About Regional Flavor
New York City is a polyglot place with ethnic food enclaves from around the world. It also is Trend Central, where a restaurant can be hot one season, then dead the next, and where celebrity chefs become more famous than their meals. It is such a hyped-up food scene that it can be difficult to discern what dishes and dining experiences are unique to New York, or at least at their very best here. Our list of essentials includes a great (and greatly expensive) prime steak with hash browns in one of the legendary steak houses, pizza cooked in a coal oven, a glittering Mid-Atlantic seafood meal, a street-food hot dog, a true-deli pastrami sandwich, and a simple slice of perfect cheesecake.
Beyond the City, New York State is a rich lode of distinct regional specialties. Buffalo itself has several, well beyond its wings. These include roast beef sandwiches on kummelweck rolls (“beef on weck”), spectacular candy shop/ice cream parlors where everything is made from scratch, and a culture of yummy charcoal cooked hot dogs.
Hot dogs are big upstate as well, where they come as white hots (“porkers”) or red hots. Red hots are the basis of the legendary Garbage Plate of Rochester, and also are served under a sort of Bolognese sauce in and around Plattsburgh, where they are known, somewhat mysteriously, as Michigans.
Other upstate foods worth a detour include grilled skewers of marinated meat around Binghamton, where salt potatoes are the right side dish; marinated charcoal cooked Cornell chicken in the Southern Tier; and creamy, spicy chicken riggies around Utica.
New York Regional Specialties
Beyond perfectly cooked and expertly sliced roast beef, the "weck" aspect of Buffalo's favorite sandwich is essential. From the German word Kummel, meaning caraway seed, a kummelweck looks vaguely like an ordinary hard roll spangled with caraway seeds and coarse salt. But it is not ordinary. A correct weck is delicate, its freshness evanescent. Lightness is crucial because the roll cushions, but must not compete with, the extreme gentle feel of the sliced beef. On the other hand, it cannot be too fragile, for the customary way of assembling the sandwich is to briefly immerse the top half in pan juice just long enough for it to start to soften before it is set atop the beef.
Steamy hot, soft and supple, perfumed by spice and smoke, pastrami is the most voluptuous of delicatessen meats. You might find a counter man who will cut it lean if you insist, but that’s as much a crime against taste buds as baked-not-fried potato chips. The only pastrami worth sandwiching in slabs of crusty fresh rye bread is pastrami that is heavily infused with the deep, dripping succulence that animal fat alone supplies.
Binghamton's marinated, skewered, charcoal-cooked hunks of pork known as spiedies are quintessential bar food, wanting nothing more than cold bottles of Genesee beer to be complete sustenance. Their presentation is straightforward: the meat on the skewer rests on a slice of plain white bread which rests on a small paper plate. That’s all there is to it. The bread is blah, but you need it as a mitt to hold the meat. More important, the bread’s blandness is a foil for the meat’s zest, in the same way supermarket white bread is de rigueur with spicy barbecue. Condiments are irrelevant, and no vegetables are threaded with the bite-size chunks of grill-crisped pork. When you bite into a piece, it blossoms with porky goodness.