My town, Rochester N.Y., was once a bustling, high-tech manufacturing center; the home of Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, Gleasons, and a couple of medium-sized GM plants. But as in many other Rust Belt cities, the manufacturing presence is pretty much history at this point. The largest employers are now the two hospital/health care systems and the Wegmans supermarket chain (company headquarters are located here), with a bunch of colleges, public school districts, and many low-paying service and retail companies bringing up the rear.
Rochester can’t boast about much these days, but it is home to the world famous “Garbage Plate” (see top photo). In fact, the city is currently in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the delectable dish.
What’s that? You ask what exactly is a Garbage Plate?!?! Are you kidding me?!?! Okay, okay. I apologize. Let me take a step back and explain this gourmet jewel to all of you unfortunate non-Rochesterians.
Well, way back in 1918, Greek immigrant, Alex Tahou (correctly pronounced tah-HOO although it’s generally pronounced as TAH-ho), opened his greasy spoon, Tahou’s Diner (later named, “Nick Tahou’s Hots,” in honor of his son), and at some point began serving a plate he called “hots and potats” consisting of two hot dogs over heaps of home fries and macaroni salad (or baked beans), all smothered with a grease-laden, ground beef-based hot sauce and topped with chopped raw onions and mustard and ketchup. Two hamburgers or cheeseburgers rather than hot dogs became another option later on. I had my first introduction to “hots and potats” in 1977 thanks to Duane “Big D” Hedman after we had worked a Saturday morning overtime shift at Kodak’s old Elmgrove Plant.
In the 1980s, college students kept coming into Nick’s and ordering “that dish with all the garbage on it,” so the plate was officially renamed “The Garbage Plate.”
Imitations sprang up all over town so the Tahous trademarked the “Garbage Plate” moniker in 1992, but most hot dog/hamburger/pizza joints in the area have their own alternate-named version of the plate.
Last night, the local Triple-A baseball franchise, the Rochester Red Wings, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Tahous and the Garbage Plate by renaming the team the “Plates” for one game and offering t-shirts and caps with the “Plates” logo. Yesterday morning, our eldest son sent me a last-minute email suggesting we should go the game. Argh! I knew the place was going to be packed, but any excuse for a father-son outing is a good thing. Traffic was torturously bumper-to-bumper as we neared Frontier Field stadium, but our son was driving so I was calmly relaxed. Once we finally made it inside, we immediately got in line at the team apparel store. We both ended up buying “Plates” caps, of course, to commemorate the historic event. We then went up to our seats and mostly shot the breeze rather than watch the minor league game. Stadium capacity is 13,500 and there weren’t many empty seats. By 8:30 pm, we had had enough and headed for the exit.
There’s not a lot going on in ROC city these days, but the locals take a lot of pride in Rochester’s contribution to international gourmet cuisine, the Garbage Plate! By the way, for those health-conscious readers, the plate comes in at around 1700 calories and 90 grams of fat; not exactly a meal my internist would recommend. But if I WERE to get a plate, my favorite combination is a white hot* and cheeseburger over mac salad and home fries, all smothered in meat hot sauce and topped with chopped raw onions, but please, ABSOLUTELY NO ketchup or mustard.
*”WHITE hot dogs?,” you ask? Ha! That’s a whole nother post, my non-Rochesterian friends!
Postscript: The 8/11/17 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the attendance for the “Plates” game was 13,281, the second-largest baseball crowd in Frontier Field’s 20 seasons.