Ahh, The Garbage Plate. An unusual concoction of starch, more starch, meat, more meat in the form of a spicy sauce and a side of bread and butter.
Being a native of Rochester, New York, I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t had one of these babies, until Mike and I started dating in college. It seemed like a gross combination of starches, and meat that came in one mixed up, unappealing package, and for a girl who typically didn’t like her different foods mixing together, this was jumbled up nightmare. And honestly, the only reason I even tried the thing was because Mike and I had just started dating, and I didn’t want to refuse and seem picky. But after trying it, all I can say to all of you nay-sayers, who may be quite appalled by this creation is, don’t knock it till you try it. It’s actually a pretty good flavor combo, and you may just find yourself craving this guilty pleasure once and awhile. We are fans of the cheeseburger, fries, mac salad with “everything” (everything = spicy meat sauce, chopped onion and mustard), but there are many variations.
To build your plate you choose meat, sides and toppings. The protein options include some of the best damn hot dogs in the world, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, sausages, fish, chicken, ham, or even eggs. For the sides, which are the base of the plate, you get to choose two; home fries, fries, mac salad or beans.
Now for a little history and some notable mentions…
The Garbage plate was created by Nick Tahou of Nick Tahou Hots, a Rochester NY restaurant since 1918. And while there are many other restaurants in the area serving up plates (even R.I.T has their own version on campus), Tahou’s is known to be the original. It is the quintessential drunk food for any college kid after a night of drinking and partying, which is perfect because most plate places are open late!
It has been featured on the Food Network shows Unwrapped and The Best thing I Ever Ate, Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food Nation, thisiswhyyourefat.com, and was even mentioned as a punchline on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Now, onto the plates. We’ll start with the spicy meat sauce…
The meat sauce Mike and I like, has got an array of spices, meat, onions, garlic and tomato paste, however I don’t think it is the exact Tahou recipe. For the beef in the sauce, it is very important that it gets broken up extra fine.
For the fries, we buy good quality fries and bake them until they are nice and crispy. For the burgers, we make our own quarter-pound hand formed burgers. For the mac salad, you can buy it from a local store or deli you like, or make your own.
It is important to make the burgers nice and thin when you are forming the patties, otherwise they shrink up, get thick, and then are a pain to eat on the already sloppy plate. The burgers also get fully cooked; there’s no such thing as rare, medium, medium rare, etc. You can choose from cooked or cooked.
You can easily make the sauce, and mac salad (if you choose to make your own) a day in advance, and then just cook your burgers and fries the day of.
Once everything is ready, build your plate and enjoy sparingly! I actually like to make a half plate for myself, since I just can’t eat the traditional 2-burger plate, however the recipe below is for the traditional 2 burger option.
In our house, this is like any rich food or holiday dinner, we only have it once or twice a year, and when we do it always reminds us of our college days in good ol’RaChaCha.
The Garbage Plate – A Rochester, NY TraditionSauce adapted from Susan Lynch makes 4 full plates, and serves 4 hungry people This recipe is for cheeseburger plates; if you want to try any of Nick’s other protein options swap out the meat accordingly and skip the cheese.
Special Sauce Ingredients:1 medium onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 pound ground beef 1 1/2 cup water, plus more as needed 1 6-ounce can tomato paste 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika 1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper 1 teaspoon chili powder 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon powdered cloves 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Plate Ingredients:8 – hand-formed beef patties, from 2 lbs ground beef 8 – slices of white american cheese 2 bags of frozen, good quality french fries, baked nice and crisp to bag directions 1/2 macaroni salad recipe (or 1 lbs. of purchased mac salad) 1 medium onion, diced yellow mustard ketchup (not traditional, optional) hot sauce (not traditional, optional) 1 loaf of fresh Italian bread, 2 slices per person (we skip the bread, but if you want to stay traditional then you would want to include it) butter for bread (if using)
For the sauce, in large skillet, sweat chopped onion and garlic in oil until soft, but not brown. Add meat, stirring and smashing/breaking up meat constantly with fork to keep its texture fine. Once the meat browns, add water and tomato paste. Simmer covered, 10 minutes. Add sugar and spices. Simmer 30 minutes, adding water as necessary, to keep the sauce moist but not soupy. This can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator if desired.
For the plates, you will want to start baking the fries first, as those take longer than the burgers. While the fires are baking, form 1/4 pound portions of beef into patties, 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch thick and 5-6 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until ready to cook. When fries are close to being done, take beef patties straight out of the fridge and sear on a hot greased skillet or seasoned griddle. Flip, and when almost cooked through, melt one slice of cheese on each burger (you will probably need to cook these in two batches).
To build the plate, fill half of plate with a nice handful of fries and about 1 cup of macaroni salad. Place 2 beef patties on top of plate, down the fry/mac salad divide. Squeeze mustard over plate to desired amount and sprinkle with diced onions. Ladle special sauce over burgers to cover. Serve bread on the side if using.