Yep. It’s a pizza place. But Papa Dino’s Pizza also has chili served in the typical Cincinnati ways… and they’re open past 6:00! Traci and I visited for dinner the other night to give their chili a try.
Papa Dino’s is a Clifton fixture, right across from the University of Cincinnati on Calhoun. Obviously, their specialty is pizza, but on the back of the menu are chili offerings - ways, coneys, fries. They also have plenty of other Italian/American fare. I was a little disappointed to not see a chili pizza! The place looked alright, definitely more of a pizza joint than a chili parlor, but the table and floor were both pretty sticky… I hate sticky tables. It wasn’t terribly big, but I imagine that when college is in session, the place is a decent hangout (no doubt, I will be corrected by the many UC grads I know). But on the evening we went, the place was dead… for a while, we were the only ones there.
The waitress took our order - 3-way & cheese coney for me, 4-way & cheese coney for Traci. They carry Coca-Cola products, so I settled for water.
So far, so good! Good-looking cheese and chili and plenty of it! Portion size was not a concern… though the saltines were. Where’s the oyster crackers? While I took this photo, Traci took a bite of her 4-way, then promptly told me that I’m not going to like this. Undeterred, I took a bite of the coney. Tomato base, and lots of it. The 3-way confirmed it. Their chili definitely comes in the typical Cincinnati ways, but it doesn’t come quite close to the typical Cincinnati flavor.
Sure, no Cincinnati chili has the same flavor, but they have a common theme. One thing they all have in common is that none of them have any tomato-y flavor! This chili tasted more like the chili my mom would make, with tomatoes, beef, spaghetti, chili pepper and some kind of stock and simmered all day… then I’d top it with lots of crumbled saltines! It was kind of similar to what we had at the Pepper Pod, though not as spicy. That said, it didn’t taste bad at all; it was actually kind of good. It just didn’t taste like typical Cincinnati chili.
So, the cheese coney looked big, but it was disappointing. First of all, the dog was way too small for the bun, by almost half. Much of this ate like a chili cheese sandwich. The bun also had a “soggy bottom” issue, and was a little sloppy to eat. The chili wasn’t all that good on the coney, either; I don’t think it was made to be a hot dog topping. Definitely not an ideal coney.
The 3-way was a better dish. The spaghetti was cooked right, the cheese was good, and there was plenty of chili. The chili tasted much better on the pasta, yet I did not feel like I was eating a 3-way… the taste was that different. But it was good, and there was plenty to eat. Traci could not finish hers.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that if I am going to rate this chili, it has to be based on the traditional Cincinnati chili standards of flavor and experience. If someone were to ask me where is the best place to get Cincinnati chili, Papa Dino’s might be last on the list, even though their chili itself wasn’t all that bad. That’s why they’re the first to get…
Final Bite… Papa Dino’s Pizza is probably an excellent pizza joint, and if in the area, I would go there for a slice. They do have chili served in the Cincinnati ways, but it’s probably the least like traditional Cincinnati chili to be found on this tour (not counting Specials).
Update 01.22.13 - Papa Dino’s closed it’s doors recently after nearly 60 years in Clifton, citing stiff competition from other pizza parlors. It’s unknown if it will ever reopen, and even if it did, if it would retain its chili, which I found to be more like a spicier pasta meat sauce than Cincinnati chili.