WESTCHASE — Growing up in Binghamton, N.Y., Rick Swartwood has fond memories of chowing down on the warm, zesty meat sandwiches called "spiedies."
The spiedie (pronounced SPEE-dee) consists of cubed meats like chicken, pork or lamb that has been marinated, then grilled and served on a soft sandwich roll. Brought to upstate New York by Italian immigrants in the 1920s, the sandwich quickly gained popularity as a delight to unite a region and a people.
Philly has the cheesesteak. Chicago has hot dogs. And Binghamton has the spiedie.
Locations like Lupo's Char-Pit and Sharkey's Restaurant are among the most popular for spiedies in upstate New York. But outside the region, it's tough to find the flavorful bite. Swartwood wants to change that.
Swartwood and his family plan to open a restaurant serving his childhood favorite in Westchase. The Great Spiedini will open at 9530 W Linebaugh Ave. in February. The restaurant also will serve salads and appetizers.
"Every time people taste it, they love it," Swartwood said about the sandwiches.
Each person who makes spiedies has his own way of doing it. Swartwood emphasizes the marinade he uses for the meat. He has spent 15 years perfecting it, and it has paid off. Swartwood recently won second place in the John's Pass Seafood Festival People's Choice contest for his Shrimp Spiedini.
The secret was out.
For years, family and friends at parties and dinners had raved about Swartwood's spiedie recipe and encouraged him to open a restaurant. After retiring from Lockheed Martin, the Westchase resident decided to heed the suggestions. He will run the shop with his wife, Karen, and grown son, Tony.
"People always told me, 'You need to do this,' " Swartwood said. "It's exciting to be doing something people always talk about doing."
The restaurant will be in the Westchase Town Center, a popular destination for families grabbing dinner and hanging out on the weekends.
"The Westchase community feel and its reputation was the key to our decision to locate here," Smartwood said. "We are really looking forward to getting involved."
Panera to open at Waters and Veterans Expressway
Sandwich and salad behemoth Panera Bread is making a home in the Town 'N Country area. A new restaurant will open at 6001 Waters Ave. in the spring, a company representative confirmed this week. And it will offer drive-through service.
The restaurant will be next to a shopping center at Waters and the Veterans Expressway that includes a Target and Lowe's.
The area is a major thoroughfare for commuters and a potential lunch destination for those who work at retail centers and offices nearby.
"The Waters site is in a great location that is easily accessible from the highway," said Vikki Kaiser, spokeswoman for Panera franchisee Covelli Enterprises. The Ohio-based company is the largest franchisee of the Panera chain. It owns more than 200 Panera locations across the country and in Canada.
Kaiser said the restaurant should open in April.
Known for its fresh baked bread, Panera offers a fast-casual dining experience with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner along with pastries and coffee.
The Waters Avenue eatery will have about 4,400 square feet and include a patio. It will be the second Tampa Bay area location with a drive-through window.
"We are excited to serve the residents of Westchase, Citrus Park and Town 'N Country as well as employees who work in the Airport North Business Center," Kaiser said. "Our drive-through will also serve as a convenient way for our Panera guests to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner on the go."