Friday, January 14, 2011
Nick Tahou Hots: One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure
Part of what makes our country so incredible is its diversity, and nothing reflects just how different our country really is better than by its regional foods. Whether its hatch chilies from Albuquerque, deep dish pizza from Chicago or lobster rolls from Portland, these specialties are beloved and endlessly debated by locals and outsiders. Growing up in Rochester, New York, I can't say I truly appreciated my city's most iconic dish, the Garbage Plate, until I moved to away to Ohio for college. Ironic, considering its consumed mostly by college students. My initial encounter with this culinary equivalent of Frankenstein on a plate, was fittingly, where the dish was said to have been created, Rochester landmark restaurant, Nick Tahou Hots.
Often copied but never duplicated, legend has it that Greek immigrant Nicolaos Tahou created the garbage plate in 1918, offering his customers a large amount of food for a reasonable price. A hearty combination of two meats piled over two starchy sides and liberally topped with Tahou's famous "hot sauce" (nothing more than a slightly spicy meat sauce), mustard and onions, I've heard many describe the plate's appearance affectionately as looking similar to "vomit." Again, this is ironic, considering this is the post bar food of choice for majority of Rochester. But despite its modest appearance, this caloric monstrosity still retains its original appeal, aka lots-o-food for little moula, and has subsequently evolved into Rochester's signature dish. So on a recent visit home, I decided to visit Tahou's original location to savor a taste from my childhood while finally getting to introduce MW to this regional favorite. Unfortunately, my latest experience left me all but wondering whether this was the same restaurant I remembered.
Instead of the post-bar raucous crowds I remembered from my youth at the Lyell Avenue location, the Main Street location was tame in comparison, comprised only of a few families during the lunch hour. In front of the large flat top towards the rear of the kitchen was a long bar lined with stools, while larger groups sat at tables dotted along the restaurant's periphery. But you come to Nick Tahou's for one thing, and one thing only: a garbage plate. So after briefing MW on what it consisted of and how the system worked, we proceeded to order two cheeseburger plates with everything.
Fountain drinks in hand, it was only a short wait before our food was finally ready. We both ordered out plates with Macaroni Salad, Home Fries and two Cheeseburgers, topped with "Hot Sauce," Mustard and Onions. While MW eyed the plate suspiciously, cautiously prodding the pile of food with a fork, I dove in, hoping to relive that blissful first bite...only to be thoroughly disappointed. Had I really over-hyped this dish to myself, MW and others? The "foundation" of the plate, mac salad and home fries were equally unimpressive. The mac salad contained way too much mayonnaise and contained little else besides overcooked elbow macaroni. The home fries were undercooked and had developed no crust from the flat top to speak of. The burgers were OK, but the most disappointing aspect of the plate was the "hot sauce." Oily with no kick whatsoever, the sauce contained mere traces of meat and actually did resemble vomit. Worse yet, all the elements combined failed to create that synergy that's indicative of any great plate.
Some of my favorite memories were shared at Nick Tahou Hots. After a big night of drinking there was nothing more satisfying than a greasy plate to help with that inevitable hangover (besides hooking up). But like many things from our past, we often distort memory from reality, falsely believing that things were better yesterday than today. So it pains me to say, that I too, was guilty of this, only realizing my folly after experiencing a lackluster "plate" of food from this once iconic restaurant. This sad fact was later confirmed after several friends and family who live in Rochester corroborated towards the decline of Tahou's plates. Maybe Tahou's was always this bad, or maybe the alcohol helped everything taste better, but whatever the case may be, I'll sadly have to find a new place to get my garbage plate fix in the future.
Nick Tahou Hots
320 West Main Street
Rochester, NY 14608
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.