Glorious Mess: Rochester’s Garbage Plates
In Rochester, garbage is considered a delicacy.
Some years ago, I got a job at a bar in my hometown of Rochester, New York. After work, I would hit a diner called Mark’s Texas Hots for a cheeseburger, fries, and macaroni salad, all swimming in a chili-like “hot sauce.” Though I didn’t realize it then, I was eating a garbage plate.
Originally called hots and potatoes and subject to umpteen variations, the garbage plate is a dish stacked with short-order proteins (franks or hamburgers, fried ham or haddock, eggs), piled with two of three sides (french or home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans), and doused in mustard, ketchup, onions, and mild hot sauce. It is native to Rochester, a city of big appetites and working-class budgets.
The Garbage Plate originated at Nick Tahou Hots, a downtown lunch spot opened in 1918 by Alex Tahou, a Greek immigrant, who named it after his son. During the Depression, Tahou devised his hots and potatoes, with cured “red hot” franks and uncured “white hots,” as a low-cost belly filler. By the 1980s, college kids were asking for “a plate with all that garbage,” and the phrase stuck. Says Tahou’s grandson and current owner, Alex, Jr., “We tried to fight it. ‘Don’t say that; it doesn’t sound good when you call it garbage.’ But when the powers that be are stronger than our desires, who are we going to please, customers or ourselves?”
Since then, the garbage plate has embedded itself in Rochester’s DNA. The trademark resides with Nick Tahou Hots, so elsewhere it’s trash plate, sloppy plate, messy plate. But no matter the name, its lifeblood is the hot sauce, a greasy condiment riddled with meaty griddle scrapings and spiced with paprika and cinnamon. Though the spices are prevalent in Greek cooking, Tahou insists that the hot sauce came from a Mexican man who Alex, Sr. befriended. “My grandfather gave him a place to sleep and food,” and the man gave him the recipe. Such a return on kindness is the stuff of which, in Rochester, legends are made.
_Nick Tahou Hots
320 West Main Street
Rochester, NY 14608