By Chamoy City Limits

Where’s the chili? Not at many places in S.A.

In the city that made chili famous, few restaurants offer in SA

Chamoy City Limits, weekends 1-6 p.m. at 2809 Broadway, 210-744-0000, If you go, do it for the beautiful raspas and shaved ice because there’s no guarantee that hot chili will be on the menu on any given day of operation. But if it is, take comfort in the fact that you will enjoy an authentic local bowl that goes back to where it all started in the 1800s, made in its purest form with real chili peppers. (Prices vary according to chili-based offering)

When recreational historian Connor Delaney traveled from Dublin to soak up the history of the Alamo and mark it off his list of famous battlefields, it was a delight that made the flight across the pond worth it.

Except for one glaring omission.

“We’re not Texas experts in Ireland, but we all knew about the famous chili,” Delaney said while standing in front of the Alamo. “Been here two days now. I leave tomorrow and my belly is plenty full, but there’s no chili in it. Feel cheated a tad.”

Indeed, in the city that made chili famous more than a century ago, there’s not much of it on local restaurant menus. Trendy restaurants avoid it, so now the places that do offer it mostly are a few home-cooking spots — and an intrepid food truck operator.

So as it turns out, Delaney came to the right place, but at the wrong time.

In the decades that followed the fall of the Alamo and the beginning of Texas independence, the Alamo Plaza experience was a far different one. The public plazas of San Antonio were filled with outdoor vendors offering wares that included hearty fare of enchiladas, frijoles and giant pots of chili con carne, served by the women who became famous as the chili queens, who operated open-air stands until they were regulated out of existence by the 1940s.

Writer O. Henry, in his short story, “The Enchanted Kiss,” told of “the delectable chili con carne, a dish evolved by the genius of Mexico, composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chili colorado — a compound full of singular flavour and a fiery zest.”

During the heyday of the outdoor chili stands, a German immigrant named William Gebhardt who lived in New Braunfels transformed his fascination with Mexican food and spices into the first commercially available line of chili powder in 1896. The innovation allowed the meal to be made anywhere at any time.

The origins of chili go back to the Mesoamericans who stewed chiles with whatever proteins and vegetables they had available, while what we know as chili goes back to the hunting and cattle trails of South Texas and Northern Mexico, according to author and historian Melissa Guerra.

But it was perfected in San Antonio, where the cheap and filling meal blending random cuts of beef with an array of spices and peppers that later evolved to be recognized by the Texas legislature in a 1977 act as the official state dish.

Which raises the question — what the heck happened to chili in the San Antonio area when an Irishman can’t score a bowl of Texas history?

“It gets me worked up just thinking about it,” said Joe Nick Patoski, author, Texas historian, music host and occasional chili cookoff judge. “San Antonio has more ownership over chili than anybody. It should have persisted like the burrito or a hamburger, yet it lost its place.”

That isn’t the case throughout Texas, although authentic chili parlors are getting harder to find.

Kathleen Tolbert, daughter of the legendary Frank Tolbert, runs Tolbert’s Restaurant and Chili Parlor in Grapevine, between Dallas and Fort Worth. Frank’s 1966 book, “A Bowl of Red,” includes a recipe for “Original Texas Chili” that’s one of the most duplicated in the world.

Kathleen has been at the forefront of the Texas chili scene for 40 years, judging and sampling every chili variation you can imagine, and although her family’s restaurant is successful, she does see the decline of the famed dish.

“You do see less and less (chili parlors),” she said. “I can’t put my finger on why that is.”

Among San Antonio restaurants, chefs vie to create the best burgers, chicken fried steaks, enchiladas and other dishes. But none tout a classic bowl of Texas chili as the main reason to walk through the door.

Entrepreneur Ana Fernandez tried to change that in 2012 when she studied the history of the chili queens and used their story as motivation to open her food truck “The Institute of Chili.”

“That’s the whole reason why I started it — doing it more like an experiment to honor those women,” Fernandez said. “Nobody was doing chili. There was no chili scene.”

Fernandez dug in, studying the original recipes at the Institute of Texan Cultures and using that information as the foundation for her chili. It’s not an exact replica — she modernized some ingredients and added an additional flavor profile with smoked brisket — but she never took shortcuts.

“We start with whole peppers and dried peppers and don’t use powders,” Fernandez said. “I respect other people’s versions of chili, but I wanted to stay true to what was born here. We do have beans, and that can be looked at as a big no-no in Texas, but we serve them on the side because that was the way the chili queens would do it.”

The Institute of Chili was a rocking food truck, producing downtown late-night meals until 2 a.m. and working the scene with calorie bombs that mixed chili with burgers, fried eggs and everything in between. The chili gained national attention and received a lot of positive food press.

Then something else happened: Fernandez discovered that the fancy snow cones that she also offered were starting to gain a cult following. The money move was to transform the business into what is now Chamoy City Limits, and the chili offerings were relegated to catering jobs and occasional guest appearances.

“We had 3,500 (social media) followers with the Institute, but Chamoy has 35,000,” Fernandez, who regularly parks the truck at Lions Field. “You have to financially decide what you are putting your time into.”

Another culinary roadblock is that chili now is often relegated to more of a sidekick rather than the star of a meal. It’s the bedrock of Frito pies, and a scoop often is used to top plates of tamales and enchiladas to add an extra layer of flavor, but it’s no longer the star of the show.

“It fizzled into nothing more than a labor-intensive condiment,” Fernandez said.

Even though the classic bowl of chili isn’t readily available in San Antonio, sometimes finding it just takes a bit of local know-how.

Jim’s Restaurants regularly produces a top-selling bowl that’s rooted in history. When G. “Jim” Hasslocher opened his first Frontier Drive-In in 1947, the original menu offered the No. 4, a burger topped with a generous layer of housemade chili that also was sold as a stand-alone if requested.

Both items are still on the menu and selling well. Jim’s, and its affiliated Frontier Burger, sold more than 25,000 chili burgers and 17,000 bowls in 2016 alone, according to company officials.

“Our chili came out as a meat by-product of the trimming of our steaks,” said Jeff Morrow, Jim’s director of operations. “We like to call it ‘Cowboy Gumbo’ because in every bite you can get a little bit of rib-eye or a little bit of sirloin. It’s a hearty chili.”

The Jim’s recipe requires 2½ hours to cook and batches are made every other day.

Another nostalgic bowl option was created in 1949 at the original Luther’s Café and remains a menu staple at the new location at 1503 N. Main Ave. It’s just not advertised as the star of the show and — dare it be said? — serves as second fiddle to another stew.

“It’s an old-school recipe,” said Luther’s kitchen manager Allan Wooten. “One of the main reasons we do chili here is to use it as a base for our Irish beef stew. If we really wanted to go all out with chili, we would offer a version with beans and the works. But we would have to see proof there was a demand for it first.”

That could be coming.

Fresh takes — often using trendy labels such as “craft” and “artisan” — have been slapped on things such as cocktails, beer, cupcakes, BBQ and beyond.

Chili could be next.

“This is a part of our heritage as Texans, and it’s waiting to be exploited and showcased,” Patoski said. “Where are the smart-ass chefs that will stand up and say ‘You know what, I’m going to own chili?’”

Twitter: @chuck_blount