Unique eats in Central New York

Hot Tomato Oil, Utica Greens, Gianelli Sausage...when it comes to food, we're not small potatoes. Although, they're pretty big around here too.

The simple potato has a uniquely Syracuse story: Waves of Irish immigrants began arriving in the 1840s. Many worked in salt yards along Onondaga Lake, boiling natural brine into salt at a time Syracuse supplied the nation. The workers often brought bags of small, unpeeled potatoes that would boil in the brine until mealtime. We still make them that way, creamy and delicious, a staple of picnics, clambakes and backyard cookouts. But our good tastes go way beyond taters.

 A melting pot of tastiness

Central New York's diverse food offerings have many origins. First, immigrants from Africa, Asia and Europe fused recipes with American experiences. Next, world-class training and food research at places like the Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University's Department of Food Science and Hotel School means CNY has inventive chefs, innovative growers and generous hospitality. Finally, factor in the farm-to-table freshness of this region and you've got a recipe for deliciousness -- whether you love to cook or dine out.

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An always-evolving restaurant scene and so many competitive chefs make going out to eat a sensory delight. First, for an inexpensive Friday night with friends, a lunchtime treat, or the emotional attachment of old favorites, try these uniquely CNY spots:

Alto Cinco, vibrant Mexican food in the Westcott neighborhood; Brooklyn Pickle, when you can't make up your mind between corned beef or pastrami try the Syracuse delis that Brooklyn wishes it had; Darwin, classic dishes and spectacular sandwich creations in downtown Syracuse; Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, food with attitude in downtown Syracuse and one of the best known places in the Northeast; Empire Brewpub, Armory Square bar and grill with a brewery on premises; Funk 'n Waffles, waffles and a whole lot more with live music in Armory Square; The Gem, an always-open Syracuse diner great after a night out (when it's popular with college students); Modern Malt, all-day breakfast, artisan cocktails, and a hip vibe in Armory Square; Original Grain, "Cali vibes and NY Fresh" in downtown Syracuse; Strong Hearts Cafe, inventive vegan and completely delicious; The Varsity, the legendary hangout on Syracuse University's Marshall Street; Wegmans, the supermarket chain with everything, including a legendary burger bar in DeWitt.

If you're looking for fine dining and willing to spend a bit more, here's a few of the only-in-CNY restaurants to whet your appetite: Arad Evans Inn in Fayetteville, The Brewster Inn in Cazenovia, Coleman's Irish Pub on Tipperary Hill, Francesca's Cucina in Little Italy, The Horned Dorset Inn south of Utica in Leonardsville, Laci's Tapas Bar on the North Side, Lemon Grass Restaurant in Armory Square, Mandana Inn on Skaneateles Lake, The Mission on Columbus Circle, Prime Steakhouse at Hanover Square, Rosalie's Cucina in Skaneateles, Sakana-Ya in Armory Square, and Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles. Learn more from restaurant reviewers Jane Marmaduke Woodman and Jared Paventi.

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Waves of immigration meant Syracuse-area restaurants were always adding specialties. It started with the Germans and continues today with immigrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. For staying power, Italian restaurants probably rank No. 1. The Italian inventiveness didn't stop with perfecting pasta sauces but went on to create dishes like Utica's Chicken Riggies, Utica Greens, Gianelli Italian sausage, and the pizza variation of Tomato Pie. You won't find those CNY dishes anywhere else.

When PBS documented a few great American bakeries, it started its show with Columbus Baking Co. on Pearl Street. When Syracuse.com ran a poll to find the best Italian restaurant, it first pared the list to a dozen. Even the omissions from the list started an argument that showed CNY's passion for Italian. Here’s one tip that anyone will savor: Don’t miss the Biscotti Cafe pastry shop on North Salina Street in Little Italy. You won’t be sorry.

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Another influence on CNY cuisine is the landscape itself, which lent itself to dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, fields of fruit and vegetables, and even muck farms of sweet onions. Research at colleges like Cornell University and SUNY Morrisville make CNY an epicenter of new foods. Think of cheeses. Think of Chobani's revolution in Greek Yogurt. Think of ice cream. Think of local farms and dairies selling small-batch, handmade artisan foods. Long before chefs elsewhere began crowing about locally sourced food, Central New Yorkers found it at roadside stands and local farmers markets. The biggest and oldest market is the Central New York Regional Market, open year. The Ithaca Farmers Market, along Cayuga Lake in trend-setting Ithaca, is also open year round. Both make food shopping fun.

Central New York takes even plain foods to an art form: Hotdogs at Heid's of Liverpool. Friday fish fries. Bread from Columbus Bakery. Pizza from so many neighborhood places. Think of all the foods that began in Upstate New York. There are also plenty of friendly neighborhood markets with local traditions, like Green Hills Farms, Nichols Liverpool, Nojaim Bros. of Marcellus, and Syracuse Cooperative Market.

Finally, coming Fall 2020, Salt City Market. It's a bustling location in downtown Syracuse featuring stalls with foods vendors selling culinary options from around the world, a grocery store, café, bar, events and play space. It's a space where everyone can feel they belong, where everyone crosses paths to experience "a new flavor of Syracuse."

Honorable Ben Walsh (IG @walsh4syracuse), 54th Mayor of Syracuse (IG @Syracuse1848) and friend of Spatchcock Funk, join us for some storytellin' and good eatin'. He's got a story that will brighten your day, for sure. Every region has their unique local food bounties, and a little-known delicacy in Upstate New York is the Walleye Cheek. Fresh, clean and tasty, it's a whitefish that cooks like a scallop - very fast, can be beautifully tender but firm too, and who doesn't need that in their life? The jaw muscle of these beautiful fish can be found near any good freshwater fisherman, and you can use a scallop recipe to make 'em, just remember, they cook fast. Here's a mess of recipes we consulted before rollin' 'em onto po' boys -