When Chris Serena had Cincinnati chili for the first time, he was not a fan. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Cincinnati-style chili was everywhere, slathered over spaghetti everywhere from dinner parties to restaurants, but he never really fell for the intricately-spiced meat sauce until he moved to Oregon. “When I was a kid, I really wasn’t into it — I had really bland taste,” Serena says. “I tried making it in my kitchen (as an adult) and went, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’”
For those unfamiliar, Cincinnati chili is a far cry from the chili spotted in diners and homes across Texas and the Southwest. Developed by Macedonian immigrants in the ‘20s, the sauce combines beef with warm spices like cinnamon and clove, often ladled over pasta with a pile of shredded cheese. Very few spots in the Portland area make it, outside of places like Slow Fox in Vancouver. Serena started to workshop his own version of the dish, which blends allspice, cinnamon, and clove with spices spotted in more widely known chili recipes, like chili powder and cayenne. Soon, diners will be able to try Serena’s version at a new food cart: Cascade Chili Co. opens in Milwaukie June 15, with beefy and vegan versions of the quintessential Midwestern dish.
The menu at Cascade Chili is simple: Customers can choose between meat-free or beef chili over spaghetti, with a number of potential add-ons: Shredded cheese, onions, beans, and, a particular favorite of Serena’s: chopped fresh garlic, a nod to Dixie Chili’s “six-way” preparation in Kentucky. Those turned off by the premise of chili and spaghetti will have choices of things like all-beef Coney dogs, topped with the traditional chili, mustard, onions, and cheese. Rounding out the menu are sides like Greek salad, chili-cheese fries, and tots.
The cart will open at the Milwaukie Station food carts, located at 11301 SE 21st Avenue in Milwaukie.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the new opening date for the cart.