Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe

It’s June 1st and while Summer is officially still a few weeks away, we’ve already had some summer-like temps here in Rochester. Up here in the Rust Belt, we’re cooped-up inside from November to April, so it’s great to be outside once again in shorts and a t-shirt. One of the pleasures of Summer is grilling and dining outside. Clam dip and chips is a real crowd pleaser when we have family or friends over for a patio dinner. The post below was first published on July 10, 2017 and continues as this blog’s second most-viewed post of all time with 8081 hits to date.

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An accoutrement staple of Summer backyard picnic dining is potato chips and dip. One of my family’s favorite chip dips used to be a New England clam dip manufactured by a local cheese company named “Heluva Good” of all things (see photo). For some reason, Heluva Good stopped making its clam dip in the early aughts (2000s). Some said it was in response to tightening FDA regulations.

Unable to purchase clam dip, my hankering grew and grew until I finally started searching online for a clam dip recipe that was similar to Heluva Good’s. I found the one below several years ago. It’s a pretty close facsimile and very easy to make. Any time we serve it to guests they always rave about it. I could eat a whole bowl of clam dip with wavy chips in a single sitting all by myself, but my arteries clog up at just the thought of it.

p.s. Heluva Good was headquartered in nearby Sodus N.Y. but was bought out by food conglomerate HP Hood in 2004 and like most things in New York, production was eventually moved out of state. It’s also interesting that the slang term, “one hell of a…” is used to connote something that’s either very good or very bad. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms says the phrase has its roots in the second half of the 1700s.


Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe

  • 6.5 oz. can chopped clams
  • 6.5 oz. can minced clams
  • 8 oz. package Philadelphia brand cream cheese – allow to reach room temperature
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 and ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Red Hot or Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  1. Drain clams, reserving ¼ cup clam broth. Put drained clams aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese with hand-held electric mixer until smooth while adding clam broth, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, paprika, salt, and black pepper.
  3. Add clams and mix together with a spoon or spatula.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for three hours
  5. Sprinkle the top with some additional paprika before serving.

Serve with Lay’s Wavy Potato Chips. Enjoy!

Review: Pittsford Hots’ “Plate”

A couple of Thursdays ago, I was looking for something quick and easy for lunch and dinner prior to my work-weekend marathon, and it popped into my head that I’ve been meaning to try a “plate” from Pittsford Hots for several months. A plate? What’s that? A little background. Greater Rochester, New York doesn’t have much to brag about these days with the demise of Kodak, Xerox, and most other local manufacturing companies, resulting in a downward-spiraling economy, but we are the home of that culinary masterpiece, the Garbage Plate.

Above: Nick Tahou Hots, West Main Street, Rochester

The plate originated at Nick Tahou Hots, starting out as “hots and potats.” I experienced my first plate of “hots and potats” back in 1976, but the delicacy goes back farther than that. Late-night college-student customers subsequently kept asking for “the plate with all of the garbage on it,” so Nick recoined it as the “Garbage Plate” and even trademarked the name. A basic plate (i.e., my favorite version) is two hot dogs or two hamburgers or one of each (the combo) over macaroni salad and home fries and the whole thing smothered with Rochester-style meat hot sauce and raw onions. Other burger/hot dog joints picked up on the popular plate, but they must call their version something else besides a “Garbage Plate” because of Nick’s trademark. See my 2017 post about the plate here.

Anyway, our little village of Pittsford is about 8 miles from downtown Rochester. Main Street Pittsford is lined with quaint, picturesque brick buildings from the 19th-century, but the street-parking is almost non-existent (although there is parking in the rear), so the trendy boutique shops come and go like a revolving door. Former MCC women’s basketball coach, Tim Parrinello, and his wife took a shot and opened Pittsford Hots at 5 South Main Street last December. I’ve been meaning to try their version of the plate and finally got around to it on April 21. So without any further ado, let’s review Pittsford Hots’ version of the famous Rochester Garbage Plate.

