Posted on

By Jacob Klieger

Upstate New York cuisine is not known for its health benefits. In fact, most of these local delicacies seem to be engineered for consumption while deep in a drunken stupor. Rochester’s Garbage Plate – an amalgamation of your choice of meats, sauces, and sides – is the awe-inspiring pinnacle of drunk food. Buffalo’s wing has reached international status. When done correctly, the Frank’s Red Hot combines with the buttery chicken to create a savory, spicy, and beautiful combo when dipped in bleu cheese. (Dipping your wings in Ranch within Erie County is a punishable offense). Sure, you can cut up your Thousand Island 10-Year Aged Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese and pair it with your fine Finger Lakes wine, but Mike from Utica would much rather down some pizza logs and crush a Labbatt.

In the Southern Tier of Upstate New York, you will find a regional dish that has not escaped the winding river valleys and rolling hills. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is not extraordinary. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it’s not the most savory. Perhaps what makes it good is the fact that there isn’t anything really bad about it. The spiedie is traditionally made with chicken, pork, lamb, or beef. For all intents and purposes we will refer to the most common meat used: chicken. Diced meat is marinated in “spiedie sauce” then skewered in similar fashion to kebab and cooked on a grill. With appropriate charring, the meat is then gripped using Italian Bread and slid off the skewer, ready for eating. Appropriate sides are mac and potato salad. The spiedie is relatively healthy in comparison to other regional dishes. Not the best, but not as bad as a dish that can feed a kibbutz and titularly refers to itself as trash.

The nature of the spiedie is social. At most summertime family gatherings in Broome County, bowls of marinated chicken along with bare skewers and bags of Roma’s Italian Bread can be found next to a sizzling grill and a dad talking about “when IBM was here.” There’s even a festival named after the dish, but your energy and sanity is better spent going to LUMA.  Unlike most upstate dishes, the spiedie is typically not ordered at a restaurant or hots while out drinking. Lupo’s and Char Pit act as destination outlets with the sole purpose of fulfilling your spiedie needs, no more. From Raleigh to Rochester, “spiedie sauce” marinade can be found at Wegmans, providing a low-calorie flavor boost to your home cooked fish and meats. Salamida State Fair Lemon Garlic is a reliable choice, offering a bright and zesty profile without sacrificing leanness. 

After soberly consuming most upstate cuisine, it is not uncommon to feel a sense of lightheadedness, “food coma,” or even slight emotional dissatisfaction. It seems that there is a direct correlation between higher age and a higher percentage that this food – when consumed without alcohol – will be of detriment to your day. The spiedie, however, won’t. When eaten in proper portions spiedies can be downright refreshing. Keep in mind, if you load on the mac salad, or have a bag of Lupo’s fries on the side, you will inevitably feel like you just took an IV of pure grease to your jugular. Your best bet is to cook them yourself. If you don’t feel like dicing and marinating your own meat, you can find pre-packaged bags of spiedies at local grocery stores, butchers, or even online. Snag a bag of Roma’s Italian bread too. If you feel like time traveling, pick up a loaf at Battaglini’s Bakery on Oak Hill Ave in Endicott for an authentic Italian bakery experience. This will involve some commuting and effort, but the spiedie is at its best when it is home cooked.

The spiedie is an odd dish to have as your hometown staple. It’s an ambient food, never playing an extremely active role in the culture – in the way a bagel would to a Long Islander, or a wing to a Buffalonian. Nonetheless, the spiedie persists. Lurking in the background of Southern Tier social gatherings, patiently waiting on Main Street, and creating the demand for fresh baked Italian bread that will inevitably envelop it. The springtime will bring dads all around the region to fire up their grills and get to skewering. The diced meat will blend in with hot dogs and hamburgers as if they are equals. Why bother cooking up spiedies when you can just have burgers and hot dogs? Why bother marinting? Why bother skewering? Well, because the spiedie is not bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *