New Jersey has an impressive history with food. There are, of course, NJ-only offerings such as pork roll and disco fries, as well as dishes NJ has perfected, like the tomato pie. Another Garden State-only dish that has proven to be quite popular is Chicken Savoy. For those who have never heard of the meal, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Chicken Savoy — noun. A secret-recipe, savory chicken dish famous and found only in Northern Jersey.
Example: “I was going to have leftover Chicken Savoy for lunch tomorrow but I ate the entire thing.”
The dish has its roots at the Belmont Tavern, a Belleville restaurant that has served stars like Clint Eastwood, Connie Francis, Frankie Valli and some other big shots. It could have been the crowd that made the place famous, but, instead, it was the chicken. Now a Northern New Jersey resto staple, Chicken Savoy was invented by the late Charles “Stretch” Verdicchio, the Belmont’s original butcher-turned-chef who had a way with a cleaver. The dish was a family recipe that he felt belonged on the Italian-American-focused Belmont menu, because it was the kind of stuff his family ate.
Chicken Savoy seems simple to make, but the Belmont’s recipe is a guarded one. In 2008, Stretch’s daughter Annette met with Saveur Magazine about the dish. When they asked for the recipe she said, “If I tell you, then we’d have to kill you on your way out the door.”
William Sorrento, whose family runs the Belmont, says the dish has been attracting customers and attention for almost five decades. “I believe 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Belmont Tavern and Chicken Savoy. The Belmont is where the dish was invented. Many places in NJ now have it on the menu — also some of our other dishes — but our original is still the best. The restaurant has a lot of history including the Jersey Boys. The Belmont is a stop on the Jersey Boys tour. Joe Pesci used to sing in the Belmont. Clint Eastwood and crew had dinner while shooting Jersey Boys. The casts of Jersey Boys from all over the world come in and the list goes on and on.”
Essentially, the dish is cut-up pieces of skin-on chicken that are massaged and rubbed with garlic, herbs and freshly grated hard cheeses like parmesan and pecorino Romano. The chicken is then baked in a hot oven until perfectly golden and splashed with vinegar for added zing.
Through the years, Stretch’s winner winner chicken dinner has been the inspiration for dishes on a several Northern NJ menus. “There’s something different about the Belmont’s chicken. It’s an original,” says Pat Millor, a Southern NJ native who travels up north specifically for the dish. Former Real Housewives of New Jersey stars Chris and Albie Manzo even put their own spin on the dish at Little Town, their short-lived Hoboken restaurant.
Stretch died back in 1989, but the Belmont still serves and sells Chicken Savoy as does Miele’s, a restaurant that Stretch’s son, Peter, works with. There, the ‘Stretch’s Favorite’ section of the menu proudly features Savoy, along with other dishes Stretch did well, like Shrimp Beeps. The Belmont has nothing bad to say about Miele’s or anyone else who takes on the dish. Imitation is the best form of flattery, after all, and as they say at the Belleville institution, “The Belmont’s famous dishes are often duplicated but never replicated.”