by Sierra Guardiola
Chicago has its deep dish pizza; Philly has its cheesesteak. The Finger Lakes is also known for some unique favorite foods. Here are just
1. Cornell Chicken
This dish famously draws its origin back to a Cornell professor and his quest to make the best barbeque chicken. Robert Baker was a professor of poultry science at Cornell and laid out ingredients for the best sauce along with instructions on how to best cook the chicken during the process. His famous chicken was first served at his stand at the New York State Fair, and remains open at the fair to this day and is run by the Baker family.
2. Ice Cream Sundae
People may go to just about any ice cream store and ask for a sundae, but it got its start in the Finger Lakes town of Ithaca. While serving ice cream with toppings was probably happening before the 1890s, the first record of the name being coined occurred in 1892 in Ithaca when two men enjoyed vanilla ice cream topped with a cherry and cherry syrup. Legend has it that the two decided to name the dish after the day they first enjoyed it, thus the name “Cherry Sundae.”
3. Grape Pie
Naples is the hometown of this fall favorite. The first grape pie was introduced in the 1960s at Redwoods Restaurant. The owner, Al Hodges, introduced the new dessert to attract new customers and from there, it gained traction. Hodges enlisted the help of local baker Irene Bouchard who helped bake the pies made of concord grapes for his restaurant. The area now has many of its local hubs churning out these pies that people await year after year.
Although this dish got its start in Binghamton, it’s gained popularity in the Finger Lakes region, too, where many places are taking a shot at serving up their own variations. Look for them on the menu at restaurants in the area, sometimes served in new forms like the Chicken Spiedie Dip found on the menu at Monk’s on The Commons in Ithaca. A spiedie is often chicken or other meat marinated overnight to soak up the juicy flavor of the sauce, often made with lemon and garlic. After it’s marinated, it is then cooked on a skewer. It is then placed inside a roll and enjoyed as a sandwich.
5. White Hots
These are a Western New York spin on the classic hot dog Americans know and love. White hots are made from a combination of beef, pork, and veal with spices like mustard and paprika added for flavor. The dish gets its name since the meat is uncured and unsmoked, which when cooked results in the white color. You’ll often see them served with a sauce of onions, peppers, relish, molasses, and vinegar on top of it after it’s been grilled over charcoal. Although now praised for the high-quality of meat they use, these were originally made as a “poor man’s hotdog” by using lower quality cuts of meat.
6. Garbage Plate
A traditional garbage plate usually has a variety of cheeseburger, sausage, steak, chicken, or white or red hots piled on top of home fries, French fries, baked beans, and macaroni salad. It’s finished off with a Rochester hot sauce, which is a spicy meat sauce. This plate got its start at Nick Tahou Hots, an eatery in Rochester. Legend has it that it was created by a group of college students looking for a late-night eat. It has become a staple in Rochester’s culture, with many restaurants and eateries offering their own spin on the dish to add some flare to a favorite.
7. Salt Potatoes
Hailing from the Syracuse area, this dish was introduced back in the 1800s after Irish immigrants settled in the area and began working in the salt mines. It’s made using simple ingredients, yet has made a name for itself even so. The potatoes are boiled in salt water, which boils at a higher temperature. It helps the potatoes cook through better than without the salt. The skin of the potato takes on the salty flavor of the water, which adds to the overall flavor of the dish.
A special thanks goes out to Monica’s Pies in Naples for the grape pie, and to Charlie Riedel’s in Canandaigua for the white hot and garbage plate dish preparation.