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The Garbage Plate Is Peak Cuisine

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While some people might be turned off by hearing “trash” or “garbage” in the name of a menu item, those are the kinds of words that get my mouth watering. Those terms imply that this dish will be presented without pretension—not at all Instagram-ready, just a big ol’ pile of delicious ingredients ready to be shoveled down your throat as quickly and messily as possible. So it delights me to no end that the Garbage Plate is making its way to Brooklyn, and soon, I hope, the rest of the world.

What is a Garbage Plate?

The Garbage Plate was created in Rochester, New York, at Nick Tahou Hots, where, according to an origin story from What’s Cooking America, a college student came in and asked for a dish with “all the garbage on it.” What Nick Tahou himself served the student was a version of the now popular menu item consisting of:

  • A base of any combination of home fries, macaroni salad, baked beans, and/or French fries
  • Meats of the eater’s choosing
  • Any condiments you want, like spicy mustard, chopped onions, hot sauce, and melted cheese 

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That pile comes with a side of bread to sop up whatever you leave behind.

The Rochester staple is now making its way to New York City courtesy of Brooklyn Hots, Time Out New York reports, though it will technically be called a “trash plate” on the menu there. Nick Tahou Hots trademarked the term “Garbage Plate” in 1992, so other joints have gotten creative, calling the dish names like Dumpster Plate, Messy Plate, Sloppy Plate, Dog Dish, and, my favorite, Plat du Refuse.

Regional versions of the Garbage Plate

While Garbage Plate may be tied specifically to Rochester, this method of building a dish exists across the country, each with its own unique name and key ingredients.

  • Cincinnati Chili: Yes, this beloved Ohio dish belongs in the garbage family, especially if you opt for the five-way, which tops a plate of spaghetti with chili, beans, onions, and cheese.
  • Horseshoe: Originating in Springfield, Illinois, this item is often referred to as an “open face sandwich,” but you can’t fool us—this is just a plate of trash with some bread underneath. The traditional build starts with two pieces of thick toasted bread, a hamburger patty or other meat, French fries, and lots of cheese sauce.
  • Hot Hamburger Plate: Like the Horseshoe, the inclusion of a hamburger bun may trick people into thinking this is a “sandwich,” but handheld it is not. The Chilton County, Alabama, specialty consists of an open-face bun topped with ground beef patties, cheese, brown gravy, and onions.
  • Loco Moco: Rice is another ideal base for a garbage meal, as this Hawaiian signature shows. Just pile on Spam (or other meats), a fried egg, and brown gravy—and feel free to tack on any other condiments you like to make this one extra messy.
  • Poutine: While this Québécois dish (not Canadian!) started as simply fries covered with cheese curds and gravy, it has since taken on a life of its own—there are even full fests dedicated to tasting different varieties. But no matter how you like to top your taters, this is a dumpster meal at its finest.
  • Slinger: This St. Louis dish is now a Midwestern diner staple. This bad boy typically features two eggs, hash browns, ground beef (or other meat) covered in chili con carne, cheese, and onions, sometimes also served with a side of ham, sausage, bacon, hamburger patties, or an entire T-bone steak.

Why the Garbage Plate model is the best way to eat

These dishes are often unfairly maligned as mere hangover food, but the merits go far beyond a 4 a.m. snack or next-day remedy. No matter which way you slice it (or, in this case, pile it), this style of dish is one of the best ways to ensure that you get a little bit of everything in every bite. Instagram-ready dishes that separate out each component force you to either pick and choose individual flavors as you go, or make you look like a big ole slob if you prefer to swirl everything together. (Looking at you, smoothie bowls.)

With a Garbage Plate, there is no judgment—the meal is served as it’s intended to be eaten, by the heaping forkful. It’s not a pretty sight, but it sure is a delicious one.

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