Launched in spring 2021, the Upstate Eats Trail is a 225-mile culinary road trip bridging four major cities – Buffalo, Binghamton, Rochester and Syracuse – via longtime eateries, mom-and-pop restaurants and roadside attractions.
Some of their creations have remained regional favorites while others have made their way across the country. Here are 10 foods to eat along the Upstate Eats Trail.
Buffalo wings - Anchor Bar, Buffalo
A plate of classic Buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo — Photo courtesy of Anchor Bar
Teressa Bellissimo is widely credited as the person to thank for creating the version of this pub grub order that has gone global. On March 4, 1964, her son, Dominic Bellissimo, was tending bar at what is now known as Anchor Bar Restaurant. Later in the evening, a group of Dominic’s friends came in quite hungry, so Dominic asked his mother to prepare them a late night snack.
Teressa deep fried fresh chicken wings that usually went into a stock pot for soup and then flavored them with a secret sauce, which is commonly known today as Buffalo wing sauce (with the recipe still closely guarded). The Buffalo wings were an instant hit.
There’s another pioneer in Buffalo’s chicken wing story. John Young owned and ran John Young’s Wings and Things in the city in the 1960s up until 1970. He served his chicken wings whole – instead of separating drums and flats – and breaded and coated them in a mambo sauce.
Where did the Buffalo wing actually come from?
Where did the Buffalo wing actually come from?
Garbage plate - Nick Tahou Hots, Rochester
The garbage plate at Nick Tahou Hots — Photo courtesy of Visit Rochester
This peculiar pile-up dish can be found at many restaurants in Rochester and can have different names and variations, but Nick Tahou Hots is the venue where the original version was created.
At this dining institution, the garbage plate traditionally consists of a choice of meat including cheeseburger, hamburger, Italian sausages, steak, chicken or white or red hots. Then this meaty pick gets served on top of a base combination of ingredients such as home fries, French fries, baked beans and/or macaroni salad. But wait, there’s more: the plate can be topped with “Rochester hot sauce,” a spicy meat condiment.
The story goes that its trademarked name stuck when college students coming to Nick Tahou Hots late one night asked for a plate with “all the garbage on it.”
Beef on weck - Schwabl’s, West Seneca
Beef on weck from Schwabl's — Photo courtesy of Onion Studio
Also spelled as “kimmelweck,” the word "kümmelweck” means caraway bun in German. It’s also descriptive of this specialty that reflects the region’s history with German immigrants in the 19th century. It’s a sandwich consisting of cuts of slowly roasted and hand-carved roast beef placed in between a roll adorned with coarse salt and caraway seeds.
Since 1837, the German restaurant Schwabl’s has a mighty tie to this meaty dish. Its origins might come from a German baker who is said to have emigrated from Germany’s Black Forest region. The Schawbl family would also do the same and establish their restaurant in New York State.
At Schwabl's, the tradition of preparing beef on weck continues, but the venue is now owned by Cheryl Staychock, a longtime employee, and her husband, Gene Staychock. While it’s hard to say how much beef on weck is sold at Schwabl’s, Cheryl Staychock noted that the restaurant goes through up to 800 pounds of roast beef a week.
Salt potatoes - Bull & Bear Roadhouse, East Syracuse
Bull & Bear Roadhouse located in East Syracuse, New York — Photo courtesy of Brian Hayden/Upstate Eats Trail
This salty starch dish is a byproduct of Syracuse’s time as a major producer of this mineral in the United States in the 1800s. Its output faded with the advent of refrigeration in the next century.
Giving Syracuse the nickname, “Salt City,” salt would be harvested from salt-laden marshes found around Onondaga Lake in Central New York. The salt would be collected from surfacing brine, first by boiling the salt water for evaporation in huge kettles and raking the salt out. The retrieval would be later switched to a solar method, where the salt water would be put into vats and salt pulled out by the elements.
Irish immigrants took these jobs of having to boil down the salt brine. According to Gregg Tripoli, executive director of the Onondaga Historical Society in Syracuse, Irish workers would bring small potatoes with them and cook them by throwing them in the boiling brine.
