As a Cincinnatian, it is my patriotic duty to the Queen City to eat and report back on anything smothered in chili. So when I heard Gold Star was coming out with a meat-free chili option, I went to the nearest location to give it a try.
I should probably preface this by saying I’m that person. By this I mean I was a vegetarian for a year in college, lecturing my friends on animal cruelty one week and tossing my inhibitions out the window for a basket of chicken wings the next. You’ve met one of me. But in my experience, I came to understand the challenge that cutting meat out of your diet can pose.
Not being able to eat whatever I wanted was the most difficult. Eating the imitation meat products — the flavors of which were sometimes loosely reminiscent of the real thing — when what I really craved was a giant, juicy burger, is ultimately what tripped me up. Imitation bacon or salty discs of something trying to convince my tastebuds it’s deli meat — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten my hopes up over a meat-free option disguising itself under the flavor profile of the food it’s trying to replicate. Oh the woes of being a vegetarian.
That’s why when my friend and I sat down to compare Gold Star’s vegetarian chili up against the original recipe, I took the process very seriously. This was an eating-an-entire-packet-of-crackers-to-cleanse-my-palate-in-between-bites kind of business.
The chili is available on a 3-, 4- or 5-Way as well as on any chili menu items. We ordered two 3-Ways; one topped with the new vegetarian chili recipe, the other with the original. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how comparable they were.
When eaten with the spaghetti noodles, you’ll have a hard time nailing down any differences taste-wise. It’s only when you get the chili alone that you’ll notice a little more kick in the vegetarian option, which I actually preferred. Other than that, you could’ve put me in a sensory deprivation tank with nothing but these two dishes and I would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Made of vegetable protein, the chili is gluten- and soy-free. Nutritionally, it doesn’t stray far from the original, except for having a slightly lower calorie count. And if we’re on the subject of appearances, the two menu items are virtually identical. Both are the same color and have the same meat-sauce consistency that Cincinnati-style chili is known for. If you could call replicating the appearance of Gold Star chili a feat, then the chain is in store for a round of applause.
The recipe was introduced in restaurant locations March 3, just in time for Lent. So if you’re in need of a vegetarian option on a Friday afternoon or are just a fellow Cincinnati chili connoisseur, you have until April 16 to try it out for yourself.
More info at goldstarchili.com.