Every semester, Binghamton residents and college students alike look forward to Restaurant Week. While some pubs and eateries have fixed-price menus costing upwards of $30, there are also more affordable options for the average college student, and Lupo’s S&S Char-pit is one of them. Located at 6 West State St., just a short drive past The Colonial and bars, Lupo’s provides a quick and filling bite for hungry customers for a modest $10.
Walking up to the restaurant, I was immediately hit with the smell of smoky barbecue and spices, making my mouth water even before entering. Spacious seating and old-timey decor filled my view once I opened the door, the restaurant’s employees giving me a warm and friendly welcome. With its neon signs, Coca-Cola posters and traditional burger shack-style menu, Lupo’s seems untouched by time or trends, setting itself apart from many of its Downtown competitors. The restaurant instead establishes a homey and comfortable space with minimal decor and allows for the food to speak for itself.
Lupo’s S&S Char-pit is known for its Southern Tier dishes and especially its spiedies, a Binghamton staple. According to owner Steve Lupo, a spiedie is a “marinated meat product cut in cubes marinated [in] oil, vinegar [and] dry spices, [served] on a six-inch roll or 12-inch roll.” Although the original spiedie, brought over from Italy to Endicott, consisted of just lamb off the skewer on Italian bread, Lupo’s serves its spiedies with various other toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, peppers and onions. Its most popular order, the chicken spiedie, was invented by Steve Lupo’s brother as an alternative for their father to eat. Lupo’s includes a restaurant, meat plant and bottle plant which packages and ships Lupo’s marinated meats and sauces to local grocery stores.
Lupo’s $10 lunch menu includes a three-part meal with two options to choose from for each category. Per the owner’s generosity, my photographer and I tried all six options: two spiedies, two types of tater tots and two desserts. Lupo’s offers a classic lamb spiedie made Greek-style with tzatziki, lettuce and tomatoes and a buffalo chicken spiedie with fried chicken tenders, lettuce, tomatoes, hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. The lamb spiedie was my personal favorite, the fattiness of the meat pairing well with the refreshing vegetable and tzatziki sauce. Lupo’s famous marinade made itself known in this dish: The lamb was well-seasoned, tender and very flavorful. The buffalo chicken spiedie was surprisingly balanced in flavor, the crispy yet juicy chicken not overpowering with spice and buffalo flavor and the creamy blue cheese subtle enough to not mask the other flavors. Despite spiedies being the local favorite, the true showstopper of the restaurant week menu were, without a doubt, the tater tots. The sweet potato tots were warm, sweet and pillowy; the cinnamon honey sauce was full of robust spice and flavor. The combination was reminiscent of a loaded baked sweet potato, an American favorite filled with toasted marshmallows and cinnamon. The buffalo tots were super crispy on the outside, and although they did not have an intense buffalo flavor, the jalapeño ranch was full of zest and kick. The two tots had a super intense flavor and great texture which complemented the spiedies. Finally, we finished off our meal with two brownies from Chroma Bakery. The gourmet chocolate brownie and peanut butter brownie were dense, moist and the perfect size for a post-meal dessert. The brownies had great texture, with a crunchy top layer hidden under the silky peanut butter cream or rich chocolate fudge. The addition of the fudge and peanut butter cream made the brownies even more moist and flavorful.
Overall, the meal was well worth the bargain price of $10, as my photographer and I were very full even before we ate our dessert. There was a variety of unexpected flavors to try from every course, and the food was warm, satisfying and comforting. The homey vibe of the establishment makes you understand why there are so many regular customers: there is an emphasis on hospitality and community. As Lupo said, “[o]ur culture is quality, and community, and employees … every day we go hard to put out a good product, we give back to the communities … We take care of our employees, and our employees take care of us.”