Pittsford Hots’ Cheeseburger and Hot Dog Combo “Plate,” $11.99

5 Stars

I ordered a standard plate with a white hot and a cheeseburger over mac salad and home fries, all topped with Rochester-style meat hot sauce and raw onions (photo below). The hot dog and burger were good. I checked and, yes, Pittsford Hots uses Rochester’s very own Zweigles’ hots, the best dogs in the nation (see here). The mac salad was a little different with a touch of mustard added to the mix. Unorthodox, but still very tasty, and moist. The mac salad is key for me and some establishments’ mac salad is dried out from fridge burn. The home fries were okay, but I would have opted that they had been fried a bit longer for a crispier exterior. Not a deal breaker. The meat hot sauce anchors every plate and Pittsford Hots’ version is the standard meat sauce that Rochesterians love.* Not greasy and not too much heat. My one small gripe is the meat hot sauce portion size was a little skimpy. So, overall, this was a very good plate. Nicely done. No bad surprises or disappointments. Five stars. Recommended.

It will be interesting to see if Pittsford Hots can survive at a location with less-than-optimal parking.

*While Nick Tahou Hots may be the originator of the Garbage Plate, its meat hot sauce pales in comparison to the Rochester-style meat hot sauces of most of its competitors. Nick’s hot sauce is greasy and bland. The first is not always the best.

Above: Pittsford Hots’ combo plate: A cheeseburger and a Zweigle’s white hot dog over home fries and macaroni salad and topped with Rochester-style meat hot sauce and raw onions
Above: South Main Street, Pittsford, NY. Pittsford Hots is located in the second building (yellow) from the right

Pittsford Hots Website:
https://pittsfordhots.com/

My Polish Deli Haul

The liturgical calendar with its seasonal religious holy days/holidays is the warp and woof of Roman Catholicism. After 27 years of being a Catholic before trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone in 1983, I had had my fill of following the liturgical calendar, but I don’t begrudge my fellow believers who enjoy the seasonal religious holidays. I’m also not a fan of using the word, “Easter,” for the commemoration of Resurrection Sunday since it may possibly have a pagan connection (although the presumed connection to the pagan fertility goddess, Ishtar/Asherah, is not an open-and-shut case as some assume, see here), but it’s not my hill to die on, either.

Anyway, last Thursday, Easter/Resurrection Day was coming up and for any Pole that means getting some “fresh” kielbasa. Many of you are familiar with the delicious smoked variety of Polish sausage/kielbasa, but you may not know about the fresh, unsmoked biała (“white”) version. Growing up, my family always had fresh kielbasa for the holidays. So delicious. But it’s hard to find. Fresh kielbasa was occasionally available at our local big box grocery store, Wegmans’, but I haven’t seen it there in long time. No big loss. Their version of fresh kielbasa isn’t all that good, anyway. The word “pedestrian” comes to mind when thinking about Wegmans’ fresh kielbasa. You see, a Pole is very fussy and discriminating about their fresh kielbasa. Nope, my aim was to drive to the Polska Chata (pronounced pole-skuh ha-tuh, “Polish House”) deli/restaurant in Irondequoit to pick up a couple of pounds of fresh kielbasa because I knew from experience that theirs was excellent.

So, on the Thursday before Easter/Resurrection Day, I first took a trip to the Dybowski Authentic Polish Market (photo above) on Hudson Avenue on the fringes of Rochester’s old Polish Town neighborhood. Dybowski’s has a much larger variety of Polish food items than Polska Chata and I had a few things in mind. The place was busier than downtown Warsaw with Rochester Poles preparing for Easter/Resurrection Day dinner. I bought two cartons of Krakus brand zurek (“sour rye soup”) and two bottles of Vavel (Americanized version of the Polish Wawel) brand black currant juice aka czarna porzeczka nektar. Both zurek and black currant juice are very popular in Poland. Both food items are so delicious. I also couldn’t resist browsing Dybowski’s impressive sausage display. They have about ten different varieties of smoked kielbasa in addition to many other types of Polish-style meats. I ended up buying two large links of cherry wood smoked kielbasa aka kielbasa wisniowa. I also noticed they had two varieties of fresh kielbasa, but I was determined to pick up my biała sausage at Polska Chata.

Above: Polska Chata deli/restaurant

I then got in my car and drove the two miles to Polska Chata and they were packed with customers as well. The deli/restaurant changed hands in 2018, but I was hoping they still offered the fabulous fresh biała kielbasa that the previous owner, Margaret Gorniak, had shipped in from Toronto. No such circumstance. As I stood in the long line, I noticed several customers requesting fresh kielbasa and the owner retrieving frozen…ach…FROZEN fresh kielbasa from the back freezer. Two problems, 1) fresh kielbasa should never be frozen, and 2) the kielbasa looked mediocre, like the stuff Wegmans’ sells’. It certainly wasn’t the sausage imported from Toronto that I bought in previous years.

So I got in my car and drove back to Dybowski’s. I asked the young pana behind the display cases, which of the two fresh biała varieties she recommended. She suggested the big, fat variety produced by the Winding River Meat Company (Bloomfield, NJ, Joe Krzyworzeka, proprietor). The kielbasa actually resembled my previous favorite imported by Margaret G.

I drove home with my Polish stash and a couple of hours later I prepared my fresh biała kielbasa. Unlike smoked kielbasa, you don’t pan fry fresh kielbasa. My mom always boiled it, but I subsequently learned from “old country” Poles that there’s only one way to cook fresh kielbasa and that’s to put it in a pyrex baking dish with about a half-inch of water, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes.

Mój, o, mój! My, oh, my! The fresh biała kielbasa from Winding River was sooooo good. The best I ever had. My wife concurred that it was the best she had ever tasted. Very little fat. Mild. No grizzle. The cherry wood smoked kielbasa wisniowa was also good, but I couldn’t detect the slightly sweet flavor it was claimed to have.

Well, my Polish fresh kielbasa excursion adventure definitely had a happy ending. I’ll be going back to Dybowski’s in a month or two for another Polish fix.

Note: Fresh kielbasa is served with freshly-ground horseradish.

Above: My Polish deli haul: Back row: Krakus zurek sour rye soup and Vavel Black Currant Juice. Front row: fresh biała kielbasa and cherry wood smoked kielbasa wisniowa.
Above: Some of the varieties of smoked kielbasa on display at Dybowski’s
Above: A large variety of food goods imported from Poland line Henry Dybowski’s store shelves

Cheesy random thoughts

I’ve had several rather insignificant blogging ideas rattling around in my brain, but no time to put them together because of the grueling, six-week leaf campaign. With no more tarps to pull and 12 days off from work I was finally able to create this cheesy excuse for a post.

The Best Cheez-It?

Back in February 2020, I published a taste test pitting Sunshine/Kellogg’s Cheez-It crackers against Nabisco’s Cheese Nips crackers, with Cheez-It winning the contest by a cracker crumb. See here. I subsequently found out Nabisco discontinued making Cheese Nips at some point in 2020. I continued to buy regular Cheez-Its at the Pittsford Wegman’s grocery, but when I visited the Wegman’s in nearby Penfield, I noticed they stocked Extra Cheesy Cheez-Its. Man, that’s some serious cheese flavor! But after awhile, the extra cheese got to be too much. I’ve found that a nice compromise is the Cheddar Jack variety of Cheez-Its. There’s extra cheddar flavor, but it’s not overpowering like Extra Cheesy.

Vanilla Coke or Pepsi Cream Soda Cola?

Readers of this blog know I’m a fan of Vanilla Coke. It was in short supply because of the pandemic, but returned to Wegman’s shelves in April 2021. This past September, I noticed Pepsi introduced its limited edition “Soda Shop Cream Soda Cola.” Curious, I bought a twelve-pack. Well, folks, the comparison wasn’t even close. Vanilla Coke has it all over the Pepsi pretender. Not much cola or vanilla flavor in Pepsi’s product. Other customers must have had the same reaction because Wegman’s pulled it off of their shelves.

