I love chili, and every year when fall rolls around, I feel like I want to do three things: make chili, eat chili and write about chili. Not necessarily in that order.
Back in June or July, however, I saw a sign outside of Rush Inn at 1801 Brownsboro Road, which is just a few blocks from my house, touting “bourbon chili.” Bourbon? Hmmm. But it was in the dead of summer, and my body really wanted sushi before it wanted a bowl of steaming hot chili.
So I waited. July was hot; August was hotter. September came, and it didn’t cool off all that much, even with the arrival of falling leaves and football. But finally things cooled off just a bit this past Friday, so I hoofed it down to Rush Inn to give this bourbon chili thing a try.
It was really good.
Owner-bartender Jeff was more than happy to fix me up with a bowl, which comes in a generous portion with a few packs of saltine crackers. The stuff was served nice and hot — but not too hot — with big chunks of tomato and ground chuck poking from the dark red broth.
I dug my spoon into it, and came up with spiral pasta, a nod to Louisville-style chili, which typically uses spaghetti as a pasta filler. Fresh cut onions and plump pinto beans, also standards, were plentiful as well.
I took my first bite, wondering just how much of a bourbon kick I’d get, and it was actually more subtle than I had suspected it might be. That said, the bourbon chili is a bit more spicy than the regular chili Rush Inn has served for years; some of that was clearly black pepper, but some of it also might owe to the addition of bourbon.
I asked Jeff what bourbon he uses, and he said he put a pint of Maker’s Mark into the batch I was tasting. I asked him if he recommended eating the chili with a shot of Maker’s as a sidecar, and his response was enthusiastic. “Hell, yes,” he said.
Set me up, Jeff.
Set me up he did, and what I found was that a sip of the bourbon (which was served chilled) followed by a heaping spoonful of chili was a combo that helped the mind more readily find the bourbon flavors in the chili. It was perceptible before, just not front and center. But a sip of Maker’s does the trick in terms of opening up the more subtle flavors. It was quite a curious bourbon pairing, and one I’d never considered.
But getting back to chili being a cool weather food, the Rush Inn bourbon chili is wonderfully warming with each bite. You feel it all the way to your gullet, after which a warm sensation permeates your stomach and chest. Add actual bourbon to that, and that warmth is all-encompassing with the finish of the whiskey.
I told Jeff how my palate perceived the bourbon in the chili, and he wondered aloud if he might need to use more in future batches. I’m not sure, but experimenting with chili and bourbon isn’t the worst way to spend a fall afternoon, right?
Also, I want to mention that the portion is just right for a light dinner. Suffice to say, if you pair a sandwich with a bowl of this stuff, such as a Rush Inn mushroom and Swiss burger, make sure you arrive hungry. You can also get the stuff to go — hot, cold or frozen — if you want to sit in front of the TV for a football game while you enjoy it.
And hey, Rush Inn is one of the best spots in town for karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights, with one of the best karaoke systems (48,000 songs!) in town. Get a bowl of that chili in you as well as a shot (or two) of Maker’s, and you’ll be singing like Sinatra. Or at least Trini Lopez.