New Yorkers have embraced regional foods like Texas barbecue, Nashville hot fried chicken, Cajun/Creole fare, and Southwestern cuisines. But when it comes to finding the regional specialties of upstate New York — with the exception of Buffalo wings — the city invariably comes up short. Here are some rare upstate specialties and where to find them in the five boroughs.
Beef on Weck
German or Austrian bakers were responsible for introducing the kimmelweck to Buffalo, a round roll topped with salt and caraway seeds. It was piled high with roast beef and dressed with horseradish to make the sandwich that’s now fondly known as beef on weck. Find it, along with other Buffalo specialties such as Sahlen Packing Company franks, fried pierogies, and thick, thick chocolate milkshakes at Buffalo’s Famous, a lunch counter in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park South. 1111 Church Avenue, Kensington, 347-425-0134
The name “garbage plate” has been trademarked by Nick Tahou Hots, a Greek lunch counter in downtown Rochester, but every bar and college hangout in town serves it. The belt-busting platter varies in composition, but often includes macaroni salad, fried potatoes, ground-meat chili (really, a Greek meat sauce), hot sauce, grainy mustard, and two hamburger patties or hot dogs — the latter either “red hots” or “white hots” (something like bratwurst). Greenwich Village bar Daddy-O serves a version called the plate, pictured here with Rochester-made Zweigle’s hot dogs, one white, one red. 44 Bedford Street, Greenwich Village, 212-414-8884
New potatoes, butter, and salt are the ingredients for this dish, supposedly invented by 19th century Irish salt miners, who channeled salt springs near Onondaga Lake into outdoor pans, and then harvested the salt after the water dried up. They would bring potatoes to work, then boil them in the salty spring water. Now the potatoes are served at summer picnics and restaurants around Syracuse. Here in New York, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que serves them; they make fine side with an excellent pulled pork sandwich topped with pickles. 700 W 125th Street, Harlem, 212-694-1777
Binghamton and Endicott on New York State’s Southern Tier are home to the spiedie, a shish-kebab of pork, chicken, beef, or lamb marinated in Italian dressing and grilled. Now served in working class taverns and college bars, the dish was brought to the area in the 20s by immigrants from southern Italy. The kebabs are made into a sandwich on a hero roll. Though the sandwich has made occasional appearance here, no place I know of serves it now. But you can get a fair approximation by visiting Franky’s Souvlaki, a Greek cart where the charcoal-grilled pork kebabs taste an awful lot like spiedies, especially served on a hero with garlic sauce. 31-02 Steinway Street, Astoria, 646-879-2162
Buffalo Chicken Wings
By far the most popular upstate import is the spicy chicken wing, a signature of Buffalo cuisine that has gone worldwide in popularity. In an essay in Calvin Trillin’s Third Helpings, the origin of the wing in 1964 at the Anchor Bar is disputed. According to Trillin, the precursor may be something known as the mambo wing, invented by African-American John Young. Either way, this previously reviled appendage gained new luster with the application of margarine and Frank’s Hot Sauce, the latter an upstate favorite. You can get Buffalo wings at hundreds of places in New York City, served with celery and blue cheese dressing, but one of our favorites is Buffalo Boss, a mini-chain partly owned by Jay-Z. 400 Jay Street, Downtown Brooklyn, 718-923-0800
Upstate specialties missing from this list include the tiny franks of Troy, Schenectady, and Watervliet, New York, smothered in onions, mustard, and ground-meat “zippy sauce”; the grape pie of Naples, New York in the Finger Lakes wine country; and the tomato pie (a cheese-less square pizza) from Utica, New York. Until some canny restaurateur brings them here, enjoying these and other upstate delights will require a road trip.