11th annual food festival brings new spins on classic cowboy dish

By Maura Wery

On Saturday, people went to Aggieville to get their fill — of chili that is. The 11th-annual Little Apple Optimist Club Chili Crawl featured all kinds of chili recipes from restaurants in Aggieville. No two chilies were exactly alike. Even those that used similar ingredients had different spices,  making each dish a new culinary ride.

From the nine restaurants that participated, there were three front runners (for me, at least), and they all used different meats and ingredients than the traditional beef version. Not that beef chili is a bad thing; a beef chili can be done really well, but these chilies stood out for their differences.

Wahoo Fire & Ice Grill

Wahoo had a bison chili and a chicken verde chili. Both were deviations from the traditional beef chili, and co-owner and chef Darin Eible was going for exactly that.

“We really wanted to go with a local feel with the chilies,” Eible said. “I wanted to utilize local ingredients, and I wanted to be different.”

Different is definitely what came out in the two chilies. The bison chili, made with lean bison meat from Plumlee Buffalo Ranch, dark stout beer, and essences of chocolate and cinnamon, was spicy, rich and full-bodied. The chili had no beans or tomato products,  so there was a real emphasis on the meat and the ingredients that Eible used to complement its flavor.

The chicken chili verde was a whole other flavor experience. The white chili featured chicken, green chilies and spices that made it spicier than the bison version. It also wasn’t as heavy which was nice after the richness of the bison chili.

The complex flavors show a culinary expertise in Eible but this isn’t exactly his first rodeo either. Eible was a chef at the chili crawl champion Coco Bolos for many years before moving to both co-own and cook at Wahoo.

“I just wanted to bring my essence here,” Eible said. And he definitely did.

Wahoo was the winner of the chili crawl, knocking off favorite and five -time winner Coco Bolos.


Bluestem Bistro

Bluestem’s chili was the only beef chili that stood out ingredient wise. Most beef chilies include either pinto or kidney beans along with a tomato sauce, crushed or diced tomatoes and ground beef.

Bluestem’s was the best of the beef chilis by far.

Most of the beef chilies had all the traditional components but lacked flavor and spice.

Bluestem’s chili was thick, rich and spicy, which was a nice surprise.

Another nice surprise was the use of black beans, rather than the traditional kidney or pinto beans, and also corn.

The corn gave a nice textural contrast to the chili and a little bit of sweetness.

The chili itself was simple ingredient-wise, but having simple ingredients and a nice spice base made the chili a nice contrast from the rest of the beef chilies.


Coco Bolos

Coco Bolos was the defending chili champion of Aggieville, the restaurant has won five out of the past six contests and it’s no surprise why.

The restaurant features chili verde on its menu and a tailgate chili that is special to the crawl.

Their chilies are different. The chili verde is a spicy mixture of chilies and tops many of the items on the menu.

“It’s made so the Mexican flavors can really come through,” general manager Mark Rosen said.

The tailgate chili is the real kicker of the two.

Instead of using the traditional ground beef, Coco Bolos use a braised pork shoulder.

It makes the chili richer and gives it a different texture than beef. Diners also could add cheese, Fritos and white onion to give it a little extra pop of flavor.

The key to success, much like Wahoo’s, is being a bit different.

“You have to be different. It makes people remember you,” Rosen said. “It’s so people won’t be eating the same thing over and over again.”


Overall favorite

My favorite was the chicken chili verde from Wahoo Fire & Ice Grill. I have a soft spot for any type of green chili and I found its to be spicy, rich and flavorful.  I also enjoyed how much love the chef had for the product he was putting out to the public.

When a chef has a real depth of knowledge and passion for the food he produces, it translates to the plate. I feel Wahoo’s chili did this perfectly, and from the moment I tasted it, the chicken chili verde was a quick front-runner.

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