Tag Archives: Binghamton

Ride a Wild Horse Into the Sky

In an age of mass-produced plastic everything, I’m often moved by lost-art craftsmanship. When I was a child, carousels had hand-carved, hand-painted horses that went up and down on very visible mechanics to the raucous Calliope song.

There are probably only 150 antique carousels in North America. The Binghamton area has six of those. That’s pretty incredible considering that Binghamton has a population of about .01% of North America.

Binghamton Antique Carousel

The entire Binghamton area grew up in the 40s, 50s and 60s with paternalistic companies like IBM and Endicott-Johnson shoes. Endicott-Johnson was famous for training immigrants. No one ever got laid off from IBM. IBM even had a country club for their employees and as an IBM child, I swam in that pool and sledded on their golf course in the winter.

George F. Johnson, an Endicott-Johnson founder, actually grew up in a very poor household. As a successful entrepreneur, he bought six carousels and donated them to area parks on the condition that children never pay to ride them. When there was talk of removing or replacing these old relics, apparently one or more of my childhood classmates put up a fight. They won.

These six hand-made carousels are still running every summer and they’re still free to ride. Restoration of the paint has also been undertaken. I took this picture twenty years ago before they were restored.

Extra points if you know the poem from which the title of this blog is taken.

Good Bean Hunting

As an ex-roaster who had ten different ways to make coffee at home, being weaned from excellent coffee is a zen exercise in patience and wabi-sabi. Imagine my delightful surprise at discovering a truly superb roaster in Binghamton, New York of all places.

Coe not only knows how to buy coffee, but also how to roast and how to get the perfect espresso out of the machine. Mary Ann also pulls the perfect shot.

Laveggio Roasteria is right in downtown Binghamton at 101 Court Street.

Spiedies

The original spiedies were marinated cubes of leg of lamb grilled to perfection on a skewer. Sure, we’ve all had marinated meat on a skewer. The Binghamton flair, however, was that it was served with a slice of soft white Italian bread that you wrapped around the four or five cubes of meat and then pulled the stick. The remaining sandwich was the penultimate bar food. You could buy them one at a time while enjoying Genessee or Utica Club upstate New York beer.

spiedies

On our way south from Toronto, We stopped in Binghamton for two days. I dreamed of having those very spiedies that long hibernated in the cerebral creases of my brain.

Finding authentic spiedies was a Herculean task though. They serve what they call spiedies, but they were not the spiedies of my memory. These days, Binghamton restaurants grill chicken or pork only, put it in a sub roll and call it a spiedie sandwich. That’s a submarine sandwich, not a spiedie, damn it!

Evidently, since I myself left for other frontiers, spiedies have fallen out of favor with the upstate New York populace. This in no way implies that I kept an entire industry alive with my personal consumption.

After much Internet searching and asking the local residents, we finally found the one remaining restaurant that still serves lamb if you ask for it: Lupo’s. They do, however, shove it in the sacrilegious submarine roll. My friend, Mick, a local television weatherman and lifetime Binghamton resident, told me a secret. When they hand you the submarine sandwich, you have to ask for Italian bread on the side. It’s the only way to get something that closely resembles the original.

Spiedies are near extinction. Something must be done. It’s a call to arms! Or, maybe it’s a call to grill?

 SPIEDIES RECIPE

  • Buy a loaf or two of soft Italian bread, seeded or not, but pre-sliced.
  • Cut a spring leg of lamb into cubes about 1-1/2 inches.
  • Marinate the cubes overnight.
  • Skewer the cubes 4-5 pieces per skewer. (If you use the wood skewers, it’s best to soak them in water for about 15 minutes first.)
  • Grill, making sure not to over cook the lamb. (If you’re not sure, use an instant read thermometer until you see how long to cook them.)
  • Pull off the grill and nest each skewer in one slice of bread.
  • Hold the meat with the bread, pull out the skewer, and voila!
Menichini's Spiedie Recipe (winner 1995 Spiedie Fest)

2 quarts extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch sweet basil, chopped
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 fresh bulb garlic, medium, minced
1 fresh small onion, minced
2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups red wine vinegar
juice from 10 lemons
2 Tbsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dehydrated onion

Blend into a dressing. Marinate overnight.

You Can’t Go Home Again

(Full Disclosure: I really couldn’t finish Thomas Wolfe’s book You Can’t Go Home Again. Not that it isn’t brilliantly written because the prose was beautiful. I just couldn’t get my head into the story so I put it down.)

On the way south from Toronto, we stayed a couple of nights in Binghamton, New York, the town in which I grew up from age one until I left for college. It was more or less on the way and I was impelled by some admixture of curiosity and nostalgia. I felt strangely obligated to drive by my two childhood homes. More than that, I wanted to taste an authentic spiedie again and show Deena at least one of the antique carousels.

Binghamton Railroad
The Binghamton Railroad Station is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This pic by Doug Kerr

The cracker box house with detached garage in which I grew up looked the same except for the awful PINK that someone decided to paint it. That particular color in Deena’s and myself’s old haunt of predominately gay Wilton Manors would have been fine. Here, in the gray skies and muted colors of Binghamton, it made no sense. (Binghamton is the seventh cloudiest and 10th rainiest city in the USA. It’s not the place to live if you have a propensity for winter depression. Really. I’m not making this up.) The other more modern house on the south side of town looked no different from my memory, but we passed by in the night, so it may have well been the dreamscape of weakened synapses.

childhood home
Lived here from age 2 to 14 years. This pic was taken long before it was painted pink.

When I was a kid, the area around Binghamton, the Southern Tier, was a thriving industrial area with IBM, Endicott-Johnson shoes. Link flight simulators, Amsco film and General Electric. Now, it’s a hollowed out shell with one-third less population. Back then, Governor Rockefeller poured money into New York’s educational system and made it one of the best of its day. The surviving SUNY Binghamton, now Binghamton University, is apparently the only thing that keeps this place from becoming a true ghost town. From what I could see, the residents of this city are either the old codgers like my friend Mick, who’s been there his whole life, or the young students of the university. I wonder if the young and old even talk to each other. The few residents in between those ages must be university teachers and support staff.

I feel no guilt for abandoning this particular ship.