Johnnie Lega’s Chili


By Gloria Pitzer – As seen in…Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 56)

‘The Working Man’s Palace’ was the name Pearl Beach had given to Johnnie Lega’s Bar when we lived near there for nearly 12 years. It was known around the world. Once, when Julia Lega was traveling in Europe, she was sitting in a train station in Spain where she struck up a conversation with another American who asked her what part of ‘The States’ was she from. Julia assured him that he had probably never heard of it – the town was so small; but, when she said, ‘Pearl Beach, Michigan,’ the American replied, ‘Johnnie Lega’s Bar!’

He was from the East Coast but had never forgotten his one visit through Pearl Beach area and a memorable bowl of chili at Lega’s! We were all so saddened when Johnnie passed away from cancer. But everyone can still enjoy his unique chili recipe. You have no idea how long it took me to duplicate this recipe. Johnnie never used a measuring utensil, and it came out perfect every day! I observed him making his famous dish, jotting down everything he put in the kettle – it was months later and many failures before even HE had to admit, I had it right on target!


2 pounds ground beef (chuck preferred)

1 small onion, the size of an egg

1 green bell pepper, seeds removed

5 ribs celery, sliced paper thin

1-quart water

6-ounces tomato paste

½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon oregano powder

2 tablespoons vinegar

2-pound can red kidney beans, un-drained

12-ounce can of light beer


Brown the beef in a large hot skillet without adding any oil or shortening. Chuck ground beef has enough fat in it. Chop the onion and pepper and add to the beef, stirring and cooking until the onions get transparent. Add celery, water, tomato paste, garlic, chili and oregano powders. Stir well, cover and turn heat to low. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Then, add Johnnie’s ‘secret’ ingredient – the vinegar – followed by the un-drained can of beans and the beer. Cover and simmer gently for about 1 hour. Leftovers taste even better the second day! Unfortunately, it doesn’t freeze well. Makes 8 servings.

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Fall into Cleaning

By TheRecipeDetective

Hi! I'm Laura Emerich and Gloria Pitzer, the ORIGINAL Secret Recipe Detective, is my mom. This website is lovingly dedicated to her memory and legacy.

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