Garbage Plate – Nick Tahou Hots
Rochester, New York, is known for this unusual dish. The Garbage Plate was created at Nick Tahou Hots’ fast-food restaurant more than fifty years ago.
In 1918, Alexander Tahou opened a restaurant in Rochester called Hots and Potatoes. On the menu was a dish that included just about everything the kitchen could cook — meat and potatoes with a few other things thrown in to make a one-plate meal that would really stick to your ribs. Alexander’s son, Nick, took over the restaurant operations and updated the name to Garbage Plate.
Legend has it that long-ago college students asked Nick Tahou for a dish with ”all the garbage” on it. So, he concocted his original combo plate with two hamburger patties and a choice of two sides — usually some combination of home fries, macaroni salad, and beans. The contents are often laced heavily with ketchup and hot sauce, and mixed together before eating. Rolls or white bread are served on the side. By the 1980s, the place was a huge hit with the college crowd, and eventually that meat and potatoes dish (or “hots and po-tots” as it was sometimes called) was dubbed the Garbage Plate. In 1992, the name iwas trademarked.
The Garbage Plate is considered a great late-night snack, and this restaurant is packed with diners from around midnight to 4:00 a.m. Young college men living in Rochester, who like to have contests to see how much beer or food they can consume, consider the Garbage Plate a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
Restaurants all over the city serve many variations or imitations on this famous combo plate, but the original is the invention belong to a downtown restaurateur named Nick Tahou. Other restaurants in the Rochester area have tried to put garbage plates on their menu but have been legally enjoined to rename similar dishes they serve with names such as Dumpster plates, Messy Plate, Sloppy Plate, Dog Dish, and Plat du Refuse.
Today, there are many different Garbage Plates served, such as cheeseburger, hot dog, hamburger, egg, sausage, and steak. They all have the same base with half the plate piled with home fries, and the other half with a pile of macaroni salad. Then comes whatever you order, such as eggs or burgers, placed on top. Over everything are a couple of spoonfuls of onions and a glob of mustard.
The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at the University of Rochester holds an annual Nick Tahou’s Run (the run benefits the fraternity’s national charity. Teams of two or three men run 2.2 miles from campus to Nick Tahou’s on West Main Street. Once there, they hand off to another person who must eat a garbage plate before the first person turns around and runs back to complete the relay. Some brave men will do the run alone. The fraternity calls them “iron men”.
Ron Witt, my food snoop in Rochester, NY, checked out this culinary creation with his son, Brian. Ron says, “Brian, like the college boys, regularly goes there late at night after chasing around town. They literally inhale those plates of food.”
Photo was taken by Ron Witt.
There are many variations of the Garbage Plate, such as the Hot Dog Plate, the Hot Dog Burger Plate, and then there are versions with baked beans. We had the original classic, the Burger Plate. The atmosphere at Nick Tahou’s restaurant is very down to earth with old fashioned counter tops, cooking area, and the added presence of street people from all walks of life. It is customary to tip the person who makes the order. In our case the total for the two plates and two Cokes came to $14.73.
I was stuffed when I finished the plate. After about an hour and a half I got sleepy from it. It is very rich!
Here are the ingredients I saw and tasted:
1st layer: Home Fries and Macaroni/mayo (very slippery macaroni and mayonnaise) a little celery and carrots in the macaroni (very little). No unusual taste with the macaroni, just like all the take out fillers we’ve ever had. The home fries are crisp and delicious just like homemade.
2nd Layer: Two hamburger patties medium well done covered with melted cheese, a mustard horseradish sauce, and then covered with chili hot sauce. The mustard horseradish sauce is delicious – more horsey than mustard in flavor. The hot sauce is like every ground beef hot sauce you can imagine. Typical and very good. Not too hot, very zesty and rich.
Side Dish: The garbage plate also comes with a side of old fashioned Italian bread to help it down. The bread is freshly made at a bakery right next door.
Comments from readers:
I loved this entry on garbage plates. I am from Rochester and they are definitely a staple there. There isn’t anyone who lives in Rochester that doesn’t know what they are! – Emily Fekete (5/23/07)
Categories:Food History Mid Atlantic
8 Responses to “Nick Tahou Garbage Plate History”
I worked as an ambulance driver in Rochester in 1969 and it was called a Garbage Plate then.
It was never the same after Nick died.
They changed brands of hot dogs and the sauce changed a little.
I think Nick took his secret to his grave.
Still awesome food I get whenever I go back.
One of the few things that has changed very little in my home town.
Couple of corrections/additions to the article:
1. The mustard is (was) a very good German mustard, forget the name.
2. The onions were a key ingredient (very strong, white onions chopped coarsely).
I lived in Rochester years ago, but never experienced eating one of these. Truthfully, it sounds awful. Too much layers, too much greasy stuff. Wonder what it does to your arteries after eating one? More power to those who can stomach it without any upsets.
Hello, nice share.
Worked next door to Nicks on Main St in the early 90s summers… we are there all the time. Nick was a great guy. He liked to chat with his regular customers. Met Alex in ‘95 in a business setting and he was a class act. Legends… great ‘feel good’ food
I’ve lived in the area for almost 10 years and still haven’t had the original garbage plate but I agree with Jeff above, the onions are very important. Most people who don’t like garbage plates have never had one. If you aren’t vegetarian/vegan then you have to try one at least once. Each place you get it has a different hot sauce or meat sauce they put on it, I can’t wait to try the original! This is the truest form of comfort food I’ve ever known.
It looks aptly like its name: Garbage.
I met someone from Rochester and what he described as a Garbage Plate horrified me. Then he posted a picture of one. Skipped dinner that night.