There’s a phrase my husband shouts once a year. Not says, always shouts, and always when I’m driving—the best time to surprise someone with your screams. This phrase makes me shiver in disgust and contort my face as if a dog just threw up the remnants of a squirrel on the sidewalk in front of me. My only comfort lies in the phrase that I know is hidden beneath it: “For a limited time only.”
“THE MCRIB IS BACK!”
Skkeeeeeeeerrrrrrr! ⇠ That’s me screeching to a halt because my passenger has just shouted something out of thin air so obviously a skunk or a raccoon or a dog has just run out into the street fresh from its McDonald’s dumpster binge and I need to STOP NOW.
My husband with the iron stomach (you can call them “abs of steel” if you want) has a thing for gluttonous novelty foods: the McRib, the Doritos Locos Taco, the KFC “Double-Down” wherein they sandwiched bacon and cheese between two fried chicken filets instead of buns. He prefers his hamburgers in the one-pound-and-up range.
But he’s not completely alone; I’d happily start any day with a rainbow bagel and a Unicorn Frappuccino. Though I’m only going to eat half and it’ll take me twice as long. ♀
It’s this sense of culinary adventure that I’ve grown to tolerate find both endearing and entertaining in the decade+ we’ve been together.
Rochester, NY and the Garbage Plate
So when he started reminiscing about eating something called a “garbage plate” I was neither shocked nor concerned. I probably didn’t even look up from my cronut. Until the day his desires include the words: raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, low-fat, soy, or substitute, my red flags will remain at half-mast.
The problem is, we live in Boston and the Garbage Plate lives in a magical land called Rochester, a town in upstate New York known for… well people go there to see… can someone help me out here?
Once upon a time, my husband lived in the land of Rochester, NY and you just know a regionally-specific novelty food of questionable portion size with a name insinuating it’s just pure dumpster trash didn’t stand a chance of going unnoticed (or uneaten).
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What is a garbage plate?
I’ll admit that when my husband first mentioned he wanted a “garbage plate”, I thought he was just asking me to cook dinner for once.
The Garbage Plate can trace its roots (if it were, in fact, a living, breathing organism capable of conducting historical research, which I don’t think it’s far from) back to the Depression era when people were just eating whatever the hell they could get their hands on.
And for some reason, back then, didn’t folks always just wanna throw everything in a pile together? Tell me your family doesn’t have a meal passed down through the generations that’s just a bunch of random foods plopped into a casserole dish.
The term “Garbage Plate,” they say, came from some college kids coming in and asking for a plate with “all the garbage on it.” I’ve been to college. I feel this sentiment in my bones. “Feed me! I don’t care what! Just throw it all in a pile together! I’m too tired and too poor to care!”
Garbage Plate ingredients
Today, a typical Garbage Plate consists of:
- Macaroni salad and home fries under
- Your choice of hamburger, cheeseburger, red or white hots (that’s Rochesterian for ‘hot dogs’), sausage, chicken, fried ham, fish, grilled cheese, veggie burger, or egg under
- Chopped raw onions under
- Mustard under
- A heaping helping of (that’s me sugar-coating the fact that this is just dumped all over your food) their signature “hot sauce” that is more like a ground-up meat chili that isn’t hot at all under
The term “Garbage Plate” is trademarked by the joint that invented it—Nick Tahou’s. And while imitators abound in this land of Rochester, Nick Tahou’s is the only place you should go to get one. It’s the best; it’s the original; and these suckers weigh three pounds. That’s like seven McRibs.
Garbage Plates in Rochester culture
The Garbage Plate has (now understandably) become the unofficial symbol of Rochester, NY. To illustrate, a few summers ago the Rochester Redwings, the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, became the Rochester Plates for a night to honor their city’s most famous culinary dish.
They offered a dumpster’s worth of Garbage Plate-related menu items and promotions including–right on, Rochester!–cholesterol testing. There was also a Garbage Plate eating contest (obviously), bobbing for burgers, and the chance to get your temporary Garbage Plate tattoo. “Airbrush me like one of your french fries…”
You could even order a Garbage Can–a Garbage Plate you eat out of a cup. GENIUS! That was a one time promotion… that in 2018 was to become a weekly event in the world of minor league baseball because GARBAGE PLATES!
Face to Face with the Garbage Plate
The garbage plate became a long distant memory, gone the way of Grandma’s green pea/tuna fish/tater tot thing, until years later when we were driving back to Boston from Memphis, TN.
Correction: I was driving. Crossing the border from Pennsylvania into New York prompted my husband to casually check out our progress on the map. Casually.
“OH MY GOD LET’S GET A GARBAGE PLATE!”
Skkeeeeeeeerrrrrrr! There it was: Rochester, NY, just mere miles off our route. And there I was, thinking I’d just about hit a rogue coyote.
My husband led me through town and into the back parking lot of a building that can only be described as: this is exactly where you’d imagine things called “garbage plates” are born and where dreams of heart health go to die.
But I’m from Memphis, Tennessee–I cannot be fooled. I know damn well that the best food you’ll ever eat comes from the places you would deem least likely to serve the best food you’ll ever eat.
