As the temperatures steadily plummet and the threat of snow grows ever stronger, cold weather foods become more alluring. Soups and stews, roasts and casseroles, and, of course, chili. There are so many different styles of chili — from a simple blend of ground beef, tomatoes, onions, beans and chili powder to a mixture of meats, fresh tomatoes, no tomatoes, other vegetables, different spices, and on and on. Some like it hot, some don’t. Some add chocolate. Some add squash. It’s a highly versatile dish.
BDN senior features editor Sarah Walker Caron and BDN feature writer Emily Burnham decided to head out and find the best house-made chili in a Bangor restaurant.
The parameters: To narrow the playing field, fast food establishments and national chains were disqualified. The chili had to be tomato based with meat — while we love white chili and vegetarian chili, those were excluded in the interest of an apples-to-apples comparison. Seven restaurants made the cut, and we sampled all of them in the same day. They were judged based on taste, texture and heat.
Here’s the results:
Governor’s Restaurant, 643 Broadway
Our first stop for the chili taste test was at Governor’s, not far from Husson University. This small, local chain’s bowl of chili came piled with so much cheese and was served with a dinner roll. The chili was the most homestyle chili of the bunch: an even distribution of ground beef and beans, with chopped onions and peppers to give it extra flavor. It wasn’t too thick — or thin for that matter. No real heat to speak of, but it was enjoyably hearty. Definitely a family-friendly chili, as to be expected at a family restaurant like Governor’s.
Nicky’s Cruisin’ Diner, 957 Union St.
This Union Street establishment’s backroom is a fun place to eat with license plates and memorabilia lining the walls. We ordered a bowl of chili, which came with no toppings (though if you ask, they will provide sour cream and other toppings, as desired). Loaded with beans and tomatoes with ground beef, this surprisingly spicy chili had a smooth, rich sauce. It didn’t have much in the way of other vegetables though (maybe some onions?). Still, we appreciated the hearty, spiced chili.
Geaghan’s Pub and Craft Brewery, 570 Main St.
As we moved onto the Main Street corridor, Geaghan’s pub atmosphere and open viewing of the brewing area made for a fun stop. We liked that Geaghan’s served their chili with freshly fried tortilla chips. We also liked how much meat there was in it — but as far as heat goes, this chili lacked fire. We even added pepperjack cheese to it and it was still quite mild. Freshly made, sure, and there was plenty of it in the bowl, but it didn’t have that spicy punch we like.
Seasons Grille and Sports Lounge, 427 Main St.
Just up the road from the BDN offices is Seasons, a sports bar where iconic game shots line the walls. The chili came topped with cheese, green onions and deep fried jalapenos — and a little container of green onion sour cream on the side. The chili at Seasons was excellent — made with falling apart stew beef that had been simmered in a nice, light tomato sauce, it had a perfect balance of heat and flavor, with a complex blend of spices. This was by far the best chili we sampled. Really, it’s a good sign when you can’t stop eating something, even if you’re committed to only a few bites of each sample — and we just couldn’t. Seasons’ chili is a must-try.
Sea Dog Brewing Company, 26 Front St.
Located on the banks of the Penobscot River, the Sea Dog is a pub with great views. Its chili was served in a cute little crock topped with a bit of mild salsa and served with tortilla chips. Thicker than most of the other chilis we tried, this one featured a very light sauce and just beef and beans — subtly flavored and easy to eat. It would pair beautifully with a Sea Dog beer. As was the case with many of the chilis we sampled, however, it lacked heat. We should have asked for hot sauce.
Blaze, 18 Broad St.
Located on West Market Square, Blaze is in the process of revamping their menu. They’ve launched a new chili that is distinctively different from the others we tried. Carefully tested and developed, Blaze started with a chef-developed blend of spices, tomatoes and beans, and slowly cooked with ground beef, pork and venison, all sourced within 50 miles of Bangor. The result was a smoky, hearty, unusual chili, with a nice gamey aftertaste from the venison and a pleasant, lingering heat. Served with crusty garlic parmesan bread, this rich chili is worth stopping for — and enjoying a craft beer with.
11 Central, 11 Central St.
The final stop on our chili tour was 11 Central, the eponymous restaurant next to Giacomo’s. We were served a huge portion of chili topped with cheese, sour cream and green onions. It was definitely freshly made — but it again lacked heat, though it certainly wasn’t tasteless. Made with ground beef, pork and veal, so much of the overall flavor in this chili comes from that meat blend. It was also teeming with chopped peppers and onions, though we prefer a much smaller dice to the large chunks found in this chili.