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.