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What It’s Like to Eat a Plate of Garbage (A Review)

Get Your Fill with the Garbage Plate

Most American college towns have their go-to late-night eatery perfect for ultra-greasy food after a night of boozing, and Rochester, N.Y., home of the University of Rochester, is no exception. Whether they’re in college or not, most locals know that if you really want to get your fill of greasy food cheaply, you should eat a Garbage Plate: a plate of greasy home fries and macaroni salad, topped with your choice of fried ham, fish, chicken, sausage, eggs, grilled cheese, hamburger or hot dogs (known regionally merely as “hots”). All of this is topped with a signature “hot sauce,” which isn’t spicy at all (just like a hot dog isn’t spicy, either) — it’s ground meat, minced onions and other seasonings.

There are many restaurants in the Rochester region that sell these piles of food, and most are called “trash plates,” “dumpster plates” or “hot plates” because “Garbage Plate” was trademarked by its originator: Nick Tahou, a Greek immigrant who created it during the Great Depression as an offering of a large amount of food at an affordable price. Fast-forward about eight decades and the Garbage Plate (originally known as “Hots and Potatoes”) is still around today, feeding the masses of drunken college kids, or anyone who wants a cheap and nostalgic calorie overdose.

It was at originator Nick Tahou Hots, self-proclaimed “Home of the Garbage Plate” since 1918, where I sampled the famed Garbage Plate. The place is still quite dive-y, which adds to its old school charm, with an old counter and a weathered menu sign. I was there in the middle of the day for lunch and not at 3 am, when it’s usually full of inebriated fraternity boys with slurred speech, challenging each other to eat more than one plate. (I heard a couple of guys did seven in one sitting.)

Final Verdict: 2.5 (out of 5) stars, sober; 5 otherwise.

I tried the original “Hots and Potatoes” Garbage Plate, with two hot dogs on top of the home fries and macaroni salad. The “hots” are sliced down the middle the long way and grilled flat — providing for more surface area for mustard and the “hot sauce,” which is like Bolognese without the tomatoes. The presentation is quite crude, but this isn’t the kind of place you go for fancy food styling. As for the taste, it’s exactly what you think it’d be when eating greasy home fries and hot dogs with meat sauce, which might sound like a salty, greasy overdose, but the coolness and creaminess of the macaroni salad’s mayonnaise offsets it (but adds to the calorie count).

I also tried some of my colleague’s Cheeseburger Garbage Plate — the most popular choice (1 in 3 people order it) — which I preferred more, especially with added mustard. There’s something about the texture of a beef patty that retains the fatty grease from the grill that everything is cooked on, plus the saltiness of the cheese was a bonus.

Regardless of your choice of protein, the plate is served with two slices of bread on the side so you can soak up any leftover grease, sauce or mayonnaise swirling at the bottom of the plate. However, when you have a Garbage Plate in front of you, here’s a word of advice: Don’t fill up on bread.

This isn’t exactly fine dining or haute cuisine — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. But if you know what you’re getting into (and most people who go out for a Garbage Plate do), you’re getting exactly what you want. Sure, it may have originated as a Depression-era source of food during desperate times, and now it’s more of a gimmick for the college set, but I can imagine that if I’m drunk at 3 am in Rochester, it’s the first thing I’m going to want to have.

Erik Trinidad is the author of Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended, based off his popular food humor blog, fancyfastfood.com.

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Comments (1452)

  1. Peggy posted 08/07/2012

    Sounds good with the ground meat.

  2. Lew posted 08/08/2012

    I have lived in Rochester for 12 years and have had quite a few of those!

  3. tweet @platesauce posted 08/08/2012

    The problem is getting your Plate fix outside of Rochester. For all you ROC expats, college grads and firnds of the infamous Plate, there's Rochester Plate Sauce. Ships nationwide via http://www.platesauce.com!

  4. Tim posted 08/08/2012

    Your mistake was getting the hot dogs. Nothing compares to the cheeseburger plate with hot sauce and mustard. The mustard is the not so secret ingredient that brings it all together. There's a reason why In-N-Out Burger grills their patties in mustard.

  5. Roger posted 08/08/2012

    My dad was friends with Nick and before Jr took over I grew up eating these. Acording to Nick this started as collage kids came in at the end of the night pretty much broke from drinking and they were close to closeing up, nick did not want to start a new batch of potatos , The kid asked for the "garbage" left on the grill (the last of the potatos and a couple of dogs. The name stuck. Not sure if it was depression era though. We miss Nick and I love the storys my dad and uncles have of going there in the 50's. It's not the same as 30 years ago and I have a new (old) favorite plate fix place, but no matter what, there is no better late night food.

  6. Lauren E. posted 08/08/2012

    I've been out of college for some time, and I can tell you whenever I go home to Rochester I get a Plate, no gimmick included. At any time of the day and night you can find kids, old men, young men, middle aged women, and everyone in between sitting in any number of dives that sell these monstrosities and it's just because it's good street food. http://laurenfoode.com/2010/05/11/roc-city-part-1

  7. Rocco posted 08/09/2012

    I live in the Roc. Nick's has nothing to do with drunken college kids. Show up at noon and see how long it takes to get in the door. No college kids here. Working class stiffs, executives in suites, hookers refueling for another night of "work," the occasional rock star in town, and everything in between. Politely written review, but seriously lacks the real dirt that makes Nick's Rochester's most famous and favorite food source. I ate there yesterday as a matter of fact. I'm still sick to my stomach and can't wait to do it again!

  8. Bob posted 08/10/2012

    Holy cow that looks delicious! Even if you're on a diet you have to splurge a little bit sometimes! I have a foodie blog coming up after my old one!
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