I Ate Chili On Top Of Spaghetti In Cincinnati For Lunch Once

Regional specialties are so crazy. I just found out that crab pretzels are a thing in the Baltimore area. And the other night when I was looking for cheese to top my spaghetti, I almost grabbed the bag of shredded cheddar. Yup, I buy pre-shredded cheddar sometimes. Don't vote me off the island quite yet. My dating adventures once brought me home to meet a boyfriend's family for New Year's in a town called Cincinnati. The story pretty much ends there.

Here's how big of a deal chili on spaghetti is in Cincinnati: on the way from the airport, we stopped first at a Skyline for the "atmosphere" and, allegedly, better hot dogs (I'm not calling them Coneys, I'm just not — we don't call them Coneys here and we have Coney Island which is famous for hot dogs) then at a Gold Star for a quart of takeout. It took me five minutes to digest the fact that nobody in Cincy giggles at spaghetti, chili and cheese being called a 3-way the same way it takes those who didn't go to USC a while to stop giggling at "Trojan." Haha. Sorry, I've been away for a few years.

But here's the thing. While parmesan or any other hard aged Italian cheeses go very nicely on pasta, cheddar doesn't not go. Fundamentally, cheddar goes with ground beef, tomatoes and pasta. The whole basis of learning how to cook is simply not "what goes." It's "what doesn't not go."

How the hell else would you come up with kale and ash-coated short rib or any of the other crazy plates our favorite restaurants come up with? But back to this very basic dish: thick, meaty chili, spaghetti, cheddar. It was good. Halfway through my plate the spices really started to come out — cinnamon, cumin, a little cocoa — and when I finished, all my prejudice had vanished beneath a veil of finely shredded mild cheese.

Lesson learned: don't judge a regional specialty by how unappetizing it looks or how far into the Midwest you had to travel to try it. Other lesson learned: Northern Kentucky has a supermarket chain called Piggly Wiggly. Adorable.

More regional specialties for lunch on Food Republic: