Like many chefs, Joe Pienody knew he wanted to cook professionally at an early age. He went to culinary school straight out of high school.
Then his career took a wide detour off the traditional path. Very wide — all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He spent 15 years working on a private yacht and a small Seattle-based cruise line, sailing from Mexico to Alaska.
When Pienody decided to settle down and start a food truck, a Google search led him to the Triangle. He put The Spiedie Turtle on the road in February. The truck’s specialty is its namesake spiedie.
What’s a spiedie, you may ask? Even Pienody acknowledges its obscurity, describing it on the website as “zesty chicken skewered and chargrilled to make the best sandwich you’ve never heard of.” The spiedie is a regional specialty little known outside Binghamton, N.Y., where meats other than chicken are sometimes used.
You just had to know an individualist like Pienody wasn’t going to go with something safe and familiar. To be fair, he comes by the choice honestly. He grew up in Montrose, Penn., just across the border from Binghamton. He adapted his grandfather’s recipe for food truck service, converting the traditional marinade (often described as “like Italian dressing”) into a brine.
The result is juicy, well-charred cubes of chicken, served on an Italian hoagie roll and topped with shredded lettuce, banana peppers, caramelized onions and house-made garlic aioli. That’s the original version, listed on the menu as the LFG (You’ll have to ask Pienody what that stands for.)
The menu also lists a handful of variations on the spiedie theme, exploring other regional cuisines from the Carolina (homemade pickles, coleslaw, pickled red onions and a tangy Carolina Gold barbecue sauce) to the Buffalo (spicy Buffalo sauce marinade, cherry peppers, lettuce, roasted red pepper remoulade and blue cheese crumbles).
My favorite, just edging out the LFG, is the Banh-Mi: ginger-lime marinade, crunchy pickled carrots and cucumbers, fresh jalapeños, cilantro and ginger-garlic aioli.
Be sure to check the specials board, where you’ll find the likes of a Buffalo ranch chicken salad sandwich (which I haven’t tried), onion rings (which I have, and recommend), and a couple of beverages (try the strawberry lemonade).
Asked about choosing the Triangle, a region he wasn’t previously familiar with, with the help of an internet search, Pienody says, “It’s a truck. I figured it doesn’t work here, I can always go somewhere else.”
Let’s hope he decides to park here permanently.
The Spiedie Turtle
Prices: sandwiches $12, sides $2.50 to $5.
Online: thespiedieturtle.com or Twitter: @spiedieturtle