Can this festival keep a New York sandwich tradition alive?

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, May 19, 2024


Can this festival keep a New York sandwich tradition alive?
Contestants make spiedies sandwiches at the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally Expo, in Binghamton, N.Y., on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. At Spiedie Fest in Central New York, fans explore the virtues of this grilled specialty. (Bryan Gardner/The New York Times)

by Robert Simonson



BINGHAMTON, NY.- What makes a perfect spiedie? It depends on whom you ask.

The sandwich, pronounced SPEE-dee, consists of cubed meat — commonly chicken or pork, sometimes beef and originally lamb — that is marinated in a salad dressing of sorts (a blend of oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, herbs and spices), grilled and then stuffed inside a long bun. The sandwich is usually free of condiments, though toppings like cheese, mushrooms and fried onions and peppers are not unheard of.

Most of its fans agree that you must not overcook the meat. Some stress the quality of the meat and a long marinade. But Ray Parkes — one of two dozen cook-off contestants at the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally Expo, held in Binghamton, New York, on Sunday — takes an instinctual approach. He buys whatever meat is on sale and soaks it in his homemade marinade (no recipe, just seasoned to taste) for a few hours.

The name is thought to be derived from the Italian spiedini, and the sandwich appeared in these parts around the 1930s. Today you’ll find spiedie meat on top of salads and pizza, and spiedie-flavored potato chips. At the festival, now in its 39th year, contestants flexed their creativity, using marinades variously made with pineapple, mint, pot-roast seasoning or a blend of chile, lime and honey. The last blend came from Andrew Chudacik, a self-described “foodie,” and, at 13, one of the youngest grillers.

It’s a critical time for spiedie culture, which has been dealt some blows in recent years. Binghamton-area restaurants that specialize in them are disappearing. Sharkey’s, an old tavern that served the spiedie as a single straight kebab on a slice of bread, closed in late 2020 after 73 years in business. (That old-school approach let diners hold the bread like a potholder as they pulled the meat off the skewer.)

This year, another spiedie lodestar, Lupo’s S&S Char-Pit, shuttered as the family behind the restaurant decided to concentrate on its considerable wholesale meat and marinade business. (Another Lupo’s Char-Pit in nearby Endwell, New York, is still in business, as well as the Spiedie & Rib Pit. Both are run by other branches of the Lupo family. It’s complicated.)

Rob Salamida, a founder of Spiedie Fest along with Paul VanSavage, said the reason the sandwich hasn’t caught on the way other regional foods like the Philly cheesesteak or Buffalo wings have is “very simple”: the labor that goes into cutting the meat.

“No one wants to bite into something that’s fatty or has a tendon in it,” said Salamida, who was the first to sell bottled spiedie marinades commercially. “You really have to have someone who knows how to cut it.”

Salamida’s son, Andrew, has tried to broaden the sandwich’s appeal by selling a tofu version, available at the festival.

While most of the contestants at Sunday’s competition came from Broome County, which includes Binghamton, some traveled many miles to compete, including Hollie Malinovsky Isom, a Binghamton native who has made spiedies since she was a teenager. She drives up to the festival every year from the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.

This year her niece, Abigail Malinovsky, 15, was among her competition. But she also faced Celine Hughes, who has competed almost as long as the event has existed.

Spiedies are judged in four categories: chicken, pork, lamb and nontraditional (which includes beef), with an overall winner receiving a championship-style belt, decorated with a cartoon logo created by Johnny Hart, a local native who drew the syndicated comic strips “B.C.” and “The Wizard of Id.” Hart, who died in 2007, loved spiedies, said his grandson Mick Mastroianni, who attended the festival.

Isom won top honors last year. This year, Parkes took home the belt for his lamb spiedies. (Isom placed third in the pork category, and Hughes won the nontraditional category.)

Parkes doesn’t think the spiedie will ever be a national sensation “because it’s so polarizing. People love them or they don’t.”

As to those who don’t like them, he added: “They never had a good one is the problem.”

—Spiedies

By Sam Sifton

Spiedies are a mainstay sandwich of Binghamton, New York, and its surrounding boroughs. They’re made of meat marinated for a long time in what amounts to Italian dressing, then threaded onto skewers, grilled, and slid into a cheap sub roll, sometimes with a drizzle of fresh marinade or hot sauce. The recipe that follows calls for beef, but pork or venison can be used almost interchangeably. Marinate for a long time: a full 24 to 36 hours is not uncommon, and results in chunks of meat that are so deeply flavored that they taste great even when slightly overcooked. (If you use chicken, however, reduce the length of time in the marinade, since the meat starts to break down after 12 hours or so.) Serve the spiedies with an additional drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil, on top of Italian bread or alongside rice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 25 minutes, plus 24 hours’ marinating

Ingredients:

For the spiedies:




2 to 3 pounds beef, pork, venison, lamb or chicken, cut into small cubes, at most 1-inch square

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

For the marinade:

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

Zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

4 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

1 tablespoon oregano leaves

1 tablespoon basil leaves, rolled and chopped into chiffonade

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Preparation:

1. Make the marinade: Whisk together all the ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Add the meat to the marinade and cover tightly, or place into large, resealable plastic bags and refrigerate for 24-36 hours (or 10-12 hours for chicken).

3. Build a fire in your grill, leaving about 1/3 of grill free of coals, or set a gas grill to high.

4. Remove the meat from its marinade and thread onto metal skewers, or wooden ones that you have soaked in water for 30 minutes or so. The chunks can be placed quite close together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5. When coals are covered with gray ash and fire is still quite high (you can hold your hand 5 inches above coals for only a couple of seconds), place the skewers of meat directly over the flames. Allow the meat to cook, undisturbed, for approximately 3-4 minutes, then use kitchen tongs to turn them over and repeat on the other side. Continue turning the skewers every couple of minutes until the meat is deeply crisp at its edges, and cooked entirely through, approximately another 5-7 minutes. (Remove them to the cool side of the grill if they begin to burn, and cover the grill to allow them to smoke-roast until finished; this is much less likely to happen on a gas grill.)

6. Allow the spiedies to rest on a cutting board for a few minutes, then remove the meat from the skewers onto cut hero rolls or a plate. Serve with hot sauce on the side.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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