Every area of New York state has its local favorites but some are world famous
By Sandra Scott
What do wings and Waldorf salad have in common with spiedies and salt potatoes? They all originated in New York state along with other favorites. Every area of New York state has its local favorites but some are world famous.
Buffaloes may not have wings but the Anchor Bar in Buffalo does. The Anchor Bar was the birthplace of the world-famous Buffalo wings. Late on a Friday night in 1964, Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar at the Anchor Bar Restaurant when a group of his friends arrived looking for something to stave off their hanger pangs. Teressa, Dominic’s mother, deep-fried the chicken wings usually destined for the soup stockpot. Flavored with her secret sauce, the wings were an instant hit and the word spread — worldwide. Although many have tried to duplicate the original Buffalo wings, the closely guarded secret recipe is what makes the Anchor Bar home to the “Best Wings in the World.” Regardless, Buffalo wings are on the menu of most restaurants.
Two favorite menu items owe their popularity to New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Waldorf salad was an instant success when it was created by the hotel’s maître d’hôtel, Oscar Tshcirky in 1896.
The original version of the salad contained apples, celery and mayonnaise served on a bed of lettuce. Chopped walnuts later became an integral part of the dish.
Thousand Island dressing was born in Clayton. Legend has it that around the turn of the century, Sophia LaLonde, wife of a 1000 Islands fishing guide, shared her dressing recipe with a prominent stage actress named May Irwin, who dubbed it Thousand Island dressing. Irwin gave the recipe to fellow 1000 Islands summer visitor George C. Boldt who was in the process of having a castle built. Boldt, the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, instructed that it be included on the hotel’s menu where it was introduced to the world.
Saratoga Springs can boast that it is the home of two American favorites — potato chips and the club sandwich. The original potato chip recipe was created in
Saratoga Springs in 1853. It seems that in 1853 a wealthy guest was dining at Moon’s Lake House where George Crum worked as a cook. The specialty of the house was Moon’s Fried Potatoes, which were cut in thick slices. A guest, perhaps a bit ornery from the summer heat, sent his order back declaring they were too thick and soggy. When the second order was also sent back Crum was not appreciative of the criticism so he sliced the potatoes as thin as he could, fried them to a fare-the-well, and salted them thinking he had made them impossible to eat with a fork. Much to Crum’s surprise the patron loved them and ordered a second serving. The word spread and soon others were ordering Crum’s Chips.
Most sources credit John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, with inventing the sandwich in 1781 but people had been putting meat between slabs of bread for generations. However, the club sandwich owes its existence to Danny Mears, a line cook at the famous Saratoga Club House, an exclusive gambling establishment that did not allow women or locals in their gambling rooms. A traditional club sandwich has three slices of toasted bread with a bottom layer of turkey and the top layer of bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.
In 1845 Peter Cooper patented a gelatin product but it never “jelled.” Then in 1897, Pearle Wait of LeRoy, came up with a fruit flavored dessert gelatin, which his wife named Jell-O. In 1899 he sold his formula to a fellow townsman for the sum of $450. The formula’s new owner sent out salesmen in “spanking new rigs, drawn by beautiful horses” to promote this new product destined to make dessert preparation easier for the housewife. As the saying goes, the rest is history. Visitors can learn all about “America’s Most Famous Dessert” at the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy.
The Binghamton area is home of the speidie. A speidie is made of cubes of meat, usually chicken or pork but any meat will do, marinated overnight in the special spiedie marinade, grilled — preferable over a charcoal fire — and served on Italian bread or a submarine roll. The traditional spiedie marinade is made of olive oil, vinegar, a variety of Italian spices and fresh mint. A Spiedie Fest has been held in Binghamton every August since 1983.
A New York City favorite, the egg cream is an interesting beverage because it contains neither eggs nor cream. It is made of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water. It is thought to have originated with Louis Auster of Brooklyn in the late 1800s. The fountain drink is similar to an ice cream soda without the ice cream. Some say the name is a corruption of “Grade A Cream” which was used to make the drink while others say it comes from the German word for “echt” meaning “genuine” or “real.”
A local favorite hard to find outside Central New York owes its existence to the salt deposits near Syracuse, the “Salt City.” During the 18th century workers in the salt industry on Onondaga Lake, most of whom were Irish immigrants, would cook their lunch of potatoes in the salty brine. The tasty treats are best served with plenty of butter. The salt industry is no more but visitors can learn about it at the Salt Museum in Liverpool.
Some foods such as the Coney Island hot dog and hamburger have such a convoluted past that it is hard to pin down their exact origins.
Others are variations of established foods such as Long Island duck derived from Peking Duck. Long Island was once known as the “Duck Capital of the World” and the famous Big Duck in Flanders is still a favorite tourist stop.
Local favorites or world famous, New York state is home to “food, glorious food.”