I didn’t eat a Garbage Plate that day. (Fear? Will to live? I can’t remember.) My husband enjoyed (understatement) his hamburger Garbage Plate while I watched on, mouth agape. I took a picture of my husband eating his garbage plate that day–a photo he has saved and truly treasured ever since.
But finally, I had come face to face with the mythical beast and I can attest to its existence. Do my words here bear any faint resemblance to the behemoth itself? Not one bit.
My first Garbage Plate
Although having seen it with my own eyes, I still considered myself a stranger to the Garbage Plate’s glory. (I mean, how well can you say you know the neighbors you watch through your binoculars or the delivery guy that drops off those tubs of cheese balls no one judges you for anymore because you buy them exclusively on Amazon?)
That is, until our recent trip to Cincinnati, Ohio. Little more than two years after Rochester was first just off our route, we found ourselves once again on the north route home to Boston. Had we taken the south route, I’d be instead telling you a story about pierogies in Pittsburgh, but here we are. This time, I decided, I was gonna do it.
Skkeeeeeeeerrrrrrr! ⇠That’s me almost missing the exit because that’s just a regular thing that happens.
Now though I don’t eat meat during my “regular” life, I award my taste buds certain privileges when I travel. That’s why, when asked if I wanted “the sauce” on my Garbage Plate, I asked, “What’s that?” And she said, “It’s kinda what we’re known for.”
Besides the fact that that’s not even an answer I still said, “GIMME!” But since I don’t actually like beef to begin with, I went with the grilled cheese Garbage Plate.
As you can see, I’m a little more delicate with the ketchup than my husband. He prefers his meals to look as though they’ve been scraped right off the pavement.
I regret nothing
I may have been mortified by the name of this dish initially, and I may have been equally mortified the first time I saw one, but now that I’ve had one, I regret nothing!
Garbage Plates are fantastic and worth every bit of lore surrounding them. What I couldn’t finish at Nick Tahou’s (no, I’ve never finished an entire meal in any one sitting), I took with me and devoured the second we got home seven hours later.
In the two weeks we’ve been back in Boston, I’ve mentioned no less than six times my desire for a Garbage Plate. My husband just laughs.
Everything’s fine in moderation, I always say. Even the occasional feeling like Gluttony from the movie Se7en. “What’s in the to-go box?! WHAT’S IN THE TO-GO BOOOOXX??!!”
Nick Tahou’s, Rochester, NY
Nick Tahou’s, whose official website is garbageplate.com, is the inventor and undisputed home of Rochester’s Garbage Plate. It’s located in the former Rochester terminal of the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railway and appropriately serves food fit for a hobo.
Nick Tahou’s is the epitome of “no-nonsense” and you’d be stupid to pass anywhere near Rochester and not almost crash your car trying to get at a Garbage Plate.
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All photos in this post were taken with: My Google Pixel XL (That’s a phone.)
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I grew up in Rochester so I am happily all too familiar with garbage plates! I live in Syracuse Ny now and returned home for my cousins wedding on 7/20 in downtown Rochester …. and there was a garbage plate station at the end of the night’s festivities!!! Woo hoo!
A garbage plate station is an AMAZING idea!! What a great wedding!
Nicely, humorously written, a good way to make a short story long. Yes, there is nothing like the Garbage Plate but there’s the right way and the wrong way to have one. Mustard? Yes…absolutely! Onions? You better believe it baby, the more the better! Ketchup? NO!! NEVER!! EVER!! You NEVER put ketchup on a plate! And the sauce always goes on LAST! And yeah, the sauce is a necessity. It is NOT a “plate” in any way, shape or form without a ton of that sauce oozing down all over. This is not negotiable. Gotta say, never thought of a grilled cheese plate before…that doesn’t sound bad!
Thanks Rick! I cannot even fathom putting mustard on it instead of ketchup, ugh. Call me unconventional! But yeah, the grilled cheese is fabulous!
Dani Elle Benjamin
You got this spot on! I’m from Syracuse and my friends LOVE garbage plates. Every time we are in Rochester, we have to get one!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Garbage plates are the best! I can’t wait to get my face into another one.
I happened upon your blog when googled Cigar City Brewing tour. I’m too lazy to go to their website and click a few links, don’t judge me. After a few clicks here I landed on a post about my beloved Garbage Plate. I grew up in Syracuse, lived in Rochester for 10 years before moving to Central Florida but I have to say the plate is one of the best things to ever happen to me. As of the writing of this comment I was just in ROC last weekend and it tasted like I never left. CHEERS!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
HAHA! Your comment is so funny. No judgment at all! And you’re right–the Garbage Plate is pretty phenomenal and I’m already looking forward to my next one! But yeah, totally do the Cigar City brewery tour!
Thank you Pat. You make us happy
Please Jeanette, tell me that someday you will sell the hot sauce to a poor ex-Rochestarian stuck in hot dog hell in Sarasota Fl.
Richard, my husband in Massachusetts would buy it all up in a heartbeat as well!
I’d have to give that one a little thought first. Well written honey as usual. 🙂
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Thank you :):)
I’m drooling! It looks so good!
Ashley @ My Wanderlusty Life
Haha – It IS!!