New York state has given the world many things (Kodak cameras, air conditioning, and yes, toilet paper) and its contributions to the food world are numerous, from obvious dishes that are named after their cities or regions of origin (like Buffalo wings, Utica greens, and Thousand Islands dressing) to more surprising entries like grape pie and sponge candy. And while some dishes might not sound so appetizing (looking at you, Garbage Plate), they’re all extremely tasty dishes and well worth traveling to New York State to try in their natural habitat. Read on to learn more about 10 fascinating and delicious foods to try in New York.
Beef on Weck
Beef on Weck was invented in Buffalo and is pretty much only worth trying in Western New York. The key is the Weck, or bun, which is actually short for Kummelweck, a South German word for a kaiser roll topped with caraway seeds and salt. Once you’ve got your fresh-made bun (crusty on the outside, soft on the inside), it needs to be piled high with roast beef slices, a bit of beef au jus on the top bun, and a side of more au jus for dipping, and horseradish. The origin story is a little murky, but it’s thought that the roll was invented by a German baker in Buffalo named William Wahr in the 1800s. Legend has it that a local pub owner created the sandwich using the bread because he wanted a dish that would satisfy his customers but also induce thirst to make them order more beer. These days, the best place in Buffalo to get a proper Beef on Weck is Schwabl’s, Charlie the Butcher, and Bar Bill Tavern (which, incidentally, also has great Buffalo wings so you can knock both items off your list in one shot).
The Garbage Plate is a lot tastier than it sounds, we promise. The dish was invented at Nick Tahou Hots, a Rochester restaurant that was opened by Alex Tahou (Nick’s father) in 1918. Back then, the restaurant was called West Main Texas Hots and Alex served one-plate meals with potatoes, meat, and several other sides (usually some combination of home fries, macaroni salad, and beans) all piled together with onions, chili sauce, and mustard on top. The meat on top is a choice of hamburger patties, hot dogs, ham, chicken fingers, fried fish, and more.
The Garbage Plate supposedly got its name when, long-ago, college students asked Nick Tahou for a dish with “all that garbage” on it. Nick copyrighted the name “Garbage Plate” in 1992, so although you’ll find versions of the plate at other restaurants around town, they’ll be called things like Dumpster Plates, Messy Plates, or some other name, but the sentiment is always the same. Try it at the original Nick Tahou Hots.
Created in the grape-obsessed town of Naples in the Finger Lakes region, grape pies are made from the area’s juicy and flavorful concord grapes. No easy feat to make, they require a couple of pounds of cooked, peeled grapes (with the skins reserved). The seeds are strained, and then the skins are added back in along with sugar, before it’s all baked into a pie crust, resulting in a jammy, grape-flavored explosion. Irene Bouchard is credited with creating the grape pie in the 1960s.
This dish is a combination of a bitter green, usually escarole, breadcrumbs, fried prosciutto, hot cherry peppers, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Escarole was a staple in the home gardens of Utica in the late 1800s, when many Italians emigrated to the region to work in mills. Back in Italy, escarole was usually cooked with olive oil and garlic, but in the 1980s Joe Morelle tweaked the dish while he was working at the restaurant Chesterfield’s.
Now the dish is popular at Italian restaurants Upstate, from Albany to Syracuse, as well as in Utica itself. Oh, and at Chesterfield’s, now called Chesterfield’s Tavolo, they’re called Greens Morelle. Try them there, or at Georgio’s Village Café, where they’re called Village Greens—most restaurants in Utica don’t actually call them Utica greens.
These famous spicy wings were invented in Buffalo (no surprise there) by Teressa Bellissimo, who owned Anchor Bar with her family. The exact reason why she decided to slather chicken wings in hot sauce and serve them with bleu cheese and celery is slightly murky but the snack was immediately popular. Buffalo wings are made by deep-frying the wings without any coating or breading and then slathering them in a bright orange sauce made from melted butter, hot sauce, and red pepper.
Popular in Central New York, salt potatoes were created in Syracuse, which was known for salt production, due to the salt springs found around Onondaga Lake. During the 1800s, Irish salt miners would bring a bag of small, unpeeled potatoes to work and at lunchtime, they would boil them in the free-flowing saltwater. The potatoes—small red or white ones—form a crust on the skin from the salt, preventing them from getting too watery and leaving them crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside.
This hot sandwich was created by Italian immigrants in Binghamton during the created 1920s. Spiedie is a reference to the Italian word spiedino, which means skewer. Spiedies are made from chicken, pork, beef, or lamb that’s been marinated in a zesty sauce (usually made from wine vinegar, oil, and various spices) and then grilled on a spit. A piece of Italian bread is then used as a kind of mitt to wrap around the still-skewered meat and pull it off the skewer and into the sandwich. And that’s it—no other ingredients are added.
Augustine Iacovelli is said to have brought the spiedie to his restaurant Augies in 1939 and soon spiedies were all over Binghamton. Today, Binghampton holds the annual Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally and bottled spiedie marinades are sold widely. Sample a one at Lupo’s S & S Char Pit, Sharkey’s Bar & Grill, or Spiedie & Rib Pit.
The origins of sponge candy are hazy, but it started showing up in Buffalo and western New York candy shops around the 1940s and '50s. Sponge candy is a crunchy toffee with a toasted molasses flavor made from sugar, corn syrup, and baking soda, that is then covered in a chocolate coating (milk dark, or orange chocolate). Not widely known outside of Buffalo, similar (but different!) candies under names like cinder toffee, fairy candy, honeycomb candy, or seafoam exist around the world. Buffalonians insist that sponge candy doesn’t do well in heat and high humidity, making it hard to transport to other locations, hence it not being found outside the region too often.
First made in Rochester by German immigrants in the early 1900s, white hots sausages contain a mix of pork, beef, and veal and are uncured and unsmoked, along with a blend of spices. Usually served grilled in a bun and topped with onions, relish, peppers, molasses,and vinegar, and more. They can also be the meat in a Garbage Plate.
The most famous producer of white hots is Zweigle’s, which has been making them since 1925 and are the ones found at the Rochester and Buffalo sports stadiums and in most restaurants that serve them. Order a white hot at Red Wing Stadium, where Rochester’s minor league baseball team plays, or at Nick Tahue Hots.
Thousand Islands Salad Dressing
The Thousand Islands are a chain of islands between northern New York and Canada and the birthplace of the eponymous salad dressing. There are several origin stories to this dressing. One story goes that the wealthy owners of Boldt Castle, George and Louisa Boldt, were out on their yacht when their chef realized he forgot to bring dressing for their greens. He improvised by mixing together mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle relish, Worcestershire sauce, and a hard-boiled egg, thus creating Thousand Islands Dressing.
Another version holds that fishing guide and innkeeper George LaLonde used to serve the dressing, created by his wife, as part of the lunch he gave his guests on fishing outings. One guest was the actress May Irwin and she shared the recipe with her friends the Boldts, who owned the Waldorf-Astoria, and they also added it to their hotel’s menu.
You can buy a bottle of the original Thousand Island dressing by the former owners of the LaLonde’s inn (who called it Thousand Islands Inn) using Sophia’s original recipe. Or try it at the Harbor Hotel’s restaurant.