Garbage Plates: Rochester’s Best-Kept Secret || Food/Groups

Garbage Plates: Rochester’s Best-Kept Secret || Food/Groups

July 30, 2019 100 By William Morgan


– If you’re talking
to somebody and they say,
where are you from, and you
say Rochester, New York,
it’s like, oh, did you
ever hear of this thing
called a garbage plate?
We’ve had movie stars, lawyers, doctors,
politicians, didn’t have
the queen of England yet,
but we’re still hoping.
– Rochester, New York, the city so nice
they named it once.
People forget that this one time boom town
on the south shore of
Lake Ontario is actually
the third biggest city in
the entire Empire State.
And, while New York City
has the international cache,
and Buffalo has the decades and decades
of die-hard sports traditions,
Rochester has something
arguably even better: the garbage plate.
The goriest 3,000 calorie gut-buster
of greasy lunch counter staples
from macaroni salad to cheeseburgers.
It’s a gluttonous point
of pride for Rochester
residents old and new,
and it’s a meal that
draws this rust belt city together across
lines of class, race and generation.
Garbage plate is part
heritage, part hangover cure
and all Rochester, so
you know we had to come
up here to get trashed.
That sounds stupid, man.
In 1918, an unassuming lunch
counter opened downtown.
The joint would go on to
be named Nick Tahou Hots.
Still operating today
under the watchful eye
of third generation owner Alex Tahou.
And, the dish, it would
go on to become the one,
the only, the trademarked garbage plate.
– If you want to say
you had a garbage plate,
you have to eat it here.
If you didn’t eat it here, you have not
had a garbage plate.
– So, obviously, we ate it there.
And, to get the full
helping of Rochester’s
historic garbage plate love affair,
we ate with Chris Clemens,
the born and raised
Rochesterian behind exploringupstate.com.
– This is a really historic
section of the city,
and one of the reasons it’s historic
with the garbage plate,
the story goes that,
decades ago, a bunch of college kids were
in here and said, “hey,
give me one of them
plates with all the garbage on it.”
And, so they created this towering plate,
and the name, garbage
plate, kind of stuck.
The classic plate is half mac salad,
half home fry, two cheeseburgers,
and then you’ve got a
meat-based hot sauce,
chopped onion, and mustard.
– Yeah, the meat sauce is really good.
There’s like cinnamon in
it, like a sweetness to it.
In your lifetime, how many garbage plates
do you think you’ve eaten?
– Oh my god, I don’t…
– We talking hundreds?
– Yeah, probably hundreds.
At this point, it’s totally a symbol
for Rochesterian culture.
There’s probably been some discussion that
people are saying, hey, we really want
to be famous for something called garbage,
and the rest of us are kind
of saying, yeah, absolutely.
– The answer is yes.
– We totally do.
– [Dave] This is the
original, but now, all across
the city, like there are
imitators all across town.
– [Clemens] It doesn’t
matter if you go to a diner
or a cafe or whatever,
someone’s got some sort
of version or something that is an homage
to the original.
But, this is, without
a doubt, unequivocally,
the original, iconic plate.
As a dish, the plate is part of who we are
as a people.
Way back in the day,
this was land that no one
really wanted.
We kind of have this survivor mentality,
and I think that the
plate has become a symbol
of being prideful of what we’ve built.
Sort of like the plate
itself, Rochester is
made up of all of these small little parts
that end up working really well together.
– [Dave] Tahou’s may be the original,
but, across Rochester’s culinary scene,
there are dozens of delicious homages,
including plenty that
reflect the city’s vibrant
immigrant populations.
So, we met up with Linh Phillips, blogger,
Vietnamese American and
lifelong Rochesterian
at Stringray Fusion,
the Dominican-Japanese
food truck, who makes one
of her favorite plates
in the city.
I feel like one of the things about like
the garbage plate itself is that, like,
really anything can go into it.
– [Phillips] What I like
about Stingray is that they
blend the fusion of Latin
food and Japanese food.
– [Dave] So, these are the trasher plates,
obviously totally different
than what you would get
as like a classic garbage
plate, but there are
sort of representative elements in here.
– You’ve got your bed
