“Chili with merlot?” grinned my husband Patrick. “There may be something to this wine-and-food-pairing thing after all.”
I had to drag him to the winemaker dinner, but once he saw the chili provided by chef Kurt Metzger’s “Concept Catering by CK” (858-336-9823; conceptcateringbyck.com), his mood improved considerably.
“Every time I make chili, it reminds me of my childhood,” says Metzger. “It’s great comfort food. It’s one of the sides for our BBQ Shack. We started the Shack last year when the recession started setting in, and it’s been popular, especially in summer. We use organic beef out of South Dakota — we put a spice rub on some filet and some rib eye, braise them, and then grind them down. The spice rub uses pink and black peppercorns, coriander seed, and mustard seed, roasted together and ground. Plus some smoked sea salt. We mix the ground meat with chili spices, heirloom tomatoes, and cannellini beans.”
The chili spice includes ground New Mexico chilis, so there’s a little bit of heat, “and that traditional chili taste,” adds Metzger. For condiments, Metzger likes to go with “onions and cheese. Maybe a good crostini with melted Maytag blue on top.” (Prices vary by group size.)
“Filet and rib eye?” marveled Patrick. “That’s awesome, but what if I just want a chili dog? I can’t put steak on a hot dog.” So I rang up Matthew Gorton of Mateo’s Hot Spot in Pacific Beach (858-775-5256; mateoshotspot.com).
“Me and my partner Richard Morris run hot-dog carts,” said Gorton. “We have them outside of the Silver Fox Lounge [Thursday to Saturday, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.] and the Dog [Wednesday to Saturday, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.] so that we can fill a niche for people coming out of the bars. And we’re thinking about adding a day-cart in front of Plum Crazy Saloon on the weekends.” (All three bars are in Pacific Beach.)
“Our most popular chili dog is the Son of a Spicy Bitch [$4.75],” says Gorton. “It’s a spicy hot link with chili and nacho-cheese sauce. We cater, too. Our minimum price is $200.” The dogs are Hebrew National, and the buns are from Galasso’s Bakery. And the chili? “We buy our chili in cans, but then we doctor it up. I’ll add whole chilis, chili flakes, and a bit of curry powder. It’s spicy but not deadly. And there are beans in there.”
There are no beans in the chili at Woodies Chili Dogs in Clairemont (858-270-6412). But, says employee Dennis, “People love our chili. Chili dogs [$2.85–$4.25] are our best sellers, and some people come in for the chili and nothing else.” (A chili-cheese cup runs $3.95.) “It’s an all-beef chili with a thick consistency; we buy it from a local company. It comes to us frozen, and we cook it up daily. We can cater for anywhere from 10 to 200 people.”
Finally, I called up a few friends. “I make mine in a Crock-Pot,” said Katie. “I use great northern beans, kidney beans, small white beans, small red beans, and a can of Bush’s chili beans — which are pinto beans in chili sauce. I drain and rinse everything but the Bush’s. For the meat, I’ll use whatever I have in the freezer — ground turkey, ground beef, or sausage. I brown the meat and drain it, and then I sauté an onion and some crushed garlic. All that goes into the Crock-Pot with the beans, and then I add tomatoes, cumin, basil, chili powder, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Every now and then I’ll add something like chopped-up zucchini, just to sneak extra veggies into the kids. I give it about four hours, because my pot runs hot — some can go for eight hours. Then serve with sour cream and cheddar cheese and cornbread on the side.”
My neighbor Michael took a similar approach, but with favored black beans and kidney beans and a mix of meats — half Italian sausage and half ground beef. “I’ll also add a bottle of dark beer and a half-cup of red wine, plus maybe a tablespoon of Dijon mustard,” he advised. “And you must serve it with saltine crackers.”
My friend Sarah won for the quickest, dirtiest version: “Brown your lean ground beef, drain it, and add a jar of thick salsa. I use Pace picante. Add a jar of tomato sauce and a can of stewed tomatoes and another can of black beans. Toss it all in a Crock-Pot for two hours on high, and serve it with grated cheddar cheese on top.
“It’s not gourmet, but it’s good.”