Regional Foods: Rochester Garbage Plate
When visiting ballparks and stadiums, it is always important to try regional dishes that you cannot normally find elsewhere in the country. In fact, you might have never heard of it before you entered the city. There is a certain regional dish that has a cult-like following among the masses in Rochester, New York. It is simply known as the garbage plate.
The garbage plate was first created at Nick Tahou’s in 1918 and was known as Hots and Potatoes. It initially featured a regional hot dog – red and white hots. However, in the 1980s the diner started doing a lot more business with the local college crowd late at night and the kids would ask for those plates with all of the “garbage” on it. It was a perfect combination for the college crowd that was looking for an inexpensive meal.
The base of the garbage plate consists of a combination of two of the following choices: macaroni salad, French fries, baked beans, or homefries. It is then topped with a hamburger/cheeseburger, white or red hots, fried ham, fish, grilled chicken, or chicken fingers. It is then smothered with a soupy chili-like concoction known as hot sauce – a slow simmered meat sauce with spices. It is similar in appearance and taste to Cincinnati style chili. The plate is finished with yellow mustard and chopped onions and weighs up to three pounds. Come hungry.
In the Rochester area there are many establishments that serve up their own versions of the garbage plate, but due to its trademark by Nick Tahou’s, it is also known as trash, pond, sloppy, rubbish, hot, junkyard, wimpy, or bada boom plates. A few of the popular locations include Jimmy Z’s Texas Hots, Empire Hots, Joe’s Hots, and Henrietta Hots. Still, there are more locations to find yourself a hot plate, including at the ballpark.
At Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings of the International League, you can enjoy a garbage plate from the Home Plate concession stand. It might not replace hot dogs, peanuts, and nachos, but it is a hit with local fans of the team. Red Wings Director of Food and Beverage Jeff Dodge states that the item is popular.
“We sell about 100 per game, most of them are cheeseburger plates”
The ball club even held a promotional night two-years-ago to celebrate the dish’s 100th anniversary that was widely popular. The team took the field as the Rochester Plates with special jerseys and caps. There was even merchandise sold at the store with the Plates name. The promotion helped the club turn a $316,000 profit in merchandise sales that season.
The Batavia Muckdogs of the NY-Penn League offer its own version of the dish at Dwyer Stadium. Muckdog Chow is served in a bowl to customers topped with a base of home fries and macaroni salad, along with a choice of a red hot, white hot, cheeseburger, or hamburger and smothered with Muckdog sauce.
“It is one of our most popular dishes at the stadium,” Batavia Assistant General Manager Michael Ewing added. “We have been selling it for the past ten years.”
Hot Top Foods sells its version called Rochester Plate Sauce to restaurants in Buffalo and to military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year alone the company sold over 5,000 pounds. Owner Jim Vlahos noticed the unmet need to get hot sauce in the hands of plate lovers around the country. He was even gracious enough to send a sample pack to Stadium Journey to assemble our own garbage plate; we enjoyed the sauce on top of hot dogs, plain macaroni, and eggs and bacon.
Vlahos describes garbage plate fans as religiously devoted and fiercely loyal to their favorite “hots place.” However, why hasn’t the garbage plate taken off nationally like the hot wing in nearby Buffalo? Vlahos has a few theories, but one stood out among the rest.
“Despite its loose connection to drinking, it is not pub friendly. The hot wing aligned well with pub menus. We were encouraged to drink and eat wings at the same time; not so with the plate. If all pub customers ate a full plate, they would have no room left for drinks.”
Vlahos included that the dish is not photogenic, unless you know what it is made of, and there is a sense of bravado when eating it. You risk ridicule if you do not finish the plate. However, he would enjoy seeing Rochester’s famous dish shared with the rest of the country.
It is probably beneficial that the garbage plate is destined to remain in the Rochester area; if it were to be found elsewhere, it has the chance to become something else than what is being served in diners and restaurants in upstate New York. Regional dishes should stay exactly where they are, made by the people who know how to make it the best. It also gives us something to look forward to and then talk about on our stadium journeys.
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