one of my favorite books begins, "last night i dreamt i went to manderley again...". if i was to write a book, it could very easily begin:
"Last night, I dreamt I went to my grandfather’s drug store again. It seemed to me I stood by the glass topped candy case, and for a while I could not see behind the counter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of sudden supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the store before me. The aisles lined with cards and cold creams lay in front of me, straight and narrow as they had always been. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon the store. The dream was jumbling my memories, and was twisting the shadows with long tenacious fingers. The shelves were dusty and unfamiliar, the carpet worn. And finally, there was my grandfather – my grandfather - perched on his black leather stool patched with packing tape, smoking his pipe. Time could not mar the perfect recollection of this. Nighttime can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that I was a little girl again: eliciting satisfying pops from bubble wrap; sliding m and m's from pill counting trays into vials; running to the butcher to stock his refrigerator with bologna and liverwurst and cheese, dollar bills crumpled in my hand. Abruptly, sleep escaped me and the illusion went with it. I looked upon my dark bedroom, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. I can never go back to the drug store again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the days of my youth before the drug store became Mandalay Bay tanning salon."
the point of all this is next to my grandpa's drug store on rapid run road was/is empress chili. this chili parlor is another piece of my childhood memories. i always had a wiener bun with cheese; these were the days before i subjected myself to cincinnati chili. empress is the original cincinnati chili, founded in 1922. the spices are still mixed according to a secret family recipe.
a few weekends ago we were driving about aimlessly trying to decide on dinner. we happened to pass empress and decided to pull in. for me, it was not without a pang of nostalgia. i had not eaten there since my grandpa retired and the drug store closed in 1992.
similar to every chili parlor on the westside, the walls of empress are bedecked with elder paraphernalia. the tablecloths are vinyl, the flowers are faux. the menu at empress is more extensive than skyline, but less so than price hill chili. as i was absolutely starving, i ordered a chilito and a cheeseburger.
the chilito was pretty typical. i always feel there is too much tortilla and not enough filling. however, the chili was delicious. drier than skyline and more zesty, i think empress may become my new favorite cincinnati chili. although brian disagreed. he still prefers skyline.the burger was so-so, an average patty cooked for the median palate (a 3.5 out of 6 on the burger scale). but look at all those pickles and the wavy husman chips!the stop at empress was a wonderful trip down memory lane, one i will repeat. the chili is great, the ambiance quintessential westside, and the crackers are shur-good. maybe next time we'll stop by after a high school football game. too bad my grandpa isn't around to join us.