February 26 – Chili Day
I love chili. I’m not going to mince words here. I fuckin’ love chili. The stew that brings together so many ingredients and flavors, simmering for hours like a well-trained sauce, each batch and each cook making it uniquely different but delicious all the same. I started making my own chili in high school, when my parents were both diagnosed with high blood pressure and told to take a lower sodium diet. I got on a huge zucchini kick (which I have still to come off of!) and everything included the little zukes, including my chili. I also found Lightlife ground tofu, which acts exactly like ground beef, and started adding it to my chili as a cheap alternative to expensive and fatty ground beef. No one could tell the difference! It wasn’t necessarily a vegan chili, as I like my cheese way too much for that, but it comes out tasting delicious and contains no meat. I’ve made it since with lots of meats, but I think I still prefer the Lightlife, as it crumbles in the way I want it to for a nice, uniform chili.
Chili is understandably a Southwestern kind of food, originally coming from Mexico in the sixteenth century. It’s gone a long way since then, and has been arguably perfected by the good people of Texas. Everyone wants a good bowl of authentic “Texas” chili (which supposedly doesn’t include beans) and a big ol’ hunk of cornbread to get that genuine feel of the dish. According to Wikipedia, it’s so well-known as a Texas dish that it’s the official dish of the state. There are a ton of different variations of chili made in the country, let alone New York City, where, although the roots of chili cooking run rather shallow, many Southwestern transplants have come up to the city and made chili their own. I’ve listed two of the most celebrated chilis in town, so grab a spoon, get your ten-gallon hat on, and let’s dig in! 🙂
As is the case for lots of the “best” comfort foods to find in the city, you have to look to the smaller places, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants…sometimes even food carts. Daisy May’s BBQ all the way on the West Side is just that: they recently opened up a few tables in their small establishment for eat-in diners, but for the most part they’re a takeout joint, with food carts circulating all around the city. Chef Adam Perry Lang has put his own spin on comforting Southwestern American food and barbecue, looking to bring his classical training to an earthier setting. And all that expertiste can be seen in his chili: considered to be one of the best in the city, it’s made with slow-braised brisket instead of ground beef in a thick, ancho chili sauce. And it’s made the “right” Texan way: no beans to be had. The restaurant is made for takeout, but this chili’s so good you may just buy your bowl at the counter and eat it right on the corner of 11th Avenue.
Daisy May’s BBQ
623 11th Ave (between 45th St & 46th St)
“It’s packed with large chunks of brisket that have grown increasingly barbecue-flavored in recent visits and accented with a thick, peppery-sweet brick-colored ancho lather. It may be mild but there’s no lack of flavor. A plus is that there are no beans to get in the way of your enjoyment; a minus is the pre-packed sour cream that’s refigerator cold. Fortunately, a chili this good needs no sour cream. I may be wrong or just lucky, but the texture on my last few visits didn’t seem like repurposed brisket at all—I’d almost swear it was smoked exclusively for the chili.”–PigTrip
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The chili was excellent. It had no beans and was very complex and rich, with tender chunks of beef. They serve that up with a flour tortilla and you can also request for a square of corn bread, which would be served warm.”–Princess M.
“My favorite dish, though, is the chili. This isn’t your typical bean-based chili. This is a cup teeming with spiced chunks of beef. Soooo good. They provide sides of chopped onions and sour cream. They’ll also put some hot sauce in there – recommended but make sure you mix it up before digging in.”–Scott R.
Now, being New York City, there is a large amount of the population that thumbed their nose at the entire last review, perhaps even tried to gloss over this food holiday altogether, because it included meat. (It didn’t just include meat, it put that brisket chili on a pedestal and almost made love to meat.) But our veggie-loving friends should not despair! As I said before, one of the best things about chili is that there’s no one “right” way to cook it, you can include a number of ingredients and it will still taste delicious. And, as my own experience tells me, that even includes omitting the meat altogether.
Peacefood Cafe does all that and makes it a delicious tasting chili to boot. The vegan, seasonal restaurant makes high quality foods for its patrons all year round, and their vegan chili with cornbread is no exception. It includes red beans and guacamole, as well as fried radish and cilantro for different, yet not foreign, flavors. Vegan fiends no longer need to worry about eating accidental animal products in their chili and can savor the tastes of a good, slow-cooked stew on a cold winter evening just like the rest of us meat eaters 😉
460 Amsterdam Ave (between 82nd St & 83rd St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Stopped in here one night to get dinner to-go for my vegan friend. I ordered the vegan chili w/ cornbread and vegetable tempura. The chili was flavorful and the perfect consistency- not too thick/congealed and not too thin/runny. It was loaded with beans and veggies and very filling. My friend let out cries of ecstasy over their cornbread. I had some and couldn’t believe it was vegan. SO DELICIOUS.”–Erica L.
“Mushroom pizza, thai green curry, chili and cornbread, quinoa salad, dumplings and more make up Peacefood’s wonderfully varied menu with all items conjoined by two common attributes: vegan, and friggin’ delicious.”–Ron F.
While it’s not one of the more contested “best” foods in New York City, chili is indeed a food of contention, and barbecue joints all around the country vie for that coveted mark of distinction. So, do you have a favorite chili place in New York? Does it rival the homecooked goodness of Peacefood Cafe or the smoky, savory Daisy May’s BBQ? Let me know about it in the comments!