A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 07, 2007
Chili Gravy (Chile Gravy)

"Chili gravy” (or “chile gravy") has been called the soul of Tex-Mex. It’s popularly served with enchiladas (and is sometimes called “enchilada sauce"), but is served with tamales and other dishes as well. The brown gravy with Mexican spices has been described as neither truly American nor Mexican. Chili gravy is said to have been invented by Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants, such as those in San Antonio.

“Chili gravy” is cited in print from at least the 1890s. “Chili gravy” was sold in cans by the early 1900s.


13 May 1896, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pg. 8:
Last night a gentleman ordered some scrambled eggs with chile gravy and asked the waiter to hurry. Accordingly the cook was instructed to “shipwreck Adam and Eve in the Red sea: railroader.”

13 July 1896, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune:
Make that ‘chili gravy,’ The old-fashioned enchilada sauce that made this local institution called Bill’s. (...} The distinctive thing about the place is its “chili gravy,” an ...

18 March 1898, San Antonio (TX) Daily Light, pg. 7, col. 2:
RUNAWAY RESTAURANT
A Mexican tamale and chile vender in a two-wheeled cart suffered a serious loss, by reason of his horse becoming frightened and running away on Main avenue near Rodriguez street last night. The cart was wrecked and all the tamales and chile gravy were spilled on the ground.

Google Books
Thomas’ Wholesale Grocery and Kindred Trades Register
New York, NY: Thomas Publishing Company
1899
Pg. 803:
Frijoles with Chili Gravy

30 October 1904, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 6, col. 4 ad:
Walker’s Goods.
(...)
Baked Beans
Tomato Sauce and Chili Gravy.

27 August 1905, Daily Express (TX), pg. 27 ad:
ARE your neighbors how they like Matthews’ roast beef without bone: on 10c pound, with that delicious plain or chile gravy, which is the pure juice of the meat poured over after roast is made.
(Little Red Grocery—ed.)

24 July 1906, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 7 ad:
Walker’s Pork and Beans, with chili gravy, can, 5c

15 August 1906, New York (NY) Times, pg. 3, col. 5 ad:
PORK AND BEANS.
Walker’s, with Tomato Sauce and Chile Gravy; something delicious. Regular 10c can...7c

19 October 1907, San Antonio (TX) Gazette, pg. 12, col. 4:
Delicious hot roast beef without bone with plain of chili gravy only 20c a pound, Matthews’ Delicatessen, 111 W. Houston St. Phones, 2807. 

11 July 1909, San Antonio (TX) Light and Gazette, pg. 14, col. 2:
Delicious refreshments, consisting of home made tamales, chile gravy, soda water, lemonade and different kinds of cake were served on a nicely decorated table out on the lawn. 

Google Books
Handy Household Hints and Recipes
by Mattie Lee Wehrley
Louisville, KY: The Breckel Press
1916
Pg. 114:
Enchilada Sauce.
Two large onions, minced fine, fry in butter till done (do not brown), one pound best cheese, grated finely, one teaspoon chili powder or the pulp from four dry chili, softened in boiling water, one and one-half pints of hot water, salt and pepper. Turn into onions, thicken with one heaping tablespoon flour, stirred in a little cold water; pour this sauce over toast, rice, Macaroni or boiled fish.

5 January 1916, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pg. 3 ad:
Mexican Tamales, with Chili Gravy...15c
(Dimitri & Ninich—ed.)

Google Books
Diplomatic Days
by Edith O’Shaughnessy
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
1917
Pg. 328:
Turkey stew with Chile Gravy.
Recipe for the famous “mole de guajolote”

Google Books
The Food of Texas:
Authentic Recipes from the Lone Star State
by Caroline Stuart
Tuttle Publishing
2000
Pg. 16:
Tex-Mex in Dallas was originally pretty simple: enchilada or tamales with what Texans call chile gravy, rice, beans, and, almost exclusively, cron tortillas, plus a praline for dessert.

The Tex-Mex Cookbook
by Robb Walsh
New York, NY: Broadway Books
2004
Pg. 74:
CHILI GRAVY
The lifeblood of old-fashioned Tex-Mex, chili gravy is a cross between Anglo brown gravy and Mexican chili sauce. It was invented in Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants like the Original.

1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth or water (...)

Live Search Books
American Regional Cuisine
by The Art Institutes
Second Edition
Hoboken, NJ: John WIley & Sons Publishing
2006
Pg. 314:
Cheese Enchiladas
This chili gravy is essential for enchiladas, tamales, and a host of other Tex-Mex dishes. The taste of chili gravy explains Tex-Mex cuisine more eloquently than words ever will. The thick brown gravy with Mexican spices is neither Mexican nor American. It wasn’t created in the homes of Texas Mexicans, either. It was invented in old-fashioned Mexican restaurants that catered to Anglo tastes. But what’s amazing about it today is the way it illustrates how our tastes have changed.

Homesick Texan
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The essence of Tex-Mex
(...)
What makes these enchiladas so special? It’s the chili gravy, a Tex-Mex classic and said by Robb Walsh, the expert on all things Tex-Mex, to be the essence of the cuisine itself. (And if you don’t have Walsh’s definitive tome on the subject, The Tex Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos, buy it now—it’s a must-have for all homesick Texans or fans of Texan cooking.)

Chili gravy is a mash-up between flour-based gravy and Mexican chile sauce. It’s a smooth and silky substance, redolent with earthy cumin, smoky chiles and pungent garlic. It’s not fiery, as it was originally created by Anglos, but it does have flavor. And there’s no meat in chili gravy—it’s just fat, flour, chicken broth and spices.

If you eat Tex-Mex outside of the state, the lack of this chili gravy is what makes the food taste wrong. It took me a long time to crack the Tex-Mex code, but when I found this recipe and made it for the first time, it was an epiphany: this was the flavor I’d been searching for.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, December 07, 2007 • Permalink