HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Elliott Spitzer gets sworn in as New York’s governor this afternoon. After the inauguration, there will be a reception during which regional specialties from the state will be served. I think the concept for the event is very cool. In fact, I wish I could go. What pains me, though, is that the items that will represent Rochester are:
- Nick Tahou’s “Garbage Plate”
- Zwiegles hot dogs, and
- Abbott’s frozen custard.
For those of you who aren’t from Rochester, let me give you a little description of these items.
- “The Garbage Plate” is a copyrighted name fiercely protected by Nick Tahou’s restaurant. Nick Tahou's invented the concoction, but just about every local burger or hot dog joint serves some version of it. At Nick Tahou’s, it consists of home fries, room-temperature canned baked beans, and ready-made macaroni salad, topped with two burgers or hot dogs, and slathered with a meat-based hot sauce. It is served with some bread and butter.
- Zwiegle’s makes a line of very good hot dogs, which are called "hots" here. (In Chicago, where I grew up, the gold standard is Vienna Beef. I think Zwiegle's hots are head and shoulders above those.) A product that's unique to Rochester is a white hot, which is sort of a grayish color. The texture of a white hot is softer and its flavor milder than the customary red hot, which is actually pink. When you order a hot dog here, you’re usually asked “red or white?”
- Abbott’s makes very good frozen custard. There are a whole bunch of locations throughout the area. My stepmom’s custard shop in Antioch, Illinois, has better custard, but Abbott’s is the best in our area.
I can see Zwiegle's (particularly white hots) and Abbott's representing Rochester at the inauguration, but I just don't get the Garbage Plate and its popularity in the media. (As I recall, a Food Network show did something about it awhile back). Basically, it's a dish that tastes good if you’ve had a few beers, and even better if you’ve had several. (In my college days in Milwaukee, the equivalent was Real Chili.) If the Garbage Plate had hot, homemade baked beans and a good homemade macaroni salad, it would be wonderful. But the only thing that is interesting about the whole concoction is the sauce, which, again, every local hot dog and hamburger joint serves.
I do think the hot dog sauce is unique to the Rochester area, and deserves some status among regional food specialties. It's a meat (presumably ground beef) based sauce with a smooth, thin texture and a flavor that's both sweet and spicy. When you order a hot dog "with everything" here, it usually comes with mustard, onions, and that hot sauce. It took me a long while to figure that out when I moved here. I never could figure out where the ketchup was.
From what I’ve been able to research, the culinary contributions from other cities include:
- Knishes from the Yonah Schimmel Bakery in New York City
- Syracuse's Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
- Chicken wings from Buffalo's Anchor Bar
- “Beef-on-weck" sandwiches from Charlie the Butcher's restaurant in Buffalo
- Potato chips made from spuds grown on Long Island's century-old Martin Sidor farms
- Spiedies from Lupo’s in Binghamton
- Cheesecake from Junior’s in Brooklyn.
Am I the only one who would rather eat the food from the other cities? Honestly, I don’t think our contributions do much to enhance the image of Rochester. But for the life of me, I can’t think of what else would be appropriate.
I do get some consolation knowing that the Rochester area will shine when it comes to its cultural contributions to the festivities. Garth Fagan Dance will perform (Garth Fagan is best known for choreographing Disney’s Lion King on Broadway). Nancy Kelly, an excellent jazz singer, will also perform (she’s from Rochester, but I don’t believe she lives here now).
I’m curious to know ... if you went to Spitzer’s inauguration which foods would you eat? Do you think these are the right choices to represent Rochester? What else could they have picked?