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.
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.
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 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'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.