In college, we’d often end a night of revelry by heading over to Lyle Avenue for plates. A greasy and starch-laden meal whose mystical powers could quell a hangover before it had a chance to develop, but more importantly a delicious tradition of upstate New York.
Nick Tahou Hots, “Home of the Garbage Plate” and a Rochester institution, was founded in 1918. Nicolaos Tahou, a Greek immigrant, formulated the Garbage Plate, originally called “Hots and Potatoes,” during the Depression era to offer a large amount of food to his customers for a reasonable price. The dish is built on a base of home fries and macaroni salad, then topped with a choice of meats and dressed to one’s liking. Today, it is a signature dish of the Rochester region.
A garbage plate is a concept where the sum of the parts don’t look all that appealing at first, but has to experienced first-hand to be understood and appreciated fully. And despite the many restaurants and bars in the area that attempt to emulate the dish, there’s simply no substitute for the original.
In college after-hours at Lyle Avenue there was much time spend standing in line, wherein bouncers would only allow a reasonable number of people into the place (where reasonable was defined as a number exceeding the number of seats and/or fire code but below that which would constitute a riotous hungry mob), unless your previous tips to the order-taker were noticed in which case you might be whisked to the front of the line like a VIP much to the dismay and verbal ire of those behind you. While the rapid-fire process of late-night ordering tended to be chaotic at best, the weekday lunch time method downtown is considerably more subdued.
There are a multitude of options: you must choose one meat and two sides. Meats include hots, hamburger, cheeseburger, sausage, chicken, fried ham, fish, grilled cheese, veggie burger, or egg. Sides include home fries, french fries, macaroni salad, or beans. I’m a fan of one of the standards, and thus I order the following: “cheeseburger plate, mac home fries, everything.”
Roughly translated and visualized, this means two cheeseburgers set atop cold macaroni salad and warm home fries, with mustard and raw onions, then covered with a seasoned meat sauce. Two pieces of fresh baked Italian bread are served on the side.
Realistically speaking, a ladle of meat sauce probably represents another half a burger plus an untold amount of griddle scrapings. In that, every plate tastes a little bit different. Sometimes there’s a little kick to the sauce, other times it’s more savory. It all depends on what’s been on the grill that day and how much seasoning went into the original batch.
After it’s all assembled to-order and you pay, there’s some preparations to be made. First, the application of liberal amounts of ketchup and hot sauce. At Lyle Avenue you’d easily apply a third- or half-bottle of ketchup from a restaurant-sized bottle. Smartly, Main Street has switched over to the pump model… less mess, no glass to break or dispose of, etc. I’ve cut down on the sauce lately, preferring not to mask the flavor of over ingredients.
Once you’re all sauced up, you’ve got to prepare the dish. Everyone I know cuts their burgers up and mixes to some extent, since you want a combination of all the components with every bite. Recommend that you do the same.
Thus you have a garbage plate from Nick Tahou Hots, ready to eat. The take-out version tends to be large to the point of filling the container, however if you eat in everything fits onto a plate so it’s not an intolerable amount of food.
In college, it was all about putting down some food at the end of the night. Regardless of its appearance, everything tasted amazing. At times my perception may have been a tad fuzzy, so I’m happy to report that uninhibited the garbage plate tastes just as good as I remember. Better, actually. There’s a nice juxtaposition between the warm potato and the cold pasta, the meat and cheese adding some grease and coarseness, the raw onions giving it a little crunch here and there. It’s a culinary experience that everyone ought to try at least once; if you’re in Rochester, don’t miss out.
For the curious or those who want a mild trip down memory lane, there are more pictures from my recent trip to Nick Tahou Hots.