The original Garbage Plate and its variations can be enjoyed at Nick Tahou Hots, founded in 1918. From the start, it has offered a dish consisting of fried potatoes, “hot sauce”, and various meats, sauces, and condiments. “Hot sauce” being some chili based meat sauce.
The dish was not always called a Garbage Plate. Originally called Hots and Potatoes, or “Hots and Po-tots” to regulars, the first ones were served only with hot dogs, cold beans, and home fries. In the late 1950s, the restaurant started serving burgers with the Hots and Potatoes.
The modern name evolved from customers not knowing what to call it and asking for the plate with all the “garbage” on it. In the mid-1980s, it became popular with college students, who called it a “garbage plate.” The restaurant fought the use of that name, not finding it suitable for food, but in 1992, realizing the name wasn’t going away, Nick Tahou trademarked it.
A typical Garbage Plate has a base of some combination of home fries or French fries, macaroni salad, and “hot sauce”, often with a hamburger or hot dog sitting on top with mustard, onions and hot sauce. It comes with bread and butter on the side and was named the fattiest food in New York State by Health.com.
Imitations, under different names, are widespread in the area. The names include Trash Plate, Pond Plate, Plat de Refuse, Compost Plate, and Garbage Empanada.
A fraternity at the University of Rochester even created a charity event around the Garbage Plate. It’s an annual relay in which one student runs from the campus to Nick Tahou Hots, a second student eats a Garbage Plate as fast as he can, and then a third student, or the first, runs back to the campus. Anyone who does it all by himself is called “Ironman.”