A young Tim Lambrinides, great-grandson of Skyline Chili founder Nicholas Lambrinides, mentally prepares himself for his familial rite of passage. Fidgeting nervously in his chair, he watches his grandfather teetering on a stepladder, retrieving the coveted article from its display case. Climbing down from his perch, Grandpa Lambrinides carefully cradles the shiny object in his arms like a newborn baby.
“This is your birthright, Tim,” he says sternly, lovingly. “It symbolizes our family’s hard work and sacrifice in creating businesses that helped define Cincinnati itself. I pass it down to you with the hope that you will continue this tradition, that you will honor what it represents, respect its importance and carry on our legacy responsibly.” With that, Grandpa proudly sets the gleaming silver chili ladle into Tim’s outstretched hands.
This is but a happy fiction I’d conjured over a tall mound of chicken chili at Silver Ladle, Tim’s latest restaurant venture. And while the Lambrinides are no longer directly involved in the Skyline Chili franchises, there’s no doubt the family’s entrepreneurial spirit lives on.
Tim Lambrinides, who also serves as general manager for his father’s West Side restaurant, Nick & Tom’s, opened Silver Ladle on Sixth Street back in March, with a grand opening celebration coinciding with last month’s 2012 World Choir Games. The new “fast casual” restaurant serves a variety of hearty sandwiches, a dozen soups, fresh salads, gluten-free options and, of course, its own twist on Cincinnati-style chili and coneys.
Silver Ladle doesn’t advertise its chili in the traditional sense: there are no “3-, 4- or 5-ways” explicitly labeled on the menu.
Instead, diners are invited to build their $6.99 chili meals in a three-step format: 1) Choose a base of spaghetti, mixed greens, battered French fries, an open-faced, “fork-and-knife” coney or a burrito; 2) Select the more familiar beef-based Cincinnati chili or the Nick & Tom’s-inspired chicken chili; 3) Finally, add any or all of the available toppings, including sour cream, Cuban black bean soup, diced jalapenos, onions and cheddar cheese.
Of all the combinations, I prefer the Chicken Chili served over either spaghetti or the hearty fork-and-knife coney. The shredded chicken and tomatoes work surprisingly well with the slightly modified chili recipe, complementing that distinctive cinnamon kick locals love. Ladle’s al dente spaghetti exhibits all the best Skyline hallmarks, while the large beef frank cut lengthwise makes the fork-and-knife coney one of the better downtown lunch deals.
Burger fans will be happy to see a stout lineup of five “stuffed” burgers, each showcasing an impressive array of “fillings” served on fluffy, honey Kaiser buns. To those familiar with the Minneapolis “Juicy Lucy” burgers or those from the defunct “Stuffed On Vine” restaurant in Over-The-Rhine, Silver Ladle’s “stuffed” moniker may seem a bit of a misnomer. Fillings are sandwiched between two separate patties rather than being fully entombed inside a single patty. Still, the flavors are all there, even if the diner loses that surprise explosion of molten-hot, gooey cheese.
On each table rests a tall, plastic carafe of oyster crackers. Through the aid of tightly sealed lids and frequent turnover, the crackers manage to stay fresh and crisp. Most people will have the good sense to tilt the carafe and sprinkle the crackers over their meal, but a minority out there would no doubt reach inside with their bare hands, if given the chance. Fortunately, the carafe’s narrow-necked design effectively prevents that.
The ambitious list of a dozen soups aims to satisfy many tastes, including several that are safe for the gluten-free crowd, a rarity, as most soups use wheat as a chief thickening agent. The Buffalo Chicken Wing soup is a particular favorite, adding just enough spicy tickle to the back of the throat, accompanied by the subtle hint of blue cheese and texturally pleasing bits of celery. Soup prices are a bit on the steep side, though: $5.49 for an ample bowl or $3.49 for a shallow, diminutive cup better suited for dipping sauces.
The five sandwich offerings ($5.99-$6.99) are far from skimpy, each piled high with fillings and served on either a toasted telera or pretzel roll. The Silver Ladle Sandwich, with pan-roasted turkey breast, bacon, tomato and chipotle aioli mayo, is a delicious upgrade to the standard club. Their capicola and salami-packed Muffaletta, with its tangy olive relish, is a solid tribute to a New Orleans classic.
Go: 580 Building on Sixth Street between Main and Walnut
Hours: 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday