From the archive
It’s said that the spiedie, a sandwich made of meat cooked in a manner similar to shish kebab, was introduced to America by Augustine Iacovelli. In 1929, he immigrated to the Binghamton, New York, area from Civitella in Abruzzi, Italy. Ten years later, Iacovelli left his job at Endicott-Johnson, a shoe manufacturer, and struck out on his own, opening Augies restaurant in Endicott. There, he introduced the spiedie, solid working class food from his native Abruzzi, that became popular among foreign-born railroad workers and shoemakers.
The term spiedie comes from the Italian word “spiedo,” meaning “spit” and/or “spiedini,” meaning skewered meat. It’s reported that Iacovelli’s original spiedies, consisting of chunks of lamb, were impaled on wooden skewers and broiled over charcoal. Prior to cooking, and throughout the grilling process, the spiedies were sprayed with a sauce that Iacovelli called “Zuzu,” consisting of wine vinegar, water, lemon juice, garlic, and mint. Cradled in a couple of slices of Italian bread, the spiedie was a satisfying meal for hungry workers.
Today, spiedies are still served throughout the Binghamton, New York, area. Indeed, the spiedie has attained a virtual cult status among locals, and so popular is the sandwich that it has spawned the annual Spiedie Fest held over a four-day period every August since 1983.
Meats used in the preparation of today’s spiedies vary widely, running the gamut from lamb to chicken, beef, pork, and even wild game. And Iiacovelli’s sauce has evolved into a marinade, typically based on olive oil, garlic, and vinegar along with unique combinations of herbs favored in Italian cooking, such as mint, basil, oregano, parsley, and rosemary. The marinating process, which tenderizes the meat, can take up to a week but is never less than 24 hours. The spiedies are grilled and then plopped, minus the skewer, between slices of Italian bread or into buns with a judicious splash of extra marinade.
Bottled spiedie sauce, or marinade, can be found under many labels throughout the region, and expatriates nursing a craving for spiedies have their favorite brand shipped by the case to destinations throughout the United States. Curiously, the sandwich’s popularity has not spread commercially beyond the Binghamton region.