All About the Garbage Plate
by Olivia Lopatofsky | published Mar. 2nd, 2018
illustration by Lucie Novakova
Even if you’re only a first-year student, you’ve probably been in Rochester long enough to have heard of the garbage plate. Much of the rest of America has, too, in fact. It’s been featured on The Food Network show "Unwrapped" in the episode called “Funny Foods” and Jon Stewart has mentioned it on “The Daily Show.” Even US Airways once highlighted it in an issue of their inflight magazine. The world is no stranger to this strange food. But do you know the history of the garbage plate?
For starters, it’s important to know that although there are many variations, like the Trash Plate, the Great Plate, etc., there is only one true garbage plate. This concoction of burgers, cheese, macaroni salad, potatoes and so much more can be found at Nick Tahou Hots, located at 320 West Main Street.
Nick Tahou Hots was founded in 1918 by Greek immigrant Alexander Tahou under the name West Main Texas Hots. It was eventually renamed for his son, Nick, who then operated the restaurant for more than 50 years from the 1940s until his passing in 1997. The building itself is located in an old terminal of the Rochester, Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railway, a piece of history in and of itself.
A few other locations have sprung up in recent years, but the only one still standing besides Nick’s belongs to Nick’s nephew, Steve. Steve T’s Hots and Potatoes was renamed from Nick Tahou’s II in 2007 and since has operated under its new name, though many of its dishes are the same style of food as the original restaurant’s. Another location opened on West Henrietta Road in 2010 but unfortunately closed in 2014.
As for the garbage plate itself, Nick Tahou’s has served its own classic “hots and potatoes” since its opening in the early 20th century. The dish was modified slightly and rose to popularity in the 1980s when hungry college students in the area came in asking for a dish with everything, or “all the garbage” on it. By simply combining the classic “Hots and Potatoes” served at the restaurant with macaroni salad, beans, hot sauce and other optional ingredients like mustard, the dish was transformed into an instant hit and began its rise to popularity.
"The name speaks for itself. It's a gut-buster of all sorts of carb loaded and fatty foods including the iconic meat sauce."
Though the plate remains popular today and is served in many variations in restaurants and diners around town, even on college campuses, some might agree that its high carb count sets it apart as a dish best enjoyed during special occasions. Peter Bilzerian is a second year double major in Management Information Systems and Marketing, as well as a seasoned foodie who even runs his own Facebook page, “Bon Appepete,” a platform from which he shares honest food reviews of local restaurants with his followers. In his opinion, the plate, though delicious, should be eaten every once in a blue moon due to its richness.
“The name speaks for itself,” said Bilzerian. “It’s a gut-buster of all sorts of carb-loaded and fatty foods including the iconic meat sauce. It’s tasteful and perfect for that rainy day, but as with everything unhealthy, should only be consumed in moderation or it’ll give you severe health complications in the future. Of all foods, Rochester chose a plate of all sorts of unhealthy things, but I have seen some vegetarian spin-offs lately at some other local restaurants.”
The garbage plate may be rich, but it also has a rich history and the power to bring people together. Just as in the old days, college students used to flock to Nick Tahou’s — only this time for charity. Every spring, students involved in the University of Rochester’s (UR) chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon would organize a relay race to raise awareness for the Mount Hope Family Center. Each team of the relay consisted of three members: the first ran to the restaurant, where the next teammate would be waiting to devour a Garbage Plate as quickly as possible. Once he had finished, the third member, who is stationed at the restaurant runs back to campus. A one-person “Iron Man” team was optional for the brave. This charity run was unfortunately discontinued in recent years, but the memories remain to members of the fraternity and campus.
Antonio Alvarado is a sophomore at UR majoring in Health, Behavior, and Society and a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon.
“Garbage plates are very monumental to the Rochester community and so SigEp thought it would be a really interesting idea to incorporate the garbage plate in a run,” he said. Though saddened that the run no longer occurs, he looks forward to perhaps starting a new community charity event someday.
“We hope to bring something like this back again,” said Alvarado.
Clearly, the plate is about more than just satisfying late-night cravings.
So, wherever life takes you, know that you can be proud that you are or were once a part of Rochester and the vibrant history of the garbage plate. After almost 40 years this dish has risen to become a household name in Rochester and the surrounding areas. Whether it be a late-night snack, an extremely filling lunch to last you until tomorrow or something for when you just can’t decide what to eat, you can’t go wrong with a garbage plate. It’s safe to say that people will be hungry for plates for years to come.