Jan 6, 2013

Riggies are a culinary treat from Rome, New York

Every area has its own regional foodie treat be it a restaurant, a special dish or something produced locally. When people who have moved away from Oswego County return for a visit they often say, “I can’t wait to eat at Rudy’s” or “I need to buy a case of Grandma Brown’s Baked Beans to take home” or “I love salt potatoes and can’t get them where I live.” Every place has a regional specialty.  When John and I travel we love trying the regional food.  In Louisiana we snacked on cracklin’ and never forgot how wonderful they tasted. 

In Oneida County the culinary specialty is called “Riggies.” One of the places people who live in Rome take their friends is the Savoy Restaurant for Riggies. Just what are Riggies? It turns out that riggie is the shortened word for rigatoni. At the Savoy, which has been a family restaurant for more than 100 years, Chicken Riggies is a staple on their menu.  It is a delicious blend of peppers, mushrooms, and onions tossed in a spicy, creamy tomato and cheese sauce. I enjoyed Chicken Riggies with another local specialty - Rome Greens, a great mix of escarole, prosciutto, garlic, cherry pepper, topped with bread crumbs and Romano cheese.  The origin of the Riggie recipe is unclear but it is so popular that Utica holds an annual Riggie Fest. Maybe Oswego County should have a Bean Fest!

The popular Savoy Restaurant was established in 1908 by the Destito Family and continues to be a family enterprise based on the simple principle “take care of you customers and they will come back.” I enjoyed checking out their walls of fame that include family, famous musicians, and writers. One space is devoted to frequent guest in the 80s – Alex Haley loved to dine and write when he made his frequent visits to the area. As they like to say, “The Savoy is where everyone feels at home.”

I find the genesis of food interesting. In Sylvan Beach the “have-to-have” is Harpoon Eddie’s Hot Ham Sandwich. Like many wonderful things serendipity came into play. It seems that one night they ran out of hotdogs but they had some of the hot spicy ham called capicola that they sizzled on the grill, put it in a bun and their signature sandwich was born. It has a bit of a kick to it. It seems the famous have also enjoyed the Hot Ham Sandwich because I noticed images of Nate King Cole, Desi Arnez, Frank Sinatra and other notables who enjoyed eating at Eddies.

It seems that many of the local favorites were created because the chef needed to make something out of nothing in a hurry. Buffalo Wings are a worldwide favorite because late one night at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo Teressa Bellissimo needed to feed some hungery people so the wings that she planned to use to create the soup stock were deep fried and seasoned with a “special” sauce. 

Did you ever notice how few ingredients there are in Caesar Salad? When we were in Tijuana John and I went to Caesar’s Restaurant, the birthplace of the namesake salad. Chef Caesar Cardini ran out of supplies early but still had guests so he threw together what he had, tossed it with flair at the diner’s table, and a new salad was born.