A bowl of red

When you think of chili in Texas, you think of Frank X. Tolbert.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Tolbert, who died of heart failure in January 1984 at age 71. But I had read his Dallas Morning News columns in the years prior to his death, and I have a special place in my heart for guys who start out writing about sports and move up to writing about food (sounds familiar).

Tolbert was born in Amarillo. He began his newspaper career as a student at Texas Tech when he was hired to write sports for the Avalanche-Journal in Lubbock. He went on to write sports for newspapers in Wichita Falls, Amarillo and Fort Worth.

When World War II began, Tolbert enlisted in the Marines at age 29 and became a combat correspondent for the official Marine publication, Leatherneck. He later would serve as that publication’s Washington-based managing editor.

Tolbert joined the Morning News staff in 1946 and began writing his “Tolbert’s Texas” column soon thereafter. He also would write two Western novels and a number of nonfiction books. His most popular book, “A Bowl of Red,” was published in 1962. The book was devoted to chili.

Tolbert established the Chili Appreciation Society International, which is based in the West Texas ghost town of Terlingua. In 1967, Tolbert and Wick Fowler began the World Chili Championship. The event is still held the first Saturday of November each year in Terlingua, which is just west of the Big Bend National Park and just north of the Mexican border.

In 1976, Tolbert opened a restaurant in Dallas that specialized in chili.

The late Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus department store fame had this to say about Tolbert: “Frank will be remembered as a journlist, as the chili aficionado who helped elevate this dish to its present position in Southwestern cuisine, as a writer of books, and above all, as a warm human being who probably never heard a good story he didn’t like.”

In my book, that’s a pretty good way to be remembered.

The recent bout of cold weather has me craving chili. And it leads me to ask for your help. In the Comments section please:

1. Tell me the restaurants in Arkansas where one can get a really good bowl of chili.

2. Share your favorite chili recipe.

3. Let me know when and where to find the best chili cooking contest in Arkansas.

4. Let me know if real chili should contain beans or not.

I need to become more educated on the Arkansas chili culture. Thanks to Frank X. Tolbert, I know more about Texas chili than Arkansas chili.

Tolbert’s son, Frank X. Tolbert II, is an artist. His daugher, Kathleen Tolbert Ryan, reopened Tolbert’s Restaurant in May 2006 in downtown Grapevine in a building constructed in 1911. I regret that my busy schedule of Cotton Bowl duties did not allow me to try out the restaurant even though I was just down the road for eight nights at the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Irving.

It’s your turn now. Send me those restaurant names. Send me those recipes (Kay, I know you are a great cook). Send me those chili cooking contest dates. Beans or no beans?

6 Responses to “A bowl of red”

  1. Toby Simmons says:

    Well I know I’m low rent but I don’t think you can much beat Wick Fowler’s mix with ground beef, then add two cans of chili hot beans, Mexican stewed tomatoes, then just before it’s done, put in half a block of cubed Velveta; pour over tortillas and top with salad and a dab of sour cream! Easy and gooooood!

  2. rexnelson says:

    You’re making me hungry, Toby, and it is only 8 a.m.

    I still need some Arkansas restaurants with good chili — Rex

  3. Ralph Eubanks says:

    I prefer to make my own chili, which coincidentally, is based loosely on Frank Tolbert’s old Texas chili recipe. But when I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to commit an entire afternoon to chili-making, I get a quart of chili to go from Izzy’s restaurant here in west Little Rock. It’s pretty tasty, although not quite spicy enough for me. That can be easily remedied, though, with a teaspoon of Cayenne pepper or some Tabasco.

  4. rexnelson says:

    Ralph: Izzy’s it is! I will give it a try — Rex

  5. Andy Glover says:

    I also think Wick Fowler’s is hard to beat, but I add an interesting twist – I cook the meat on the grill. Take a disposable aluminum cake pan, place it on a folded dish towel, and with the point of a knife, completely perforate the bottom of the pan. Fire up the grill and cook your 2 pounds of ground chuck in the pan on the grill.

    I use all the ingredients in the 2 Alarm kit, except for the masa, and add 8 oz. of tomato sauce, 2 cans of Ro-Tel, and two cans of Bush’s chili beans. I also add more chili powder, red pepper, and cumin. This is done Justin Wilson style – I just put it in – no measuring.

  6. rexnelson says:

    That sounds great, Andy. Thanks for sharing — Rex

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