Spaghetti Parm Holds A Special Place In Buffalo, NY's Heart

It's no secret that Buffalo, NY, has shared more than a few foods with the rest of the United States. Walk into any sports bar across America for a Buffalo-inspired batch of crispy chicken wings. Or, switch up your next roast beef sandwich with Buffalo's beloved Beef on Weck. With a series of delicious foods on deck — hello, sponge candy — New York's second-largest city boasts as many culinary classics as winter storms (via Visit Buffalo Niagara).

One of Buffalo's most popular dishes, however, isn't quite as All-American as the others. Spaghetti parmesan is a Buffalo classic with Italian-American origins. The popular, cheesy dish hails from Chef's Restaurant, located at 291 Seneca Street in downtown Buffalo. According to Chef's website, the restaurant devised the dish in the mid-1900s. While spaghetti parm may sound like any other pasta concoction, Chef's specialty is far from baked spaghetti. In fact, it's unlike any other pasta you've ever tried before. 

Spaghetti parm had a serendipitous start upstate

Chef's website takes ownership over its most popular dish, outlining the pasta's origin story. In the 1960s, Lou Billittier, the then-owner of Chef's, was enjoying lunch with radio host Dave Thomas. According to I Love Chef's, rather than bond over standard boiled pasta, the men opted to switch things up; the duo added butter and cheese to regular, simple spaghetti. 

Yet it was the finishing touch that cinched the fate and longevity of spaghetti parm. To melt the cheese, the men stole a technique popularized by chicken parmesan. According to The Buffalo News, Billittier and Thomas opted to use the broiler to melt the spaghetti's cheese. The men placed the mozzarella under the heat and experimented with the earliest rendition of spaghetti parm. The result was, well, historical.

"It's our No. 1 seller," Louis Billittier Jr. told Buffalo News. Billittier Jr. currently co-owns the restaurant with his sister Mary Beth. As of 2018, Chef's sees and meets the demand for roughly 300 orders of spaghetti parm on a daily basis.

Spaghetti parm is a cheesy buttery take on a classic

Spaghetti parm is seemingly self-explanatory. It's a dish that consists predominantly of spaghetti and, well, parmesan. What really distinguishes this pasta is the aforementioned technique — not to mention the quantity of cheese. Per New York Upstate, Chef's utilizes roughly 200 pounds of mozzarella daily. The addition of mozzarella gives spaghetti parm its gooey, golden coating and makes the dish quintessentially cheesy.

Underneath that cheesy coating is cooked spaghetti with tomato sauce and butter (via The Buffalo News). While the dish employs plenty of melted mozzarella, the parmesan alias is not a misnomer; the recipe calls for a sprinkle of parmesan-romano before the smattering of mozzarella.

Once the cheese is in place, the dish goes under a broiler capable of reaching 800 degrees. The pasta requires less than three minutes of broiling time before it reaches its desired golden hue. This strategy has led spaghetti parm to become Chef's number one dish.

Head to Buffalo, NY for a true spaghetti parm experience

Spaghetti parm seems easy enough to replicate from home. After all, it's just spaghetti and cheese. However, Chef's achieves perfection thanks to heavy-duty equipment. Read: that restaurant-quality broiler. So, to truly experience spaghetti parm, you'll want to head to Buffalo for yourself. According to New York Upstate, Chef's restaurant has enough seating for 325 people, though if you'd rather dine out than dine in, there's an option for that, too.

As a result of the pandemic, you can now pick up select Chef's entrees in frozen versions. Lou Billittier Jr. outlined the restaurant's pivot in an interview with All Services WNY owner Bob Koshinski (via YouTube). With Chef's frozen options, you can store spaghetti parm in your freezer to heat up whenever cravings strike. According to Billittier, the frozen dishes were tested to ensure the pasta tastes just as good heated as a dish you'd find in the restaurant.

"Chef's wouldn't be here without spaghetti parm." said Bilittier during the interview, calling the dish Buffalo's "Italian Beef on Weck." Outside of the city, people tend to know little about beef on weck and spaghetti parm. Within Buffalo, however, both dishes are mainstays. Spaghetti parm has become a classic of the city and an essential at Chef's restaurant.