Their salt-crusted potatoes would be paired with melted butter and become a local Irish staple. In 1883, Irish brothers Arthur and James Keefe opened their tavern in Syracuse and served salt potatoes; it's believed to be the first commercial setting to offer them to the general public.
In July 2021, a historic marker telling this story was installed at the Salt Museum, also in Syracuse. Try Bull & Bear Roadhouse's loaded salted potatoes, which puts a stacked take on this classic with pulled pork, bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives.
Sponge candy - Parkside Candy, Buffalo
Sponge candy is a crunchy toffee treat covered in chocolate — Photo courtesy of Drew Brown/Upstate Eats Trail
It can be known by other names depending on what part of the country you’re in – for example, sea foam candy on the West Coast, or fairy food candy in the Midwest – but in Western New York, this confectionery is called sponge candy.
The story of its creation is unclear, too, but many candy shops within Western New York make and/or carry this airy and crunchy toffee with a honeycomb-looking interior and chocolate-covered exterior. Its recipe is consistent. Made with brown sugar, corn syrup, water and baking soda, the candy mixture puffs up after it’s cooked to a very high temperature. Gelatin is added into the batch to maintain its texture, and then baking soda comes in to raise it up and form a big block. When ready, it’s cut up into pieces and then topped with milk, dark or even orange-flavored chocolate.
Longtime makers include Watson's Chocolates, Fowler's Chocolates and Aléthea's Chocolates. There’s also Parkside Candy, which opened its first store and factory in Buffalo in 1927 and produces about 400 pounds of sponge candy daily. The almost century-old business now has retail locations in Tonawanda, Williamsville and a second one in Buffalo.
Spiedies - Lupo’s S&S Char-pit, Binghamton
Cubes of chicken cooked on up the grill to make a spiedie — Photo courtesy of Upstate Eats Trail
An import from Italians immigrants coming to and around Binghamton in the 1920s, “spiedies” are believed to have originated from the Italian word “spiedino” meaning "cooked on a spit." Spiedies consist of meat – either chicken, lamb, pork, beef or venison – that gets marinated in an oil and spice mixture, cut into cubes and placed on skewers for grilling. Then it's put onto an Italian bread bun.
Their popularity is believed to be linked to Augustine Iacovelli, an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant in neighboring Endicott; his version was made with a marinade called “Zuzu.” Soon, restaurants, meat markets and grocery stores began preparing and selling them as well.
Another possible story is that Peter Sharak, owner of the now closed Binghamton bar and grill, Sharkey's, might have come up with spiedies as well. Entrepreneur Rob Salamida is credited with bottling and selling spiedies marinade.
The spiedie has even become the subject of an annual festival at Binghamton’s Otsiningo Park. The Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally usually occurs every summer (2021’s version was in early October) and originated in 1983 from some local families arguing over who had the best spiedie recipe. Their initial cook-off would evolve into an event featuring live entertainment, hot air balloons and, of course, local participants preparing their spiedie variations.
Try a spiedie from Lupo’s S&S Char-pit, the restaurant portion of this longtime Italian family business that began as a meat market in Endicott in the 1950s. While the restaurant still makes the traditional version, their menu features contemporary versions, such as a hoagie style and other add-ons. Lupo's also has a mail-order service selling their marinade, sub sauce and spiedie kits.
Apple dumplings - Apple Hills, Binghamton
A classic apple dumpling — Photo courtesy of Joy Johnson/The Apple Dumpling Cafe
While more of a seasonal item, it’s best to make a mental note of heading to Apple Hills to order their apple dumplings from The Apple Dumpling Cafe.
According to Joy Johnson, the fifth-generation owner of this family farm near the Greater Binghamton Airport, this fall dessert was inspired by a past trip she took to New England and seeing a simple apple dessert at a roadside stop.
Apple Hills’ version of an apple dumpling involves taking a Cortland apple picked from their orchard – Crispins are a second option – and then peeling and coring it but keeping the apple whole. Then the apple is adorned with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, wrapped in puff pastry, baked until al dente and then completed with a covering of icing.
The apple dumplings are served at the farm’s cafe, a breakfast and lunch eatery. There’s also a signature apple sandwich consisting of two slices of wheat bread, sliced apples, a slice of both grilled ham and Swiss, a dollop of mayo and a dash of mustard.
A 400-acre farm, Apple Hills grows 13 different varieties of apples including Macintosh, Honeycrisp and Red and Golden Delicious. Blueberries and raspberries are also grown onsite. Along with offering pick-your-own times, the year-round open farm has a corn maze, a menagerie of a few resident farm animals and a family activity area.
Unique apple varieties you need to try this fall
Unique apple varieties you need to try this fall
Hot pie - Consol’s, Endicott
A hot pie is a type of thin crust pizza from Upstate New York — Photo courtesy of Upstate Eats Trail
As another term for pizza, hot pies is a wording that can be heard in New York State. According to volume one of the book, “Bygone Binghamton: Remembering People and Places of the Past,” hot pies entered the U.S. vernacular after World War II, by way of returning GIs who had their first taste of pizza in wartime Italy. Within New York State, the book cites restaurants listing hot pies on their menus at least by the 1940s, but some findings point to it happening a decade earlier.
One style of hot pie involves a super thin crust, tomato sauce and a light sprinkle of cheese that’s usually Romano; no mozzarella. Another involves adding American cheddar.
A place along the Upstate Eats Trail that’s associated with hot pies is Consol’s, an Italian family restaurant in Endicott. A neat fact about Consol's is that the staff don’t insert their round pizzas in a pizza box. Instead, they place their pies on a round piece of cardboard and wrap it in butcher paper. It would be carried by the top of the wrap. The reason? To maintain its crispness.
According to Dave Consol, whose family owns the restaurant, the method came from the venue’s time as Duff's Tavern. The tavern’s owner, Adolph "Duff" Consol, and a relative of Dave's, apparently started this wrapping technique.
Frozen custard - Abbott’s Frozen Custard, Rochester
A scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with rainbow sprinkles from Abbott's Frozen Custard — Photo courtesy of Abbott's Frozen Custard
Abbott's Frozen Custard in Rochester came to be when Arthur Abbott opened a beachside stand near the shores of Lake Ontario in 1926 to sell his frozen custard. Two decades earlier, a young Abbott was pursuing another career by traveling with small carnivals and entertaining people. He was also working on another project: perfecting a recipe for this creamy, chilled treat.
Having immediate success, Abbott kept going until he sold off his business in 1957, but his company continues on as a family-run one today. The original location is still open and Abbott’s now has franchises as far as New Orleans, but with a good number in Rochester. While the original recipe remains a secret, what we can tell you is that the New York-based Upstate Farms provides dairy milk. To keep it fresh, the flavored frozen custards are made daily at each Abbott’s location.
White hots - Schaller’s, Rochester
White hot sausages cooking up on the grill — Photo courtesy of Upstate Eats Trail
These sausages are made from pork, beef and veal and have been produced by Zweigle's in Rochester since 1880. Their light coloring is due to the meaty ingredient being uncured and unsmoked.
Now run by its fifth generation, Zweigle's white hots represent the family-run company's legacy in becoming known for selling what was referred to as "Old World German" meat products. While Zweigle's now puts out meats that fit with today's diets and tastes, such as plant-based ones, the 140-plus-year-old business continues to still offer white hots, frankfurters and hot dogs.
White hots continue to be found in Syracuse and Western New York restaurants. Among them, Schaller’s has been dishing out orders of white hots since opening their first location in 1956. Having worked for Kodak, brothers Joe and Ken Schaller wanted to start their own business and opened a drive-in spot near the Lake Ontario shoreline. Two other Rochester locations followed.
Now run by Joe's son, Tommy Schaller, the restaurant gets high marks for its white hots, red hots and burgers. Its specialties also extend to their meaty gravy version of the "Rochester hot sauce."