurants appreciate the fact that chili can be an experience that far surpasses the sum of its parts. The best also recognize that good chili demands accompaniment -- whether it's a chewy roll or a cloak of melted cheese and chopped onions. And you can bet that when a restaurant's chili has some sass and style, the rest of the menu won't be far behind.

2 Fat Guys, 701 Ace Memorial Drive, Hockessin, 2FatGuys.net. Probably the most inventive and ambitious of the locally brewed chilies, this deeply flavored, chocolate-accented concoction was inspired by the darkly savory "moles" of Mexican cuisine, melding a pantry full of ingredients into a harmonious, lush and rousing indulgence. Both ground beef and pork shoulder give it an nicely meat-centric character, and molasses adds a welcome touch of offsetting sweetness.

Timmy D's, 604 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington. This is chili the way your dear suburban-Delaware momma probably made it, with an abundance of beans and ground meat, but not so much tomato gloop that it fights against the spice. A topping of sliced scallions notches up the complexity, though some chili-heads might hope for more fire than this gentle afterburn.

Cheeseburger in Paradise, 40 Geoffrey Drive, Churchmans Crossing. This chain's interpretation is a welcome step away from the typical tomato-leaning approach of most faux-chilis, moving ably toward a more authentic, onion-dominated medium that boasts a raspy, chile-pepper authority.


Border Cafe, 483 Stanton-Christiana Road, Churchmans Crossing. Consistent with its entertaining menu, this casual chain's chili has enough depth and presence to prove the cooks care about the stuff.

Saladworks, multiple locations. I know, I know. Good chili at Salad Works? Surprisingly, this refuge of weight-watching lettuce-grazers offers a deeply oniony, subtly complex version, stocked with cubes of beef and distinguished by its brothy, almost soup-like consistency.

Famous Dave's, multiple locations. The complex notes of chile-pepper heat set this one apart, though its over-reliance on tomato works against overall complexity. Thanks to this menu's meat-mad focus, there's a nice variety in the mix -- gotta love that sausage.

Dreamer's Cafe, 1312 Philadelphia Pike, Claymont. Second only to the devilishly hot wings at this dependable little shop is the house-made chili, which has earned a cult of fans.

Union City Grille, 805 N. Union St., Wilmington, www.UnionCityGrille.com. This version leans noticeably (and nicely) toward the high-end, combining cannelini beans with softly braised beef short ribs that have been subtly accented with tomato and bourbon, then draped with melted sharp white cheddar cheese.

 

 

TOM CRAFT'S CHOCOLATE CHILI

2 Fat Guys restaurant, Hockessin

For tomato sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup onions, medium dice (or leeks)

1/2 cup diced carrots

8 cups canned diced tomatoes

1/4 cup onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 cup strong beef stock

8 ounces tomato paste

For chili base

1 pound bacon, chopped

3 cups onions, medium dice (or leeks)

2 cups diced red bell pepper

3 medium poblano chilies, medium dice

3 large jalapeno, small dice

3 pounds pork shoulder, cubed

2 pounds ground beef

1 can of beer

2 cups strong beef stock

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1/2 cup hot sauce

2 tablespoons black pepper

1/2 tablespoon ground mustard or yellow

1/2 tablespoon white pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 cup cumin

1/8 cup chili powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons celery salt

2 bay leaves

32 ounces beans (half kidney, half chili)

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup sugar

1 ounce dark unsweetened baker's chocolate

1 cup fresh cilantro

 

Shredded cheese, sour cream, diced onions to garnish

Make tomato sauce with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 cup onions, 1/2 cup carrots, diced tomatoes, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, 1 cup beef stock, tomato paste. Puree.

Make chili base: Crisp bacon in pot, add onions and all peppers, cook until tender. Add all meat, cook until brown. Add beer, remaining stock, barbecue and hot sauce, and all spices (except sugar, cilantro and molasses). Simmer, stirring frequently, until meat is falling apart, adding more stock as needed.

Adjust seasonings and mix with tomato sauce. Add beans, sugar and molasses and simmer 15 minutes.

Using some hot liquid from chili, temper the chocolate, and then stir into the chili.

Finish with chopped cilantro; serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, diced onions, crusty bread and beer.

 

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