The Italian Origins Of Kansas City's Iconic Chicken Spiedini

Virtually every major American city has its own Italian neighborhood. Some of the most well-known, such as Manhattan's Little Italy, Boston's North End, and Federal Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, lie on the East Coast. San Francisco has North Beach, while farther inland, Chicago has University Village, per AFAR. Missouri, however, is special. It has not one but two distinct Italian neighborhoods in the two cities that bookend the state. To the east, St. Louis has The Hill, while on the west side, Kansas City has Columbus Park.  

Columbus Park may be a contender for having one of the greatest Italian neighborhoods in the Midwest. According to Flatland KC, Italians, mostly from Sicily, flocked to Kansas City at the end of the 19th century. The new arrivals banded together and foraged for the surrounding hillsides for rhubarb, grew tomatoes in their back gardens and cooked up classic recipes from the homeland. And like with many classic recipes, one, in particular, was modified. Enter: the chicken spiedini.

Kansas City Magazine explains that spiedini translates to "skewer" in Italian, and traditionally, this meaty treat calls for cubes of beef, lamb, or veal to be seasoned, skewered, and grilled over hot coals. Thanks to the "spiedie" sandwich that was stuffed with similar skewered meat and created by Italian immigrants in New York, Mike Garozzo in Columbus Park was inspired and took it upon himself to make his own creation of the dish in 1989. 

Chicken spiedini is a spin on an Italian classic that comes from the region of Abruzzo

In Abruzzo, Italy, where spiedini is said to have originated, the skewers usually go by the name "arrosticini" and are made with lamb seasoned simply with olive oil, salt, and rosemary, as noted by Consiglio's Kitchenware. However, there are several different takes on skewered meat found throughout the country. In Sicily, for example, spiedini is a street snack of breaded, rolled, skewered, and grilled veal. Mike Garozzo was directly inspired by this interpretation owing to his own Sicilian heritage and upbringing in Kansas City, per The Feast Magazine.

Most chicken dishes on Italian-American restaurant menus are the same. There's chicken parmesan, chicken piccata, or chicken marsala – but you'll only find the original chicken spiedini in Kansas City. Born out of the cholesterol-conscious dining trend of the late 1980s, the dish offered diners something a little different.

In a break with tradition, chicken was seen as a better option than veal or beef for its lower amounts of cholesterol. With this in mind and after consulting with his Uncle Alfio, Garozzo, owner of Garozzo's Ristorante in Kansas City, decided to put a little twist on the traditional spiedini he'd grown up eating by using chicken instead. 

His recipe consisted of marinating chicken in olive oil, garlic, basil, and breadcrumbs for three to six hours. The tenders were rolled up, skewered, coated in more breadcrumbs, broiled, and served with a sauce (via Kansas City Magazine). However, it doesn't stop there — you can even enjoy it in various ways along with pasta, according to the restaurant's website.

Thanks to its Italian roots, chicken spiedini is a Kansas City original — and that is something the whole city can be proud of.