Robin Anish | The Table is Set: Garbage Plate — Once is enough!


I had a plan for my column this week, but a visit to Rochester, N.Y., has put a kink in my idea that I just couldn't ignore.

I have heard about this iconic Rochester dish ever since my daughter moved to western New York. The Garbage Plate, as it is aptly named, is a plate of french fries topped with macaroni salad, split, grilled hot dogs, a spicy meat sauce or chili, raw onions and, the lily gilded, doused in yellow mustard and ketchup with variations that could include baked beans, fried eggs or mac and cheese.

An Internet search suggests that the Garbage Plate dates to around 1918, when it was called Hots and Potatoes or Hots and Po-Tots. Couldn't find one, but I was hoping there was a song about Hots and Po-Tots!

Rochester has a population of college students, which also means there is a lot of late-night noshing out and about the city and it is likely that the metamorphosis of the name resulted from students seeing huge plates of this iconic Rochester dish served up at local eateries but, not knowing what it was, ordered it by asking if they could get one of those plates with all the garbage on it. Garbage Plate is the traditional name, but it is sometimes labeled a Dumpster Trash Plate and its vegan spin off is called a Compost Plate.

As I now frequent Rochester, I had a feeling the time would come when this local favorite would be dumped on me ... pun totally intended ... but I just wasn't expecting it when my daughter surprised me with a take-out version of a Garbage Plate. She didn't tell me what was in that styrofoam box and when I opened it, I still didn't know what it was! I guardedly deconstructed the heap to discover the unrecognizable peak of the heap were two meaty split and grilled hot dogs, covered in a spicy meat sauce and raw onions. Next was a layer of cold macaroni salad ... the classic type with mayo and celery. All this was piled onto a huge amount of french fries, which were soggy from having been drenched in all that blanketed them. Here, in front of me, was the iconic Garbage Plate and no amount of yellow mustard and ketchup was going to make it any easier to take that first bite. I can only say that if you like late nights and beer, I could appreciate the popularity of this feast; but I don't and I'm not, so I won't get a Garbage Plate again.

However, I love the idea of a dish that is immediately recognizable by where it comes from. Is there an iconic dish that western Massachusetts can call its own? I don't know of one ... so inform me if I'm wrong... but I think it's time we had one. Buffalo has hot wings and Philly has the cheese steak and Rochester is famous for its Garbage Plate, so I'm campaigning for a gastronomy showing our 413 Pride. Any ideas?

Rochester's famous Garbage Plate

The recipe is easy ... plate up some french fries. Layer on macaroni salad, grilled hot dogs topped with a meat sauce or chili, scatter chopped onions over all ... maybe a fried egg, and serve with plenty of mustard and ketchup and a cold beer to wash it down.


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