What do you get when you take a smaller-than-average hot dog that doesn't claim to be "all-beef," meat sauce that claims to be chili, raw chopped onions, mustard, and a mound of shredded cheese? Answer: An unsatisfying, repugnant wiener called "The Cheese Coney."
Made by Skyline Chili, which opened its doors in 1949, The Cheese Coney uses "secret ingredients" that in my opinion, should have remained secret. As in: Whoever came up with the recipe should have kept it completely to themselves. The Cheese Coney accomplishes a flatulent flavor while managing to not quell the appetite of even the least hungry eater. In a word: Inedible.
This abominable dog sells for $5.50 at the Cincinnati Reds' Great American Ball Park. That's a full $3 more than at one of Skyline Chili's many Cincinnati-area locations. Yet even for $2, it provides about as much caloric value and snacking pleasure as a celery snow cone in Antarctica. There's simply no point to it. Why would anyone take a low quality small hot dog, and cover it in low quality chili? If you're going to make a chili dog that tastes good, the most important step you can take is to use high quality ingredients, especially when it comes to the dog itself. Without a good wiener, there's not much hope for a pleasurable experience.
First of all, even people from the Nati will tell you that the "chili" is really a meat sauce. After all, one of the chili's main usages at Skyline is as a topping for spaghetti, which can be ordered as a 3- 4- or 5-Way. 3-Way is chili and shredded cheddar cheese, 4 adds beans OR onions, and 5 adds beans AND onions. So the consistency of the chili Skyline cooks up is more akin to what you might find at an Italian restaurant in a spaghetti and meat sauce dish instead of on a hot dog. And you certainly would never eat a bowl of Skyline chili, at least not if you remotely value yourself as a human being.
The Cheese Coney does taste better at the restaurant, because one of the main issues I had with the chili at GABP was that I could tell it had been frozen. I personally make a mean chili. People have said it's among the best chili they've ever eaten! But if I freeze some of it, the meat becomes gritty. It still tastes good, but the consistency is wrong. This is also the case with the Chili on the Coneys at Great American Ball Park. Well, except for the tasting good part.
Rumor has it that one of the "secret ingredients" of the chili is chocolate, which I have also used in my own chili from time to time while experimenting. If that is the case, it's the most blatant misuse of chocolate since Augustus Gloop was sucked up in Willy Wonka's chocolate river tube, forcing the Oompa Loompas to drain the river for contamination. If chocolate is present, I certainly don't taste it. In fact, you could cover the entire Coney in hot fudge and it still wouldn't make up for the non-all-beef hotdog bathing in the gritty meat sauce.
When a hot dog is not "all-beef," my mind tends to wander about what might be in it. This never proves to be a particularly appetizing thought experiment. Pig lips? Squirrel tail? Gapper the Reds mascot's mutant cousin "Crapper"? Who knows?! Plus, I like a salty dog, and to my tastes Thom Brennaman was saltier broadcasting the last Reds homestand against the Cubs than this flavorless frank. The mini wiener lacks snap and crunch due to its languidly steamed skin, and the taste, mercifully mostly hidden by the unfortunately seasoned chili and artery clogging mound of shredded cheddar cheese, can be best described by the word "Blah." Add chopped onions that I didn't notice and you have yourself one doozy of a bad chili dog.
I've eaten a Cheese Coney before and it had its function. One at Great American Ballpark when I needed to be less drunk, and one at one of Skyline's franchises. The Cheese Coney was passable at the restaurant, mostly for its nostalgic atmosphere and sense of history. But the ingredients also seemed fresher than decomposing in one of GABP's steam basins.
Enjoying eating can sometimes have more to do with your environment and who you are with. My girlfriend Nicole is from Cincy and sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night craving her hometown Nati chili and the Cheese Coney. To my sensibilities, the only way one could enjoy the Coney would be if there were some sort of nostalgia mixed up in the ignominious ingredients. But Americans tend to be emotional eaters, and any flavor associated with your childhood can hit your heart strings while hitting your stomach. But it certainly makes me happy and proud to be from Chicago, where my heart and stomach can refill and reminisce over a Chicago Style.