Death of My Asus Chromebook

Maybe about six years ago, our PC died and our son steered us toward a Chromebook. They’re relatively inexpensive and start up as soon as you open the screen. Easy peasy. We got an Asus Chromebook with a 15.6″ screen (photo left). I initially didn’t like the Chromebook. What? No delete key! And I didn’t like not having a mouse. When I was laid off in September 2019, I liked the Chromebook even less because it didn’t have Word and Excel software that I would need for my résumé and job-search data. I learned shortly thereafter that Chromebook has free Word and Excel equivalents via the Google cloud. Cool! I also learned how to hook up my Chromebook to our printer when I needed a résumé hard-copy. I was pleased with my Chromebook until a month ago when one of the screen hinges (yellow circle) started making a clicking sound. I knew that wasn’t good. Asus’ screen hinges are extremely cheesy/flimsy. The problem got steadily worse and in a few days my Chromebook was no longer even operational with the screen starting to crack. I went to Staples to buy a new one, but their selection was very small. I then went to Target up the road and bought a 14″ HP Chromebook (photo right). The great thing about Chromebook is I turned on the HP and signed into Google and all of my favorites came up as if I was still on the the Asus. I was a little concerned about the smaller screen when I bought it, but the 14″ is actually preferable; less bulky and cumbersome and just as easy to read. In this case, smaller is better. HP’s long and substantial screen hinge design is heads and tails over Asus’ cheesy, flimsy hinges. Blogging on the couch with the light 14″ HP Chromebook on my lap is a pleasure.

Venerating St. Ives?

I get it. Men don’t usually talk about personal care products, but I really like St. Ives Oatmeal & Shea Butter Body Wash. Hey, everyone showers, right, and we all have to use some kind of soap. Well, Wegman’s took the St. Ives Oatmeal & Shea Butter body wash off their shelves for some dumb reason. I googled it and Target appeared to sell it. I made a trip to Target and bought two bottles. Cool. BTW, I googled St. Ives and discovered Ives/Yves is a canonized Roman Catholic “saint” who lived in Brittany from 1253 to 1303. Should I boycott St. Ives products because they’re named after a RC saint? Sounds very fundamentalish to me.

Polish American Studies

Readers of this blog may recall a 2018 post in which I recounted how I had turned an interest in my Polish heritage into an idol. See here. The best of the many publications I received in my Polish-American craze was “Polish American Studies” put out by the Polish American Historical Association. I recently had an interest in getting back into Polish/Polish-American history (on a much smaller scale than previously), so I submitted my membership application to PAHA again and received my first issue of the Polish American Studies journal. Fascinating articles.

Sweeter Than Sweet

Speaking of sodas, in my trips down Wegman’s soda aisle, I had regularly caught glimpses of Aunt Rosie’s Loganberry soda. Curious, I googled it and found out that the Loganberry drink (it’s actually non-carbonated) got its start at the now-defunct Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Fort Erie, Canada on the shores of Lake Erie, a 13-mile drive from Buffalo. Ah, so Aunt Rosie’s is a regional offering! Cool. I bought a 12-pack and taste tested it. It has a delicious flavor (the loganberry is a hybrid of the blackberry and raspberry), but, man, it’s sweet! A 12-ounce can of Coke has a whopping 39 grams (9.75 teaspoons) of sugar, but a can of Aunt Rosie’s beats that with 46 grams (11.5 teaspoons) of sugar, aka diabetes in a can.

The period goes inside the quotation marks

“The period goes here.

“…not here”.

Call it a pet peeve, but I read quite a bit and I’m amazed at how many writers, editors, and publishers get this grammar rule wrong.

Copy Cats!

I’ve noticed how politicians and political pundits now begin every other sentence with, “Look, …” Some PR/Communications guru must have written a book extolling the word for conveying bold assertiveness, but to me it’s kind of condescending and impolite. I don’t appreciate someone admonishing me to “Look” or “Listen” when they’re beginning to tell me something. The fact that everyone has jumped on the “Look, …” bandwagon is comical.

Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe

Yesterday marked the first official day of Summer, so fire up the grill and bring out the burgers, hot dogs, and marinated chicken thighs! At our house, a patio picnic includes wavy potato chips and dip; New England clam dip that is. The days of buying clam dip at your local grocery store are long gone, but take heart because I have a very easy recipe for you. The post below was first published on July 10, 2017 and continues as this blog’s second most-viewed post of all time with 6981 hits to date.

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An accoutrement staple of Summer backyard picnic dining is potato chips and dip. One of my family’s favorite chip dips used to be a New England clam dip manufactured by a local cheese company named “Heluva Good” of all things (see photo). For some reason, Heluva Good stopped making its clam dip in the early aughts (2000s). Some said it was in response to tightening FDA regulations.