of rice on the bottom,
and layered on on top
of that, the proteins
you have is the
beer-battered panko shrimp,
you’ve got grilled beef, you’ve got little
bits of bacon in there,
’cause you’ve got to
put the bacon in, you also have it layered
with tomatoes, you’ve got
cucumbers, sweet peppers,
there’s drizzles of sriracha, ginger mayo,
and black sesame seeds.
– [Dave] Man, look at
that, there’s so much
color in this, this is beautiful.
– [Phillips] I’ve lived
in Rochester all my life.
My parents were born in Saigon in Vietnam.
They flied out a fishing boat from Vietnam
to Malaysia after the war, and they stayed
in a refuge camp for eight months,
and they got the good
news that two families
in Rochester, New York,
would sponsor them,
and they flew here to Rochester, and they
started their lives all over again.
Some people are picky about not having
their food touch each other, but then the
garbage plate is probably not for you.
Or, the trasher plate, actually, in fact,
it’s 100 years since the
garbage plate was invented.
Local baseball team,
the Redwings, are doing
a plates night, and you can get different
variations of the garbage
plate, you can even
rock a plates jersey.
If you really want to embrace Rochester,
I would say that’s the place to go.
– Plates night.
– Plates night.
– [Dave] So, full of
trash, but still hungry
for more garbage, we left Linh and headed
to the stadium, where the AAA Redwings
were warming up for
their big night repping
Rochester’s favorite food.
– Sup, guys, Tim Melville,
I’m starting pitcher
for the Rochester
Redwings, and tonight we’re
the Rochester Plates.
You know, the talk of the
town, everywhere I go,
everybody’s talking about plates night.
I heard on the radio this morning, that’s
all they’re talking about, so
it’s a pretty big deal here.
As a team, this is
something different that
we’re come out here in different uniforms,
have our name changed, so everybody’s
looking forward to it,
and, you know, everybody
has tried the garbage
plate, so we know what
it’s all about.
– [Dave] Tell me about
your first experience
with garbage plate, it was recent, right?
– [Melville] So, I prepared,
I didn’t have breakfast,
I went with a hotlink and a hamburger,
and little bit of
mustard on top, and I got
kind of the original
toppings with the potatoes
and the mac salad, so it
turned out great, man,
I loved it.
You got those extra fans
here demanding a little
bit more action from the
baseball players here,
and I think we come out
tonight with the win,
that would be good for the Plates’ record,
official record of the team
of the Rochester Plates.
– It’s only Rochester.
– It’s so Rochester.
– Just get two cheeseburger plates,
max out home fry, onion, mustard.
– Double cheeseburger
plate with the mac salad,
home fries, and then the meat hot sauce
and all the fixing.
– Home fries, mac salad,
two cheeseburgers,
onions, ketchup, hot sauce.
– Two red hots, home fries, french fries,
onions, peppers, hot sauce,
ketchup, franks, no mustard.
– Take me out to the (pause) ball game!
(crowd cheering)
– During the month before I got married,
every week I would sort of make a solitary
journey and get a double cheeseburger
garbage plate and eat it alone in my room.
– [Dave] You’re about to get married,
this is a joyous time in your life.
– And, so is the garbage plate, so…
– [Dave] Did you fit
into your wedding tuxedo?
– I did, I bought it three sizes too big.
– You’re a smart man.
– So, I could fit into it post-plate.
– Many out-of-towners say
it’s absolutely disgusting,
a heart attack on a plate, I think we all
still love it.
– [Dave] How many do
you think you’ve eaten
over the course of your life?
– Too many that I may die too young.
– [Dave] I hope not.
– When you have a city that is our size
that can latch onto a dish
that is classically theirs,
and it’s not Syracuse,
this is not Buffalo,
Buffalo has their wings,
Syracuse has their
salt potatoes, their spiedies, whatever,
we’ve got this and we’re holding onto it.
– [Dave] So, Rochester’s
got the garbage plate.
And, for the third
generation restaurateurs,
the first generation food truck owners
and the capacity crowd
at the local ballpark,
the garbage plate is more than enough.
Yo, did you enjoy this
episode of Food Groups
up in Rochester, we hope you did.
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let’s go, plates, we’ll see you next week.