Since 1974, Nick's Chili Parlor in Indianapolis has been serving up some of the best chili dogs in the city. Located near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (see map), Nick's has garnered a number of awards over the years for having the best chili dog/hot dog in the Indy area.
While opening up a new dealer in the Indianapolis area recently, I was talking to one of the sales guys at the dealership. We got to talking about "road food" and some of the fun things to find on the road. He mentioned that he used to live in Cincinnati and I told him I had an affinity for Cincinnati-style chili dogs. He told me that he thought Nick's had the best chili dogs in either Cincinnati or Indianapolis. He said, "Before you leave town today, you really need to stop by and give one a try. Then call me and let me know what you think."
Nick's began over 30 years ago when Nick Ferris (right) and his father, who both had been in the wholesale food business, recognized a need for a good ol' fashioned chili parlor in Indianapolis. They opened up the restaurant and began serving their chili from a recipe Nick worked with and perfected. They also serve a number of other items from their menu including burgers, chicken sandwiches and an Indiana staple - the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, which they call "The Bun Buster".
Although Nick's Chili Parlor borders a not-so-nice area of Indy, the big building with a big parking lot came up on my left as I was heading down Lafayette Rd. I pulled in and went inside to order. There, I saw a sign that said Nick's was "The Home of the 'Not Yet World Famous' Chili". I thought it was pretty clever, since a lot of chili places call their chili "World Famous".
I ordered two chili dogs, one with cheese and one without. I got a small drink and took my chili dogs back to a counter along a window and sat down to give 'em a try.
Nick's chili is not like Cincinnati-style chili where they have a hint of chocolate and cinnamon in the mix. It's more of a conventional chili, but not too spicy and with no beans. It didn't seem to have the hearty chili powder flavor to it, either. But with the hot dogs, which were meaty and had a nice "snap" to them when you bit into them, it was a great combination.
But like Cincinnati-style chili dogs, adding the shredded mild cheddar cheese to them really detracted from the taste of the chili and hot dog. I definitely liked the one without cheese much better. And I wasn't full afterwards - the hot dogs at Nick's aren't that big. But for a late afternoon snack (4:30 p.m.), it was enough to keep me satiated for the ride back home.
There used to be a place in downtown Indianapolis called Hard Times Cafe, an old fashioned chili joint chain from out east. They served four different types of chili - Cincinnati-style, Texas-style, Terlingua-style (which is more spicy than regular Texas-style), and Vegetarian. Hard Times was one of those place that called their chili "World Famous." I'm sure his chili "Not Yet World Famous" was a poke by Nick toward Hard Times.
Hard Times had a good chili dog - a huge 1/4 pound hot dog smothered with your choice of chili. It was good, but I think I like Nick's better. Although I'm sort of sad that Hard Times is gone, I'm glad I found Nick's. Even with some of the other Cincinnati chains in the greater Indianapolis area, I'll go back to Nick's if I need a chili dog fix when I'm in Indy.