Unable to purchase clam dip, my hankering grew and grew until I finally started searching online for a clam dip recipe that was similar to Heluva Good’s. I found the one below several years ago. It’s a pretty close facsimile and very easy to make. Any time we serve it to guests they always rave about it. I could eat a whole bowl of clam dip with wavy chips in a single sitting all by myself, but my arteries clog up at just the thought of it.

p.s. Heluva Good was headquartered in nearby Sodus N.Y. but was bought out by food conglomerate HP Hood in 2004 and like most things in New York, production was eventually moved out of state. It’s also interesting that the slang term, “one hell of a…” is used to connote something that’s either very good or very bad. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms says the phrase (or “one Devil of a…”) has its roots in the second half of the 1700s.


Heluva Good New England Clam Dip Recipe

  • 6.5 oz. can chopped clams
  • 6.5 oz. can minced clams
  • 8 oz. package Philadelphia brand cream cheese – allow to reach room temperature
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 and ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Red Hot or Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  1. Drain clams, reserving ¼ cup clam broth. Put drained clams aside.
  2. Mix cream cheese with hand-held electric mixer until smooth while adding clam broth, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, paprika, salt, and black pepper.
  3. Add clams and mix together with a spoon or spatula.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for three hours
  5. Sprinkle the top with some additional paprika before serving.

Serve with Lay’s Wavy Potato Chips. Enjoy!

It’s back! The return of Vanilla Coke!

Back in November, I published a post (see here) about my favorite soda pop varieties and bemoaned the fact that my #1 favorite, Vanilla Coke, and several others had disappeared from the grocery store shelves early-on in the pandemic. Single 16.9 oz bottles of Vanilla Coke were occasionally offered in the pop cooler near the store’s pizza/prepared foods section, but it was missing in the soda aisle for an entire year.

Well, a few weeks ago, Vanilla Coke made an unexpected comeback at the grocery store. First came six-packs of 16.9 oz plastic bottles. Yahoo! I stocked up not knowing if the return was a temporary blip. A week later came the more-convenient twelve-packs of 12 oz aluminum cans (see photo above). Fantastic! Yes, friends, Vanilla Coke is back and I’m indulging, but don’t tell my MD!

Papa Al’s Hot Sauce – It’s back!!!

Back in December 2018, I wrote a post bemoaning the discontinuation of Papa Al’s Hot Sauce, which had been locally-made here in Rochester, New York. See that post here. Boy, I loved Papa Al’s sauce and enjoyed it for forty-years. I’ve periodically thought about the sauce, wishing I could once again drive over to Southtown Beverages in Henrietta, New York to pick up a couple of bottles as I used to, but that ship had sailed for good. Or had it?

A few weeks ago, a fellow-blogger came across my post and inquired if I had ever tried to reproduce the sauce and asked for my recipe. Well, that got the old brain neurons firing. Referencing the list of ingredients from my last bottle of Papa Al’s sauce – ketchup, cayenne pepper sauce, water, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt, black pepper, and celery powder – I attempted to recreate the sauce by guessing on the ingredient proportions. The initial result? Hmm. Not bad. But there was touch of sweetness present that the original sauce did not have. I assumed that the sweetness came from the regular ketchup. The next day, I went to the grocery and bought a bottle of Heinz low-sugar ketchup. With this second attempt, I also simmered the sauce for one hour to blend the flavors as per our youngest son’s suggestion. He’s also a Papa Al’s Hot Sauce connoisseur and aficionado and we texted back and forth throughout this re-creation experiment. I put the new batch in the fridge overnight for it to “rest,” and sampled it in the morning. Pretty good. I judged the flavor to be around 85% authentic in comparison to the original. I then tinkered with some of the other ingredients (less vinegar, more celery salt) and the flavor of the third batch was in the proximity of 95% of that of the original. Excellent!!! Without any further ado, I present…

Papa Al’s Hot Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup low-sugar or non-sugar ketchup
  • 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (cayenne pepper sauce)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Use a whisk to thoroughly dissolve ketchup. Heat on warm for one hour, stirring occasionally. Do not boil. Put in sealed container and cool overnight. Voilà! An extremely close facsimile of Papa Al’s Hot Sauce. Enjoy!

⚠️ WARNING: This Papa Al’s Hot Sauce facsimile has a good degree of spiciness and heat. Keep out of the reach of children, pets, and those with delicate palates.

