Garbage Plate- Rochester's Heaping Pile of Comfort
Updated: Sep 29
We’re all grown-ups here right, so I’m just going to say it. There are some nasty sounding foods out there that people enjoy in spite of their foul names. Take shit on a shingle or head cheese for example. Kinda gross right? And unless you’re into geriatric porn, what business does anyone have sinking their teeth into a spotted dick? Who's eating that? But call me a hypocrite because I recently drove over 5 hours just to try Rochester New York’s filthy monikered Garbage Plate and I’m glad I did it.
This pile of deliciousness was "invented" in 1918 by Alexander Tahou at his restaurant West Main Texas Hots, although at the time it was called hots ‘n’ potats. Over the years, the depression era menu item morphed into something special. I'm not saying I invented a Garbage Plate, but this plate of macaroni salad, baked beans and fried potatoes topped with 2 hot dogs, onions and a steaming ladle of Greek Chili feels a lot like every plate I ever made at my family backyard BBQs.
Alexander would eventually change the name of the restaurant to Nick Tahou in honor his son who would go on to take it over. For over a hundred years, everyone in Rochester from businessmen, politicians to full families and night owls would make Nick's for their favorite late night afterparty spot.
Not All Plates Are Created Equal
The legend goes that sometime in the mid 1970's, a college kid ordered a plate of hots, that's Western New York speak for hot dogs, and asked for it "with all that garbage on it". Just like that the legendary name was born. While the uncomplimentary name wasn't initially
embraced by Nick, when his customers kept asking for it, the popularity was hard to ignore. Like all foodigenous, the garbage plate went viral spreading to other neighborhood restaurants who copied the name while adding subtle tweaks to their sauce recipe. But in 1992, Nick Tahou made the wise decision to legally trademark the name preventing anyone else from using it. But just the "garbage" part, because nowadays anyone who's anyone has their own signature plate. If you can think of a synonym for sanitation, it probably exists. There's the junker plate made by regional fast-food chain Tom Wahl's. Empire Hots has their trash plate and Dogtown has the junkyard. Charlie's Restaurant in Webster has been selling Charlie Plates since 1969 with choice of local Zweigle's White Hots, Red Hots or burgers. And so on and so on. The proteins may change, for instance you can get chicken fingers, fried haddock or even go vegetarian but the fried potatoes, macaroni salad, beans and chili are constant.
Having been dissatisfied with my first Garbage Plate (I'll never tell), I made smart decision to head over to the iconic Genesee Brewery. Their BrewHouse cooks up a delicious Genny plate. An 8 oz beef patty cooked medium well and covered in cheese. A cumin scented chili was piled high atop of plate of perfectly crisp fries, chopped onion, a squirt of mustard and a macaroni salad that was almost as good as my aunt's. Maybe it was the ice-cold pint of Genesee Cream Ale that washed it all down, but this plate hit on all cylinders. The creamy salad mixed with the tangy house made sauce and crispy fries made for a delightful bite. I'm not saying skip Nick Tahou, but I am saying that just because someone invented something doesn't mean it's the best but props to them for creating this beast!
Pro Tip Caveat-If you are the type of person who enjoys eating each item on your plate one at a time, this "ain't" the meal for you. Also, I might be afraid to run into you in a dark alleyway, seriously talk to a shrink, just say'n. If you are, however, someone that enjoys mixing your corn into your mashed potatoes and then dragging a forkful of meat through it for one colossal bite, yea, this is the foodigenous for you. It's the epitome of comfort food!