When I tasted my first spiedie in Bed Stuy, the little sandwich was a long way from home. Fork readers were quick to point out that Brooklyn Bird was doing it wrong by applying cheese and serving it on the incorrect type of bread.
The spiedie is a regional delicacy, a deconstructed fast-food sandwich popularized by Italian immigrants in the 1930’s, who grilled skewers of long-marinated lamb over charcoal and took it off the skewers with a slice of fresh white bread. It is modest, working-class food–meat, bread, and nothing more. In that sense, the fast, cheap Brooklyn rendition was true to form.
But I planned a road trip to Binghamton and Endicott, deep in Spiedieland, to taste the originals. Some places still serve spiedies on the skewer, but that style is dying out, and most others pile the meat up high in a sub roll.
Sharkey’s is a dark, comfortable dive with black wood booths and old crocheted curtains. The stained ceiling bulges down, as if it’s about to fall, but no one seems concerned — they’re too busy with the $6 lunch special.
That’s three hot skewers of marinaded pork with three slices of soft white bread. Threaded through skewers, presented the old-fashioned way with slices of soft white bread to pull the meat off, it was the simplest, least fussy, and favorite of the tour.
51-year-old Ray Parkes grew up across the street from the dim, lively dive bar he now runs close to the train tracks, Stu’s. He still remembers when he was a kid and a guy would set up a small grill outside the bar on Friday nights, selling skewers of meat for 50 cents. Now, one wall of the bar is covered with the plaques Parkes himself has won at the town’s annual Spiediefest.
Locals occasionally bring the spoils from their deer hunts back to the bar, where Parkes will give game the spiedie treatment (he can’t technically sell wild meat, but he can give it away). Day to day, Stu’s serves popular chicken spiedies. On special occasions, Parkes will even make a batch of the more traditional lamb skewers.
The Spiedie and Rib Pit was packed for lunch. Teenagers, construction crews, and parents with their young children. Many were enjoying spiedies with non-traditional toppings, like cheese and jalapenos.
Spiedies are served plain, or with French fries, but after a few of these monsters, we admit we wished for fresh pickles, or greens, instead…
In the Lupo’s parking lot, a man in a suit sat behind the wheel of his car and ate two spiedies, one after the other, barely pausing for a breath. He was a real expert.
After a dozen, it was finally time to say goodbye to spiedieland, turn the car around, and head back to the city.
Sharkey’s, 56 Glenwood Ave., Binghamton, NY; 607-729-9201
Stu’s Place, 114 N Page Ave., Endicott, NY; 607-748-4469
Lupo’s, 6 W State St., Binghamton, NY; 607-723-6106
Spiedie and Rib Pit, 1268 Upper Front St., Binghamton, NY; 607-722-7628