Soda? In Rochester, we call it “pop.”

When I was growing up back in the 1960s, there weren’t as many concerns about nutrition, and soda was a staple of the American diet. Here in Rochester, we referred to soda as “pop” and generally still do. When out-of-towners asked for a “soda” back in the day, we thought that was very strange.

Every weekend, our Dad and a few of us kids would hop in the station wagon and take a short drive to the cinder block building at 625 Shelford Road (photo below) and buy a case of large bottles of “pop” from a local manufacturer, “Fiz Pop,” which was a lot cheaper than the national brands. They had many flavors and it was fun to pick out my favorites as we filled the case. Fiz eventually moved out of that location and my Dad began buying six-packs of Coca-Cola at the big grocery. One of my sweetest high-school-era memories is sucking down ice-old Cokes in the summertime while watching my little black-and-white TV late at night in my hot, un-air-conditioned bedroom.

These days, health experts strongly discourage drinking soda. There’s 39 grams of “sugar” (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup) in a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola, which translates to 9.75 teaspoons of sugar per can. That’s A LOT of sugar.

I don’t drink a lot of pop/soda, but I do like to crack open a cold one on Saturdays after doing the yard chores. I definitely have my favorites. I have a small stockpile of my favorite varieties with samples in the above photo:

From left to right:

  • Dr. Pepper & Cream Soda – Great combo! Was on the grocery shelf for a limited time during the Summer, but didn’t see it for awhile. It’s now back in six-packs of 16.9 oz. plastic bottles.
  • Coca-Cola, Orange Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.
  • Vernors – A very gingery-tasting ginger-ale that originally hailed from Michigan. Wikipedia states that “soft,” full-flavored ginger-ales like Vernors were popular before Prohibition, but afterwards, less-flavorful “dry” varieties like Canada Dry caught on.
  • Coca-Cola, Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.
  • A&W Cream Soda – Hard to find. Stocked sporadically.
  • Coca-Cola, Cherry Vanilla – Haven’t seen this Coke variety on the store shelves lately.

The only Coke on the local grocery shelves lately is Classic Coke and Diet Coke. Has Coke given up on its specialty varieties or have the purchasing agents at our two local grocery chains just gotten lazy? Articles on the internet state that Coke has NOT discontinued its specialty flavors, but that it’s had a hard time keeping up with the high demand during the C-19 pandemic.

What’s your favorite flavor of pop…er, I mean soda?

Above: The Fiz Pop brand was was eventually bought by the Petix family, owners of College Club Beverages. That’s brothers Louie and Joe Petix in the photo above.
I also occasionally like to pick up some bottles of Jarritos-brand Lime and Tamarind flavored soda from Mexico in in the imported foods aisle.
Above: The former Fiz Pop building at 625 Shelford Road, now subdivided into multiple apartments.

Argh! What have they done to my favorite grape pie from Naples, N.Y.?

Did you ever have grape pie? It’s an annual tradition at our house. Just about every year (we missed last year), at the peak of the Fall foliage colors, my wife and I make the one-hour trek from Rochester to the village of Naples (pop. 2500) at the southern tip of Canandaigua Lake to buy a few grape pies. Wine-making is a big industry in the Finger Lakes region because of the clement “lake effect” upon the weather and there are many, many vineyards situated on the hills between the long lakes. Folks in Naples gained some notoriety for their picturesque community by taking some of those Concord grapes and making pies with them. Many Rochesterians make the trip to Naples in the Fall for the scenery and the grape pies.

On Saturday, October 17th, my wife and I began our journey southward to Naples. It was a sunny day and the farther south we drove, the more pronounced were the flaming red, yellow, and orange colors on the trees. The high hills of the region were awash with the bright colors. Stunningly beautiful!

Above: Fall foliage and one of the Finger Lakes

As we pulled into Naples, I contemplated which one of the many vendors we would purchase our grape pies from. We had always bought our grape pies at Cindy’s Grape Pies on Academy Street, but a couple of years ago, we saw on the Rochester news that owner, Cindy Trzeciak, was retiring and closing the business. I drove down Academy street for nostalgia sake, but was surprised to see a line of people in front of Cindy’s. Huh? We parked the car and eagerly stood in line for our two grape pies, so happy that the bakery hadn’t closed after all.

