How Chicken Riggies Became An Utica, New York Favorite

When you think of New York's signature regional foods, you might think of an H&H bagel or a classic dollar slice. But, today, we're deep-diving into one of the most unexplored (yet profoundly beloved) dishes in the state. Welcome to Utica: the unofficial chicken riggies capital of the world.

Cassidy's Diner in Richfield Springs, New York doesn't usually serve dinner. But, on Friday evenings, says The Takeout, Cassidy's stays open to serve chicken riggies — and literally no other dinner offerings. (Riggies are that big of a deal.) At Teddy's restaurant in Rome, NY, a sign on the door reads "I love you more than chicken riggies (but please don't make me choose)." During a normal week, says La Cucina Italiana, Teddy's goes through 125 gallons of riggies sauce. Utica even holds an official Riggie Wars, with multiple divisions of competitors across the 315 zip code. The first-ever installation took place this year in April, local radio station WOUR reported, and 16 different restaurants faced off for the title.

With a name like "chicken riggies," you might be picturing a basket of breaded tenders, or dino nuggets on a paper plate shaped like a zoo animal. But, "riggies" is short for "rigatoni." That's right — chicken riggies is a pasta dish, and unless you're reading from somewhere in Utica right now, you're probably missing out. So, what's all the hype about?

A (fairly new) regional classic

According to The Takeout, chicken riggies is rigatoni pasta with creamy tomato sauce, peppers, chicken, and cheese. From there, the ingredients can vary from sausage to shrimp or tomatoes — as long as it doesn't stray too far from the original. "I would be so disappointed if you gave me chicken riggies and you gave me jalapeños," says Mary Kiernan, a Central New York native and associate professor in the Food Studies Program at Syracuse University (via La Cucina Italiana). "You need to stay true to what the recipe is." Since then, the dish has appeared on menus from Boston to Myrtle Beach, says local outlet Erie Station Village

When did chicken riggies exact their chokehold on Utica? That's up for debate. The now-closed Chesterfield restaurant credited itself with inventing chicken riggies in 1989. But, chef Michael Geno says it happened a full decade before that, in 1979. In an interview with local radio station WIBX, Geno says he was working at the Italian restaurant Clinton House, which was located in a Utica suburb. Along with owners Richie Scamardo and Bobby Hazleton, Geno claims to have created the dish for a group of "doctors, lawyers and union guys [who] would come in on Monday nights to play cards." Colloquially, the card players referred to the meal as the "riggie dish," and began asking for it week after week. The name stuck, and eventually, chicken riggies made its way to Utica — the rest is history.