Monday, February 2, 2015

The Great Spiedini

When the Great Spiedini opened up last summer over by Burger 21 (that's 9648 W. Linebaugh for those of you who aren't residents of Westchase), the name made me think that it was a piano bar for some reason. While they do have a large outdoor patio (I'm sure plenty of singles fill up the place on weekend evenings), I recently discovered via our free neighborhood advertising circular that TGS specializes in a very specific type of regional cuisine, something called a "spiedie", which is a sandwich featuring marinated pieces of meat (originally lamb, but now also including chicken, pork, beef, and/or veal) that are grilled on skewers and served on a hoagie or Italian roll. According to my crack sources (i.e., Wikipedia), Italian immigrants that had settled in the Binghamton, NY area first conceived this dish early in the 20th Century and it remains a popular food item in that region of central New York and the Southern Tier of the state outside of New York City (there's even a Spiedie Fest in Binghamton every year). TGS came about when a native of upstate New York relocated to Tampa and realized that, upon jonesing for his favorite local sandwich, there were no spiedies to be found within a 1,000-mile radius. After much trial and error on developing a marinade, a winning recipe was formulated and a food venture was launched to share the spiedie love with other local residents. Being a sucker for such unique dining experiences (especially those that are essentially just down the street from the Canteen), I had to try it out and headed over to TGS one Thursday for lunch.

What you see above is my first ever spiedie, simply called "the Traditional" - I chose the marinated chicken, which came on a slice of Italian bread and accompanied it with a side of salt potatoes (tossed in butter, parsley, and thyme, another Binghamton specialty, apparently). While flavorful from the oil and vinegar marinade, I found the chicken to be lacking a bit in tenderness, not surprising when you're grilling white meat. I quickly realized that the bread slice is key in sopping up the fatty juices (maybe the best characteristic of this culinary invention). Overall, I finished my spiedie feeling a little underwhelmed (and hungry, for that matter - I needed a bigger one) and decided to return the following week for a different version.

Now this was more like it, a Philly spiedie (marinated chicken and pork combo, this time) topped with sauteed onions, peppers, provolone cheese, and spiedini sauce (i.e., the marinade), the TGS take on the traditional cheesesteak. For side, I went with the cucumber salad, a bracing, creamy concoction of chopped cucumbers (very tart, almost like pickled Japanese vegetables), dill, onion, and sour cream. While this time I left with a full belly, I still wasn't quite getting the "wow factor" of this whole concept. Maybe it's just that it's an acquired taste for the non-New York native, much like Italian beef tends to initially puzzle those who aren't Chicagoans. And like the Italian beef cut, which needs to be marinated in juice for a long time and (even after that) sliced super-thin to make it palatable, lean grilled meats are very tough to get tender, marinade or no marinade (after all, fat is flavor). Still, I can see the nostalgic allure of the spiedie to a very specific segment of the Westchase population (and Lord knows there are plenty of New Yorkers around these parts), but anytime I find myself looking for lunch on Linebaugh, I'm probably more likely to pull up to Burger 21 before TGS...

No comments:

Post a Comment