Name: Sharkey's Restaurant
Location: 56 Glenwood Ave., Binghamton, NY 13905
Phone: (607) 729-9201
Cuisine: Bar food (spiedies and steamed clams being "famous" offerings)
Price: About $15-$20 per person, depends what you order
Contrary to what some people I know might expect me to say, I love history. My wife is a historian, most of my friends are historians, and I have a deep appreciation for the history of the way certain areas have developed and changed as time goes on.
Sharkey's is historic. If there's a food that defines the Binghamton area, it's the spiedie, and Sharkey's is one of several places that claims to have started the whole fad. They've been operating out of the same location on Glenwood Ave. on Binghamton's West Side for more than 60 years, and one gets the sense that while the landscape around it has changed markedly over the course of that period of time, Sharkey's represents one of the last surviving vestiges of old-time Binghamton culture.
These things mean that Sharkey's is a place near and dear to the hearts of many. Where else can you still get your spiedies served to you right on the skewer as in the days of old? Where else can you sit in old-fashioned wooden booths and take in some steamed clams and a pitcher of cheap beer? Sharkey's is that place, and I admire it from a historical standpoint. It has weathered the storm of economic turmoil in a rundown part of town and lives on into the year 2010 and beyond.
It is regretful, then, that neither the food nor the atmosphere is really memorable or worthwhile.
We rounded up the troops to head to Sharkey's on a Friday evening a couple months back. Upon entering the restaurant (which you can do either from the front or from the rear) you will notice some old video games, a bar toward the front of the restaurant, and a number of booths at the back. The booths are old-fashioned wooden booths that are the exact opposite of comfortable. I get it: they've been there awhile. That doesn't mean I liked sitting in them.
I ordered a pork spiedie sub and a dozen wings. My buddy Tom went with an order of steamed clams, and Megan got a chicken spiedie sandwich.
The spiedie I ate was pretty good. I really don't think it could have held a candle to either Lupo's or Spiedie & Rib Pit, though. It was good with some nice flavors, but definitely a little bit "blah," lacking some of the smoky charred taste you get at the other places.
I tried one of Tom's clams. The clams at Sharkey's are allegedly famous; I have to admit that I see absolutely no reason why. Ordinary steamed clam in my book. I've had much better.
The wings were, frankly, an atrocity. Too much gnarly chicken taste and quite fatty, yet also overcooked and dried out. There's little worse than fatty wings in my opinion. These were worse. These were some of the worst wings I've ever had.
Sharkey's is also of course a bar, but there's nothing notable to drink there. Standard macro American pale lagers.
While I was in the Scranton area this past weekend, I went to a pizza parlor called Sabatini's. Like Sharkey's, Sabatini's has been around for more than 50 years and is famous for their food--in Sabatini's case, their pizza is noted as being some of the best around. The atmosphere was similar, with old-fashioned wooden booths (which were admittedly more expansive than those at Sharkey's). The difference is that Sabatini's has modernized in some significant ways, while still retaining their history. Sabatini's is currently host to one of the best beer selections in the state of Pennsylvania with a tremendous collection of rare beer both on draft and in bottles. When I walked out of Sabatini's after several hours of eating great pizza and drinking amazing beer, I thought of Sharkey's. Why couldn't they do the same kind of thing? Why not keep serving those famous spiedies while providing another reason to go there too?
I really wanted to like Sharkey's. I like the fact that it exists, and offers some glimpses into the area's past. I just really don't see much reason to go back. You can get better spiedies elsewhere, the rest of the food aside from the spiedies is average or worse, the booths are uncomfortable even for a person of average height like me, and it's in a somewhat seedy part of town. I really hate to be harsh on this one, but I cannot recommend a visit to Sharkey's for any reason more than the ability to say you've visited the (alleged) birthplace of the spiedie.