You say “garbage” like it’s a bad thing.
In Rochester, New York, it means something else entirely. The Garbage Plate was born here, specifically at Nick Tahou Hots, a roadside fast food stand catering to truckers and college students that ate like them. No two Garbage Plates are exactly the same, but the general idea is that you take copious amounts of protein and carbs, slap it on a griddle, slather it in sauce, and serve it in one heaping pile. True to form, it looks a bit trashy, but tastes like everything you’re craving after a long night on the town, or when you’re recovering the day after.
Served alongside a stack of generously buttered white bread, it’s an iconic American institution that is sadly unknown outside of its immediate birthplace. Surely the combination isn’t entirely unique, easily fashioned from leftovers or scraps to make ends meet, but that’s also what makes it so special. The flavors are universal, accessible, and comforting on a primal level. Everyone can eat garbage, regardless of social status or income, and in fact, everyone should eat garbage every now and then.
Ready to get trashy? Let’s break down the plate and evaluate our options.
What is a Garbage Plate made with?
- Base: Hash browns, home fries, or French fries
- Carbs: Macaroni salad or plain pasta and/or baked beans
- Protein: Hamburger (optionally with cheese), sausage, or hot dogs
- Sauce: Hot meat sauce and mustard, plus optional ketchup and/or hot sauce
- Topping: Diced onion
Personally, my preference is to start with a solid foundation of hash browns for a satisfying crunchy contrast to the more tender layers on top. Refrigerated or frozen hash browns make this a snap, or you can start from scratch with whole starchy potatoes. If you do shred your own, it’s essential to squeeze out any excess water, using a length of cheese cloth to wring them out, for the best golden brown sear. The process takes an extra minute or two, but will elevate your garbage plate from good to great.
For the primary protein, I always seem to have some sort of burger patty in the freezer, so that’s an automatic win for me. Whether it’s animal-identical or a more earthy combination of beans and grains, my secret is to season the outside with a generous pinch of Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder.
A little bit goes a long way in added volumes of flavor that transcend the barrier between the plant and animal kingdom. “Delicious” is the only way to really describe the effect. You could chop your seasoned patties up into small pieces for better forkablility, or leave it whole for faster service. Grill, sear, bake, or air fry; use anything you’ve got to create a nice brown sear and cook it all the way through.
Hot meat sauce might need the most explanation. No, it’s not meat hot sauce, as I initially though. Syntax matters, people. It’s more like a loose bolognese without tomatoes, or if chili was made into a sauce instead of a stew. As the primary carrier of flavor in the whole meal, this is the most important part of the recipe. That’s why I leave nothing to chance by bringing umami bomb Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms into the equation.
There’s no need for ground beef when finely chopped shiitake mushroom caps are every bit as rich, meaty, toothsome, and savory. Best of all, you can use all the stems you might have saved from other recipes, since no one will know the difference once finely minced and slowly simmered.
What’s the best way to assemble a garbage plate?
Originally invented as a way to repurpose disparate leftovers, it’s a much easier and more enjoyable meal when the main components are prepped in advance. The pasta salad can keep in the fridge for up to 9 days in an airtight container; the hot meat sauce will be good for up to 2 weeks. In fact, I think the flavors get even better over time, melding and harmonizing, becoming richer and deeper with age. However, it’s best to make the hash browns fresh and cook the burger patties to order, for the best textures and taste.
The most important part of a Garbage Plate is less about the specific components or assembly, but the spirit of the concept. Go ahead, use boxed or leftover mac and cheese, frozen French fries, and whatever else you already have on hand. If you’re short on time, you can just simmer some marinara with shiitake powder and a handful of meatless grounds. No one will judge you for taking shortcuts here. It should be hearty, comforting, and deeply savory, above all else.
Hot Meat Sauce:
- 1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
- 1/2 Cup Minced Rehydrated Shiitake Mushrooms (Caps and Stems)
- 1/2 Cup TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
- 1 1/2 Cups Shiitake Soaking Water or Mushroom Broth
- 1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
- 1/4 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Cup Elbow Macaroni
- 1/2 Cup Shredded Carrots
- 1/2 Cup Finely Diced Hatch Chili*
- 3 Tablespoons Vegan Mayonnaise
- 2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 Cups Shredded** or Diced Potatoes
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- 2 Meatless Burger Patties
- 2 - 4 Slices Vegan Cheese (Optional)
To Garnish (Optional):
- Diced Yellow Onion
- Start by preparing the hot meat sauce, since it can sit for the longest time and keep well. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add the oil, tilting the pan to coat the bottom. Add the onions, sauteing for 5 - 8 minutes until golden brown. add the minced shiitake, TVP, soaking water or stock, tomato sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and seasonings, stirring well to incorporate. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 hour, until thick and rich.
- Meanwhile, prepare the macarani salad by cooking the pasta until al dente. Thoroughly drain and rinse with cold water to prevent it from getting overcooked and mushy. Place in a large bowl with the shredded carrot, hatch chili, mayo, mustard, salt, and scallions. Toss to thoroughly combine and coat everything in creamy dressing. Cover until ready to use.
- For the potatoes, heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the potatoes, spreading them out evenly along the bottom of the pan. Let cook for about 6 - 8 minutes undisturbed. Ounce golden brown on the bottom, use a wide spatula to to either flip the whole layer or stir thoroughly. Continue cooking until equally browned all over. The whole process could take 15 - 20 minutes, so be patient. Season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, you could either pop the burger patties on the grill or in a saute pan over medium heat. Sear on one side to a crispy finish, flip, and apply cheese if desired. Cook until equally crispy on the opposite side.
- Now you're ready to build your plate! Divide the potatoes equally between two plates, placing them on one side. Take the macaroni and place on the other side of each plate. Top with the seared burger patties and smoother with the hot meat sauce. Finish it off with a generous sprinkle of chopped onions, plus a drizzle of mustard, ketchup, and/or hot sauce to taste. Serve right away while hot!
*Green bell pepper is more traditional, but I prefer mine with a little bite, though it's still very mild. Feel free to swap with your favorite peppers instead.
**Refrigerated or frozen hash browns make this a snap, or you can start from scratch with whole starchy potatoes. If you do shred your own, it's essential to squeeze out any excess water, using a length of cheese cloth to wring them out, for the best golden brown sear.
Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1395Total Fat: 59gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 41gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 3915mgCarbohydrates: 165gFiber: 24gSugar: 40gProtein: 61g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.