After securing our pies, we had a nice, leisurely lunch at the Redwood Restaurant down the road. Nothing fancy at the Redwood, just good, simple food. I chose a jalapeno burger and fries while my wife had sliced roast beef on kimmelweck, a Western New York favorite.

Full and content, we drove back towards Rochester with the beautiful Fall foliage once again gracing our way. We stopped at the Wegman’s grocery in Canandaigua for our favorite toppings to go along with our grape pies; whipped cream for my wife and vanilla ice cream for me.

We finally made it home and immediately served ourselves a generous helping of grape pie. Huh? Uh oh! With the first bite we both noticed that something was terribly wrong. One of the best features of Cindy’s grape pie was the thick and very flaky crust. But, the crust on this pie was very thin and soggy. Smelling a rat, I googled “Cindy’s Pies” and discovered that Cindy T. had sold the business to new owners back in September 2019 (see here). Hmph. The new owners had promised “not to change a thing,” of course, but that obviously was not the case. My wife and I were very disappointed. The second pie was exactly the same way. Next year, my wife and I will have to try the other prime, grape pie-seller in Naples, Monica’s Pies.

We thank and praise God for His beautiful creation and for good food and for good cooks who know how to prepare it.

Postscript #1: In case you’re curious, grape pie tastes somewhat similar to blueberry pie.

Postscript #2: When there’s not a pandemic going on, Naples hosts its annual Grape Festival the last week of September. See here.

Rochester meat hot sauce: Part 2 and comprehensive ranking

A few weeks back, I introduced another one of Rochester’s delectable contributions to haute cuisine; Rochester meat hot sauce. See here. Just about every local burger joint and hot dog stand in town serves up its own version of the meat hot sauce and you can even buy jars of it at the local grocery stores. Last time, we sampled Momma K’s, Coach Tony’s, and Don’s Original brands. Today, we’re going to try three more varieties: Uncle Timmy’s, Zweigle’s, and Steve T’s.

Uncle Timmy’s: This sauce is very similar in taste and consistency to Coach Tony’s; a very hamburger-y taste, but with a stronger cinnamon accent.

Zweigle’s: Rochester’s maker of the USA’s best hot dogs (see here) offers its own version of meat hot sauce, not in a jar, but a combination of spices in a plastic package. The process involves browning up a pound of fresh ground beef, adding water and the package ingredients, and simmering for half an hour. Voilà! A very tasty meat hot sauce.

Steve T’s: Steve T. is the nephew of Nick Tahou (d.1997), the former proprietor of Nick Tahou’s Hots, home of the original Garbage Plate (see here). Steve has his own hots and burgers joint, but isn’t allowed to use the Tahou name, which is trademarked. This sauce is disappointingly bland and has noticeably more grease than any of the other jarred offerings (note the grease sludge at the top of the jar in the above photo). Steve allegedly follows his Uncle’s Nick’s original meat hot sauce recipe, which makes the case for refinement; the first is not always the best.

It was quite an undertaking to eat my way through these six offerings of Rochester meat hot sauce in order to put together this two-part special post, but my readers’ “need to know” comes before my health.

Let’s sum it all up by ranking the six Rochester meat hot sauces that we’ve reviewed, from best to worst:

Zweigle’s: Excellent flavor with a good degree of heat. Has an unfair advantage due to the add-your-own fresh ground hamburger.

Don’s Original: Delicious. Easily the best of the five jarred varieties. Leans towards a chili flavor with its inclusion of tomato puree and a heavy dose of chili powder.

Coach Tony’s: A bit “rough around the edges,” but a decent alternative if you can’t get Zweigle’s or Don’s Original.

Uncle Timmy’s: The strong cinnamon accent drops it just a notch below the very-similar Coach Tony’s.

Momma K’s: Unadventurous. Tastes just like Sloppy Joe sauce. Strictly for small children and adults with delicate palates

Steve T’s: Ach. Very bland and and very greasy. Tastes like liquid lard with a slight hamburger flavor.

Because he claims to use his Uncle Nick Tahou’s recipe, Steve T. boasts that his hot sauce is “Rochester’s Original Meat Sauce.”

All of the Rochester meat hot sauces mentioned above can be conveniently ordered from NY Style Deli via the link below: