Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- The Regional Riches of Upstate NY
I spent of week of mostly play, with some work, in Upstate New York this past July. We rented an AirBNB near Hudson that was semi off the grid in the sense there was nobody near it as far as neighbors and passing cars as plus all that other city stuff. My wife still had to work for the week before taking the following one off which is when we left for Rhode Island and Massachusetts (click links for posts on those). When someone says Upstate New York there's lots of places one could be talking about. As I learned on this trip it's not a small place. There's handfuls of different areas within the area. Since we were driving I would be able to stop for lots of Roadfood but not everything I was hoping to try would be within reach. I'm not sure I can explain why but Upstate NY has as many regional food specialties as anywhere else in the country. It's flooded with stops I've always wanted to check out.
Sights from Upstate New York
We did lots of hiking in the morning and checked out Eater hot spot type dinner places at night. I mostly rode around during the day. There's lots of cute little towns in Upstate New York. Some like Woodstock and Cooperstown are well known and then there's one of the country's biggest college towns in Syracuse plus big urban areas like Buffalo and Albany can be seen, there's a wine region, a historic horse track, lots of old school Italian towns. Plus hot dogs. I have to say I think Upstate NY offers the country's best selection of hot dog stands. A big part of what makes it so impressive is the fact they have a bunch of regional styles within the region. I made it a point to try as many as I could and made it to most in reach. While I wasn't surprised to find lots of Roadfood type spots I wasn't expecting all the chef driven options. Especially in Hudson. But it does make sense when NYC is so close. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the area as much I did but I would love to go back and further explore some parts of it. My only complaint was the constant rain. I guess they had record amounts.
Sights from Upstate New York
Red Top Hot Dogs (Hamburg, NY)
Hot Dogs around the Buffalo area are charcoal grilled natural casing Sahlen's wieners. Ted's is the most well known purveyor in town with handfuls of locations. But this little stand in Hamburg which sits across the street from Lake Erie uses another locally made wiener from Wardynski's
out of Buffalo. They're a beef and pork blend and may have been my favorite of all the locally produced wieners I got to try. They grill up really nice. One weird thing (to me) about East Coast hot dog stands is how some of them serve the toppings on the side and you have to put them on your hot dog yourself. That was the case at Red Top where I got one with mustard, onion, and dill pickle relish. This was an excellent hot dog that I enjoyed alongside an order of their popular cottage fries. Since 1946.
Hot Dog from Red Top
Heid's of Liverpool (Liverpool, NY)
I was extra excited to try the Two Hot Dog Special (add a side of gravy for the fries) at Heid’s of Liverpool. The Syracuse University favorite serves up two styles of flattop seared natural casing wieners made locally by Hofmann Sausage. The traditional German Frank (aka a red hot) is a classic frankfurter while the snappy grillers (aka white hots) are very similar to brats. I should’ve took a pic of the toppings bar which is a DIY event. The spicy brown mustard and red pepper relish are also part of their signature offerings. I did mustard with sauerkraut and dill pickle relish on the white hot and mustard, raw onions, red pepper relish, dill relish on the red hot. Very cool spot. Since 1917.
Hot Dogs from Heid's of Liverpool
Voss Bar-B-Q (Yorkville, NY)
There's some that say this seasonal dairy stand just outside of Utica is the best hot dog stand of a strong Upstate NY bunch. Voss Bar-B-Q has been at it since 1938. Locals line up for hot dogs of which they offer two blends popular in the area. The traditional red hot and the local specialty a white hot (similar to a bratwurst). I believe both are made by Zweigle’s out of Rochester. I tried a red wiener in the form of their signature “Mexi” dog which I ordered all the way which means chili, cheese, and onion are joined by mustard, relish, sauerkraut, and pickle. Then I got a white hot with mustard, onion, and hot relish. Both were bad ass. I also got a bbq ham sandwich which is barbecue by sauce only. Similar to Russell’s in Elmwood Park (IL) for those that know what I’m talking about.
Hot Dogs at Voss Bar-B-Q
BBQ Ham Sandwich at Voss Bar-B-Q
Famous Lunch (Troy, NY)
Famous Lunch in Troy sits just outside of Albany. In this part of Upstate New York mini hot dogs are all the rage. They're locally produced by Helmbolds
. These mini natural casing (beef / pork) wieners are made to be enjoyed a few per seating kind of like hot dog sliders. They can be found all over the area with Famous Lunch being the landmark spot to enjoy them. My visit here went exactly as I expected it to and that means it was a memorable one. Towns like Troy have always fascinated me and places like Famous Lunch are great places to eat like a local. Lots of locals on this visit with the majority of them ordering hot dogs by the 4’s, 8’s etc. The four inch wieners are crisped up on a flattop that sits in the front window and come served on mini buns. Everything on them includes zippy sauce which is a chili / coney like condiment plus mustard and onions. I did three bc I was hitting another stand after Famous Lunch but I also had to try a burger with their grilled onions and standard white American cheese. Both were home runs and the price was a steal too. A first ballot National Hot Dog Hall of Famer. The epitome of a greasy spoon in every sense of the saying. Since 1932.
Mini Hot Dogs at Famous Lunch
Cheeseburger at Famous Lunch
Gus's Hot Dogs (Watervliet, NY)
The town of Watervliet has been home to Gus's Hot Dogs since 1954. As far as aesthetics go, Gus's too is greasy spoon greatness. It's a roadside stand that you can find with your nose. There's no indoor seating these days but plenty of picnic tables off to the side. Gus's does mini hot dogs with their own signature sauce but I didn't think they were as good as Famous Lunch up above. I also tried a tasty Italian sausage sandwich which is a locally produced Italian sausage patty topped with onions and peppers directly from the flattop. This place is the NY equivalent to Jim's Original in Chicago.
Mini Hot Dogs and Sausage Sandwich at Gus's Hot Dogs
Ted's Fish Fry (Watervliet, NY)
Both the fish fry and by extension the fish sandwich are big draws in Western New York. With seven locations around the Capitol Region Ted's is the biggest of draws when it comes to fried fish. I visited the OG for a fish sandwich which at Ted's comes served on a hot dog bun. Of course they sell hot dogs too but it's the long strips of fried fish placed into a hot dog bun that most folks are here for. I tried one with both tartar and cocktail sauce and it was excellent blue collar food. The make the onion rings in house so an order of those was also in store and they too were awesome. Since 1949.
Fish Sandwich and Onion Rings from Ted's Fish Fry
Slick's Restaurant (Schenectady, NY)
I knew I would be visiting Slick's when I first found it while browsing restaurants in Schenectady. It's an old corner bar where the overstuffed sandwiches are the big draw. Upon entering I felt like I had morphed back a few decades into a previous era. The owner dressed in uniform also seemed from another time. This place just oozed old school. For $10 you can get a huge sandwich made with meat sliced to order. Roast beef was commonly mentioned and is the one deli meat I only like to eat when it's made onsite so I got that on white bread with a side of housemade potato salad (plus chips). This one was NYC sized at an Upstate NY price. Great stop. I just wish spots like Slick's weren't so rare.
Roast Beef Sandwich at Slick's Restaurant
Perreca's Bakery (Schenectady, NY)
The town of Schenectady has it's own Little Italy. It's a small one block strip but they have a n arch and a few shops still up and running. Both of them holdovers from the neighborhoods heyday. The first stop is Perreca's Bakery which had a facade that was calling my name. I spied some tomato pie in the window so that was reason enough to stop in and try a slice. Perreca's opened in 1914 and has been continuously run by the same family. They use the same coal oven they did on day one to make Italian bread and tomato pie. The latter of which is a popular snack in these parts (especially in and around Utica). Tomato pie is a simple style of pizza where the crust is a thick, focacia like dough that's topped with a thick layer of tomato sauce and Romano cheese. I'm sure there's slight variations here and there but this would be the only spot I got to try it at as I never made it to any spots in Utica.
Tomato Pie from Perreca's
Civitello's (Schenectady, NY)
Right across the street sits Civitello's which is another neighborhood centennial business (est. 1922). I stopped in here hoping to score some of their pizza and maybe some cannolli but both were sold out for the day. So I settled for some lemon ice and a handful of their Italian cookies which are probably my favorite type of cookies. The ice wasn't as good as some Chicago spots but it still hit the spot on a hot day. The cookies were terrific and so was the friendly lady who's grandpa first opened the place.
Italian Cookies from Civitelli's Bakery
Willa's Bakery Cafe (Hudson, NY)
We popped into the newest iteration of Willa's on it's first day in business. I guess they moved into Hudson from another town close by. They seemed to be the first tenant in a beautifully restored building down by the train tracks. Willa's calls itself a bakery-cafe and they do coffee, pastries, breakfast and lunch. The menu us very seasonal with lots of really tempting options. Me and my wife love fresh cut fries and all other forms of fried potatoes so we tried Willa's breakfast version served with fried onions and some garlic aioli and they're the front runner for "best fried potato dish in 2021".
Breakfast Potatoes at Willa's
Feast & Floret (Hudson, NY)
My wife found us this terrific little farm to table type Italian spot in a trendy part of Hudson. Feast & Floret is a chefless restaurant whatever that means. It's a really nice looking spot that's part of the areas very Victorian feel. The menu has most likely switched up with the season but I'd be happy to go back based on what we had on this visit. Fontina Arancini was rich and decadent while a dish made with in season green peas was excellent. Our pasta pick was one of my favorite pasta preps of the year - Piselle con Guanciale made with al dente bucatini, spring onion, mint, and black pepper.
Dinner at Feast & Floret
Le Perche (Hudson, NY)
La Perche is the type of spot you'll find in just about every popular weekend getaway town that takes it's local food scene seriously. French food with locally procured ingredients is what they and so many others are going for. Summertime is always the best time to visit seasonal menu spots like this. Seasonally inspired dishes on our visit included a sweet corn polenta with escargot and poached egg. The polenta was cooked perfectly so need I say more? We also got a tasty plate of crispy crab rice with fried egg and seaweed plus a decadent Kouign Amann. A perfect spot for Hudson Valley.
Lunch at La Perche
Bia (Rhinebeck, NY)
Irish cuisine had long gotten a bad rap until the last five years or so. Whether that's bc it's most closely associated with corned beef and cabbage here in the States or bc of the fact they used to export their best ingredients in Ireland (fish, produce etc) it's now a thing of the past, in Dublin anyway. There's not many chef forward Irish restaurants in the States so Bia in Rhinebeck grabbed my attention when I found it while searching for dining options in the area. The menu was calling my name with it's ode to Irish summer classics with a bit of Hudson Valley flair. For starters a curry crab roll was exactly as I hoped it would be when I first saw it on the menu, very refreshing on a hot summer night. We also had a decent plate of the housemade pate and for my entree I couldn't resist the tempura fish and chips (hake). She tried the locally sourced duck confit and a fruit tart dessert rounded out an enjoyable dinner out. The menu has likely changed with the season and soon the courtyard will be of no use but keep this place in mind if you're visiting the area next summer.
Dinner at Bia Rhinebeck
Alleyway Ice Cream (Saugerties, NY)
Dairy is big in Upstate NY and with it so is designer ice cream. One of the hot trends these days in desserts and sweets is Asian leaning ice cream creations. One of the most popular ice cream ingredients right now is ube (purple yam originally from the Philippines) which has long been a Filipino favorite as far different desserts go. Alleyway Ice Cream makes an ube ice cream mixed with Heath Bar which is a wonderful combo as far as creation of an ice cream flavor goes. Ube has a similar nutty vibe to vanilla but it's not nearly as bland. It's also not that sweet making it a personal favorite.
Ube Heath Bar Ice Cream at Alleyway Ice Cream
Schwabl's (Buffalo, NY)
I visited a ton of old school spots on our excursion out East but none as historic as the 184 year old Schwabl’s in Buffalo. I missed this landmark stop last time I was in town so it was at the top of the list for when I returned. Sebastian Schwabl settled in a German part of Buffalo not long after it became a city and he immediately got to work. The restauranteur opened a few spots including a bar called Schwabl’s. His sons would follow in his footsteps and opened spots of their own including the current iteration of Schwabl’s which was built in 1942. When most people think about the food of Buffalo, it’s the chicken wings that come to mind. But those are predated by the beef on weck which is what they call roast beef sandwiches with kummelweck rolls. It’s exact origin is unknown but it’s believed the salty kummelweck rolls studded with caraway seeds came over with a German Baker from Bavaria.
Roast Beef Sandwich at Schwabl's
The Beef on Weck is a classic sandwich in every sense of its description. Big chunks of beef are roasted until medium rare in the middle. The beef is then sliced to order for sandwiches throughout the day. They come served on the previously mentioned rolls and there’s a big bucket of horseradish at each table. The most popular way to enjoy a beef on Weck at Schwabl’s is with their top notch sides of warm German style potato salad (with bacon) and pickled beets. Both were spectacular to the point where they may have overshadowed what’s an excellent sandwich. This was as close to a restaurant time machine as I’ve been in. A must stop spot when in the Western New York region.
How much time did you spend in Utica, NY?
The brewery tour at Matt's Brwg. has long been considered one of the most amazing tours at any U.S. brewery. This was one of the elements I got from "The Great Beer Trek" by Stephen Morris (1984); a book which changed my life. The Matt's tour is on my bucket list. It has been described as the predecessor concept to that at Lakefront Brwg. in Milwaukee, WI.
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