Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gold Star Chili

Gold Star Chili
Multiple locations

Although I am not Catholic, I'm beginning to enjoy the Lenten season a little more each year. Grocery shelves are chock-full of Cadbury Creme Eggs, adorable Easter hats are everywhere; and area restaurants roll out their Lenten specials.

In years past, Lenten specials usually consisted of some type of seafood (fish fry, anyone?), but some of the more forward-thinking places around town are now offering completely meat-free dishes in addition to their tuna casseroles and fried cod.

One such place that's really vegging out this year is Gold Star Chili; you may have seen their Veg Out billboards around town. They offer vegetarian chili year-round, but give it an extra push this time of year, and (full disclosure time) the chain sent a gift card for me to try it out.

Gold Star Chili: this is Cincinnati flavor

I visited my nearest Gold Star Chili, located in the Kroger plaza in Bellevue. I was surprised that this Kentucky restaurant still permits smoking; it seems weird to walk into a restaurant in this day and age, and immediately inhale second-hand smoke. Not a good start.

Veg Out at Gold Star!

The chain's vegetarian chili is available in nearly all the recognized chili parlor forms: three-ways, burritos, rice bowls, chili bowls, and chili salads. I chose the three-way ($4.99), since it's the traditional Cincinnati favorite, and threw in a small café salad for good measure.

The half café salad

The salad was larger than I would have thought and better than average; at a buck ninety-nine, it's a real bargain.

Vegetarians familiar with Fantastic Food's packaged chili might recognize the flavor of Gold Star's veggie chili - they are eerily similar. When I'm pressed for time I can whip up a package of Fantastic's veggie chili in around 15 minutes, and I always add a can of black beans, a can of whole kernel corn and a can of diced tomatoes. Gold Star Chili's vegetarian chili tasted almost identical, with nearly the same ingredients. Since I'm a fan of Fantastic's chili, I think it's great that a similar version is readily available at Gold Star.

Gold Star Chili

Gold Star's version adds lima beans and finely diced carrot to the mix, which bumps up the flavor. It's a mild chili, but that's okay, as the restaurant keeps hot sauce on every table in case you want to ratchet up the heat. Another thing to keep in mind is that their veggie chili is heart-healthy; ordering a two-way (chili and spaghetti, sans cheese) is a good way to keep that ticker in shape. I know, I know, Cincinnati-style chili without cheese is sacrilege, but I'm just sayin'.

While it's not my favorite Cincinnati-style vegetarian chili (that's reserved for Dixie Chili), it's great to know that vegetarians have a delicious and affordable fast-food option all over town. Kudos to Gold Star Chili for being brave enough to add vegetarian chili to their line-up.
Gold Star Chili on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Maybe, but the 1160 mgrams of sodium may make you think twice!

Alison said...

I agree, their veggie chili is good, and it's nice to have an alternative to cheesy fries for those times when my husband just HAS to have his Cincinnati chili.

But I don't know that I would call their veggie version Cincinnati-style chili. I mean, it's served that way (on spaghetti or whatnot,) but it's more of a traditional style chili and doesn't have the unique flavor that Cincinnati chili is known for.

Veggie Option said...

@Alison - that's right, I meant that their chili is served Cincinnati-style (over spaghetti with a pile of cheese). If you want true Cincinnati-style vegetarian chili (with hints of chocolate and cinnamon), you've got to go to Dixie Chili. I think theirs is the most authentic-tasting vegetarian chili.

Vanessa said...

Quite a change, then. They've had it for a while, and when I had it, I almost gagged, it was so awful. I just wish they'd come up with a vegetarian Cincinnati chili. It's not that hard, I make a version at home all the time. And if they added vegetarian hot dogs so we could do coneys? I'd be in heaven.

Veggie Option said...

@Vanessa: Yeah, my homemade chili (not the quickie Fantastic Foods stuff) is much better - but then homemade always trumps store bought. I think the best veggie chili in town is Dixie Chili.

Alison said...

I'll have to try Dixie Chili! The only veggie Cincinnati chili I've had is my homemade version (with the Gold Star seasoning packet and Quorn crumbles).

ADU said...

The Gold Star veggie chili is horrible! The last time I tried it I was able to watch them prepare it from my table and they just throw the pre-made bag of it into the microwave. Yuck. The veggie black beans & rice mix at Skyline is far superior (to Gold Star; I haven't tried Dixie). In fact, my husband who is not a vegetarian prefers the veggie 3-way over the meaty chili 3-way. It also tastes great on the potatoes and fries :)

Veggie Option said...

I knew this post would devolve into a Gold Star vs Skyline volley sooner or later. *sigh*

Look, I like Skyline's vegetarian options too, but they do NOT serve vegetarian chili. This post is about a local restaurant that serves vegetarian chili - it's about chili, not about black beans and rice.

I know that Gold Star's veggie chili is microwaved in a bag. Is that really such a big deal? I think you'll find that a lot of restaurant food - and certainly most fast food - arrives at the restaurant in a pre-made, frozen form.

Gold Star's certainly not my favorite vegetarian chili, but I think it's nice that a fast food restaurant offers something for vegetarians besides salad. As someone who has been vegetarian long enough to remember when there was no such thing as a veggie burger (unless you made it yourself at home), I'm always glad to hear of restaurants that are willing to go that extra step for us non-meat eaters.

Anonymous said...

Full disclosure, I do some marketing with Gold Star. I recently learned that they have a local commissary where they make all their own foods and have some special equipment that bags it for easy distribution to stores. that way, every location has chili that tastes the same. the veggie you see the bags b/c they serve less of it and they want it to be fresh.
Generally speaking, I agree with you though. Homeade is always best, but it's a darn good option that actually has veggies.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen a Gold Star Chili in more than 10 years. I am going to be travelling to see family and almost no vegetarian options. I used to LOVE GSC when I was little but I've been a veg for more than 20 years and it's one of those foods/places that reminds me of my grandma and visiting her. So, I'm excited to see they have a veggie option! I'll be trying it this weekend and hope it is great- I'm pretty spoiled living in Atlanta with so many veg options.

the Cat Guy said...

My brother sent me a Cincy Chili recipe that he USED to make with ground turkey; WE use TVP, or soy crumbles, and even our picky sons and their girlfriends don't bat an eye over the flavor or consistency. It goes as well over pasta OR hotdogs; stands alone well, too. Vegan? No prob. Try Daiya shreds.