Is it Spicy? FC Cincinnati Unveils Special "Hell is Real" Menu Items and We're Seeing if They Bring the Heat

FCC’s culinary crew is bringing the hellfire to the concessions with a special, one-night-only menu of spicy and smoky flavors.

May 16, 2023 at 1:00 pm
click to enlarge The Hell is Real food spread - Photo: Katherine Barrier
Photo: Katherine Barrier
The Hell is Real food spread

In “Is it Spicy?” CityBeat’s digital content editor Katherine Barrier explores the spicy cuisine you can find throughout Cincinnati, talks to chefs about their spiciest dishes and answers that burning question for you: “Is it spicy?” Whether you can only handle sriracha when it’s mixed with mayo or you order your Indian food beyond a six, “Is it Spicy?” aims to be a resource to help guide you through the heat levels of a different menu each month.

The match of the season is coming to TQL Stadium Saturday as FC Cincinnati will meet rivals Columbus Crew for their annual “Hell is Real” game. And while the team will bring the fire in the pitch and the fans will bring it in the stands, FCC’s culinary crew is bringing it in the kitchen and to the concessions with a special, one-night menu of spicy and smoky flavors.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s a lot of great things we have planned for you,” FCC Executive Chef Phillip Baxman said. “The team’s bringing the heat on the field, so we gotta bring the heat to our food.”

As a lover of spicy food and usually the one at the table of any given restaurant with my friends answering the question, “Is it spicy?” to guide them toward or away from a dish, I was excited to get to taste this upcoming menu and help fans decide if they can handle the heat.


Mango Habanero Wings

Heat Score: 9/10

These guys are sneaky. Your first bite into these tender boneless wings will trick you into thinking you’re just in for some sticky sweetness from the sauce’s mango, but the habanero kicked me in the mouth soon after and the slow burn took over. If you don’t want to break into a minor sweat in the middle of FCC’s match, these might not be for you. But fellow spicy food lovers, these are probably the hottest things you’ll find on the menu this weekend.

Located at Wings and Rings in Section 126

Avril-Bleh Footlong Hot Dog with Hellish Relish

Heat Score: 5/10

Avril-Bleh arguably has the best hot dogs in the city, so this dish is already a winner. The Hellish Relish is a chow-chow (a pickled relish) that features serrano peppers, jalapeños, turmeric and cauliflower. A little sweet, the relish pairs well with the plump, savory hot dog for a nice balance. The little kick from the peppers makes it accessible to people who enjoy a flavorful hot dog with their soccer match, as well as those seeking a bit of heat.

Located at Smokehaus in Section 114

Jalapeño Poppers

Heat Score: 6/10

These classic game-day snacks pair really well with a draft beer in the special “Hell is Real” Das Boot. These come in a really appetizing golden brown color, and the breading surrounding the interior cream cheese and jalapeño holds up well even as you bite into them, unlike some poppers that really just do pop everything everywhere. The cream cheese encases the jalapeño, meaning you can get both in one bite and avoid the nose-watering effects the peppers alone can bring.

Located at Frisch’s in Section 112

Chili Crisp Poutine

Heat Score: 5/10

If you like a little spice, but don’t want to be overwhelmed by it, try the Chili Crisp Poutine. It’s made with FCC’s traditional fries, but with an extra kick thanks to the chili crisp from local company CinSoy Foods and chili flakes. It’s then topped with aged cheddar, cheese curds and a really creamy smoked chicken gravy that keeps the dish from being too hot.

Located at Rhine Roost in Section 104

Mango Habanero Spicy Margarita

Heat Score: 8/10

Like its wing sauce counterpart, the Mango Habanero margarita fools you into thinking you’re just enjoying a fruity margarita until it reminds you that if hell is real, habaneros probably grow there. The initial sip is sweet and floral thanks to the mango-habanero combo, but the inevitable mouth tingle sets in soon after. But it’s not a drink to rush through like you would with a shot of whiskey. It’s meant to be savored and enjoyed, mouth-burning and all.

Located at the Coors Light Bar in Section 111 and Rhinegeist Bar in Section 131


(These are menu items only offered in TQL Stadium’s club areas).

Hell is Real Slider

Heat Score: 7/10

Baxman says this slider is his personal favorite on the menu. It’s a Blackhawk Farms burger on a Sixteen Bricks charcoal bun topped with mustard greens, a smoked pimento cheese spread and ghost pepper jam. Habanero hot sauce is then piped into the bun to give it even more heat. The charcoal bun is sweet and smoky and acts as a counter to all the heat in the cheese, jam and hot sauce. It’s a little more advanced in terms of spice, but it doesn’t quite give that continuous mouth-burn the other offerings with habanero do.

Located in the Suites & All Inclusive Clubs

Flamin’ Hot Pork Rinds

Heat Score: 7/10

If you love your snack foods, this guy is the king. These pork rinds are crispy and crackly and coated in one of the spicy food lovers’ all-time favorite: Flamin’ Hot Cheeto dust. Baxman says they grind down the Cheetos, dehydrate them and then add some of their own spices. The pork rinds are tossed in them as soon as they come out of the fryer. The mixture appears to absorb into the rind, meaning you don’t get that messy Cheetle effect of the dust sticking to your fingers. The oil from the rinds takes a little bit of the burn out of the Flamin’ Hots, but not too much.

Located in the Medpace Tunnel Club

Smoked Chicken Wings

Heat Score: 7/10

If the slider is Chef Baxman’s favorite, these smoked wings are mine. Baxman says the dry rub that goes onto the wings contains eight or nine different ingredients. The wings are then cold-smoked for two hours before being hot-smoked, and they never touch the deep fryer. Baxman says while deep frying adds a nice crisp, it also causes the wings to lose their flavor. And these wings are flavorful. The chicken is tender and moist (sorry, but it’s the best word for it) and the multi-ingredient dry rub adds layers of flavor, not just spiciness.

Located in the Suites & All Inclusive Clubs

Devil’s Food Cake

Heat Score: 0/10 (Flavor Score: 10/10)

No, this cake isn’t spicy, but it is sinfully decadent and probably the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted. The outside of the cake is layered with a rich chocolate ganache and topped with fresh berries. Inside is a creamy mousse. The cake is dense, and sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and I will dream about it for the rest of my life.

Located in the All Inclusive Clubs

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