Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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Food & Drink: Chef opens Midwestern chili parlor in downtown Vancouver

5 Photos
Red-Eyed Boar Chili with pickled shiitake mushrooms at Slow Fox Chili Parlor.
Red-Eyed Boar Chili with pickled shiitake mushrooms at Slow Fox Chili Parlor. Rachel Pinsky Photo Gallery

Can a fox be slow? Will a Cincinnati chili parlor work in the Pacific Northwest? These are some of the many mysteries of Slow Fox Chili Parlor, which recently opened in the Columbia Food Park on Seventh Street between Main and Broadway in downtown Vancouver.

Derek Saner, chef and owner of Slow Fox, fell in love with food service while attending art school and working at the Chart House in Newport, Ky.

“I had a knack for it. I loved going to work, going into battle and succeeding and being part of a family,” he said.

Saner attended the Midwest Culinary Institute, then worked at Orchids at Palm Court, a fine-dining restaurant in the swanky Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, where chef Todd Kelly was shaking up the Cincinnati food scene.

Saner moved to Portland and became chef at Screen Door in Portland and sous chef at Mingo West in Beaverton. The move to the Pacific Northwest didn’t erase Saner’s love for his hometown fare. Though he frequently moved around the Cincinnati area during his childhood, “there was always a chili parlor in my life,” he explained.

The slow in Slow Fox has many meanings. Most of the menu at Slow Fox is food that has been slow cooked: chili, ribs, meatloaf. It also refers to the slow food movement, which focuses on locally grown produce and taking time to share and enjoy a meal. The fox part is a throwback to his teenage years when a good looking girl was called a fox.

Midwest and Pacific Northwest cultures collide at this chili parlor. Chili mac caused some confusion. Midwest transplants think of chili mac as chili over pasta with some shredded cheese. (Chef Saner served it over penne.) But natives of the Pacific Northwest believe it’s chili over macaroni and cheese. Saner developed a sturdy, baked mac-and-cheese that he could grill to get a crispy outside and creamy inside, then top with chili. The Midwest version and the Pacific Northwest version of chili mac will stay on the menu for now.

The specials are always interesting. On one visit, the special was Saner’s Cincinnati chili with the choice of three-way (spaghetti covered with chili and topped with cheese), four-way (three-way with diced onions or beans) and five-way (three-way with both diced onions and beans). I got the five way. I mixed the shredded cheddar cheese into the warm noodles. The heat of the noodles and chili melted everything together into a decadent Cincinnati Bolognese. The chili, with its mix of warm flavors (cinnamon, chocolate) and spice (chili powder, paprika) was more Greek Isles than cowboy campfire.

On another visit, I tried the vegan option: Louie’s Lentils. Louie, Saner’s 5-year-old nephew in Kentucky, is a picky eater and Saner guesses that he would turn his nose up at his namesake chili. But all the non-Louies will find these lentils (thickened with tomatoes, yams and kale) proof that vegan comfort food isn’t an oxymoron.

On a third visit, Saner set up some speakers to fill the food park with blues, Motown and old-school soul. The special was a rich red-eyed boar chili with bacon, tomato, Relevant coffee, red wine and peppers topped with tangy and chewy pickled slices of shiitake mushrooms and a sprinkling of crimson parsley.

All menu items are in the $5 to $10 range and served quickly.

Saner summed up his hopes for this chili window: “My end goal is that people come in and they’ll trust that there’s love in this food and that it’ll be tasty.”

If You Go

What: Slow Fox Chili Parlor.

Where: Columbia Food Park, 108 E. Seventh St., Suite B, Vancouver.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday. 

Contact: 360-721-0634;