Riggies and Rome

What is it about small towns that instill such pride in their local recipes and traditions? It seems that each city has a specialty that the locals are proud of and the uprooted natives just have to have when they come home.  Rome is the same way.  However; when I say “Rome” I do not mean La Citta Eterna, but in fact, a small town right in the very center of New York State.  Rome, NY boasts a high percentage of Italians.  The legend is that everyone here can trace their roots back to 4th Street, which is nestled in East Rome,  the Little Italy of this small city.  I’m not sure that this is entirely true…but I know it is for me.

One of the dishes that is famous here is Chicken Riggies.  It’s made with Rigatoni (thus the name) macaroni, chicken and cherry peppers.  Those are the three main ingredients…after that, there is some wiggle room.  Even with the chicken, some restaurants will serve up Sausage Riggies, or Shrimp Riggies, as well as the ever popular Vodka Riggies.  The Vodka Riggies have the extra step of adding the vodka to the sauce and letting it cook away.   Vodka Riggies usually have artichoke hearts in them, so for the Purist Riggie fans, this is an entirely different dish.

Each year, Riggie Fest is held at the Utica Memorial Auditorium right in Downtown Utica, NY.  Restaurants compete for the title of Best Riggies.  Teddy’s Restaurant, of Rome, NY  has won so many times they were inducted into the Chicken Riggies Hall of Fame.

It’s a real thing.

It’s very serious stuff.  We Central New Yorkers take our Riggies….any  way we can get them.  We compare them at restaurants.  We tinker with recipes at home.  We schlep them to showers, barbecues and holidays.  We get them catered for parties. We store them in crock pots for college kids aching for home.  We plan our Superbowl menus around them.  Riggies are serious, serious business.  The entire success or doom of a restaurant can be based on if someone’s uncle’s cousin’s sister said that the Riggies were just, “okay.”

The true origination of Riggies continues to be a debate.  Some say they actually began in Utica, NY, others say  Clinton, NY and still others hold to the Roman Tradition.  Whichever way, we benefit from having this special local dish.  Riggies can be found on menus in restaurants every where from The New York State Fair in Syracuse, Utica, Rome, New Hartford, Oneida, and Clinton to name  just a few.  However; by the time you get far enough east in New York State, even Albany, the Chicken Riggies disappear faster than they do at every single graduation party held in Rome.   Therein lies the rub.  People literally  have to come home for their Riggies.

While, as I mentioned before, the core ingredients include the chicken and the cherry peppers, there are a lot of recipes out there that all claim to be the best.  The secret is to try them every where.  The best ones are the ones that YOU love.  For me, it’s usually whichever plate is right in front of me.  Tonight, it’s at Lacy J’s Cafe, Route 365, Floyd, NY.  They have the perfect blend of creaminess and heat, the mushrooms are fresh and the chicken is tender.  Like all Italian food, the essential ingredient is freshness; vegetables, chicken, and cream.  The only thing better than a fresh plate of steaming hot Riggies is a container of them waiting for you at lunch the next day.

For the the award winning recipe

As I stated previously, Chicken Riggies are as varied as the people who eat them….since there are so many versions, try here.

(You could always drive through Central New York and take your own Chicken Riggies Tour.)