*** AS OF 11/29/20, THIS RESTAURANT IS PERMANENTLY CLOSED ***
Sharkey’s is home of the spiedie. Other upstate New York restaurants sell them; and you can even buy spiedie meat in supermarkets in and around Binghamton, but if you want to eat the best, in a proper neighborhood setting, this family-run tavern is the place to go.
Larry Sharak’s father started making spiedies at a cookfire in the window by the bar in the years after World War II. Skewered, marinated hunks of lamb were cooked on a charcoal grill and served with broad slices of bread. The custom was to grab the bread in one hand and use it as an edible mitt to slide a few hunks off the metal rod, thus creating an instant sandwich. Spiedies are still served and eaten this way at the bar and tables of Sharkey’s. Lamb has grown too expensive, however, so today’s spiedies are made from either pork or chicken. When you bite into a piece, it blossoms with the flavorful juice of a two-day marinade that tastes of garlic and vinegar, peppers and oregano and, according to Larry Sharak, for whom the recipe is a family heirloom, “a lot of pinches of many spices.”
Sharkey’s city chicken is served on a skewer, too. City chicken is, in fact, not poultry, but pork; in this case, it is a juicy roll of meat packed into a tubular shape on a wooden stick then steeped in something similar to the spiedie marination, after which it is quickly fried crisp, then baked until thoroughly done. The result is a crusty hunk of meat with insides as juicy and rich-flavored as the darkest dark meat. Like a spiedie, city chicken comes bedded on a slice of bread.
Beyond skewered things, Sharkey’s serves fantastic Eastern European fare made by experts: holupkis (stuffed cabbage rolls) are the work of Larry’s sister-in-law, Marie. Around Easter and Christmas time, the menu features homemade kielbasa sausages. And you can always count on buttery pierogi filled with seasoned mashed potatoes.
Sharkey’s is a local institution. Old-timers know to enter through the back door rather than the front. Here, you walk into a dark dining room outfitted with ancient wooden booths and long family-style tables formed from pushed-together dinettes. Between courses, the young folks get up to play a few lines on the old Tic Tac Strike game, a pre-electronic diversion that seems at home in this historic tavern.
Pork spiedies well worth a visit. Meat was tender and marinaded sufficiently to not need any condiments. This dish reminded me of chislic of South Dakota, differing only with the meat being pork instead of sirloin tips and grilled instead of deep-fried. Potato pierogies well worth trying with the silky smooth potato filling topped with onions, which complement this dish, but do not overwhelm it.