Tonight at my storytelling show, I wore my Nick Tahou’s Hots t-shirt that I bought in October when I decided to be a tourist in my own hometown for a few days. After the show, my friend’s girlfriend said to me, “I have a friend who says that Henrietta Hots actually has the best garbage plate.” I shot this down a little too hard, I think. “Um, yeah, that friend of yours probably has a family member who owns Henrietta Hots.”
While I regret my tone, I stand by my assertion. Nick Tahou’s is the only garbage plate, the rest are imitators.
Yesterday, I posted about L.L. Bean and how I was born in Maine. I left Maine when I was four and moved to Rochester, NY. I’m really a New Yorker, an upstate New Yorker. I’ve found that this brings with it some odd pride. First, as a current New York City New Yorker, I resent anyone who calls Westchester “upstate.” That is preposterous. Technically, I’m probably a western New Yorker, not even an upstate New Yorker, that would be more like Watertown or Plattsburgh. Growing up Buffalo adjacent, I have very high standards for chicken wings that are rarely met south of Albany. I know the pain of being a Buffalo Bills fan. I know what it’s like to look up at an oppressive gray sky from November to May of every year. I’ve watched piles of white snow in parking lots turn black as the temperature rises and drops, rises and drops from December to March. I’m from the land of white hot dogs. And the only true garbage plate comes from Nick Tahou’s Hots in downtown Rochester.
It’s half mac salad, half home fries, topped with hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, white hots, eggs, or – good Lord – fish. Then they add onions, mustard, and “hot sauce.” This “hot sauce” has nothing to do with hot sauce as you and I know it. It’s not Tobasco or Frank’s Red Hot. It is a like a runny, spicy chili that is ladled over the pile of food and it is unbelievably delicious. No one else does it as perfectly as Nick’s.
My peer group and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Rochester as eighteen year olds. But when we go back now we realize how lucky we were to grow up where we did. A few years ago I read some annoying article about the wonderful working class fare of upstate New York. I haven’t re-read it but I remember it being incredibly condescending. Look at the wonderful cuisine of the working class! Chicken wings! Beef on weck! The garbage plate! For those of us who grew up there, that article wasn’t so much a slap in the face as it was an eye roll from a Yale grad. Don’t talk about my hometown that way.
Last summer, I was having a rough time. A friend of mine suggested going to homecoming in Ithaca. I thought I’d stretch the vacation and go to Rochester too. I went and got a garbage plate and figured I’d get a t-shirt. Alex Tahou, grandson of the founder of the restaurant, was working behind the counter. He went to the back and came back with a t-shirt. He held the shirt out to me and said, “I don’t have a large, I just have a 7.” He was holding the L tag upside down – a joke I’m sure he’d used a million times before.
“The seven works for me,” I said, “I’ll take it.”