Sunday, November 27, 2022

So, what’s a ‘trash plate’? Upstate NY couple brings a taste of home to the South

Garbage plates, a Rochester, NY, staple are coming to Wilmington via Port City Plates. (Courtesy photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — With the influx of people moving to the North Carolina coastline, a shift in culinary offerings inevitably comes with it. While Wilmington has its fair share of variety when it comes to cuisine — Mexican, Italian, Thai, French, German, Irish — it’s seeing growth in niche flavors from regions stateside, especially from upstate New York.

Chicken riggies — a pasta dish that originated in Utica — debuted locally when former New Yorker Brad Heaton opened Pie’s On on Oleander a few months ago. Come November, another northern culinary favorite, “trash plates,” will plant its roots south when Rob and Shelly Marketell debut their food truck, Port City Plates.

READ MORE: Did someone say chicken riggies? New Italian-American restaurant moves into former Pizzetta’s spot

“We love this area,” Rob said. “Great people, great weather. The food truck business here lends itself to more of a year-round activity; up in New York, it’s tough to get a truck around in 24 inches of snow.”

The hometown delicacy they’re bringing from the Rochester area is revered.

“Buffalo has chicken wings, Western New York has the trash plate,” Rob said.

The monstrous plate of food traditionally contains macaroni salad, home fries, baked beans, two cheeseburgers or hotdogs — sans the bun — smothered in a meat-based hot sauce, and topped with mustard and chopped onions.

“There are so many folks here from New York, and when we run into them, they say, ‘Oh, I crave a plate — a trash plate. I can’t get one down here.’”

Though the Marketells have career experience in corporate and nonprofit work, they actually met behind the line at a hamburger shop three decades ago. Rob worked the grill and charbroiler, while Shelly oversaw counter service.

Thirty-two years later and married with two children — both of whom live in North Carolina as well — they are reprising their roles in the kitchen, harkening back to the days of their early courtship. 

“We love to cook and see people happy, satisfied and bonding over food,” Rob said. 

All the ingredients to build the perfect plate will be homemade. The macaroni salad is mayonnaise-based, with carrots, celery and a special blend of spices, while the home fries are boiled first, skin on the potatoes, hand-chopped and fried crisp, doused in more spices, some of which also appear in the meat-based hot sauce. 

“I wouldn’t call it chili because it doesn’t have beans,” Rob said, “but it’s a thicker consistency, made with 11 spices, including chili powder and cayenne. It’s really flavorful.”

The dogs are ordered from Zweigles, a Rochester-based company where the trash plate has grown in popularity. Its rise to fame began at what is now a landmark quick-eat spot, Nick Tahou Hots. 

Founder Alexander Tahou opened the restaurant 100 years ago, then known as Hots and Potatoes, and served hearty one-plate meals, basically consisting of a portein, and two or three sides, served with a few slices of white bread.

Tahou’s son, Nick, took over the establishment in the mid-20th century, changed the name, and by the ‘80s it became a hit with area college kids, especially for late-night grub after having one-too-many drinks. They called them “the plates with all the garbage on it” — a name that was shortened to “garbage plates” and trademarked in 1991 (which is why Port City Plates dubs their offerings “trash plates”).

“It’s pretty much a staple,” Rob said, “almost like a hangover cure in Rochester. We thought it would do great in the area with UNCW and CFCC, but it’s evolved into an every man and woman type of food, really.”

Port City Plates will serve Zweigles dogs — a white pork variety and red all-beef hots, which essentially pop due to the casing. Yet, there will be other protein options, including burgers — beef and turkey — grilled chicken, and fried chicken tenders. Tots and fries are among other side items, with additional toppings including relish, ketchup and mayo. 

Aside from the plates, the food truck will offer “trash cans,” basically 32-ounce deli containers stacking the plated ingredients. 

“It’s easy to hold in one hand and eat it as you go,” Rob said. “We’re also doing a trash wrap, which is the contents of the trash plate in a 12-inch tortilla, and trash burgers, which essentially comes with everything on a bun.”

Prices will range from $8 to $14. 

Port City Plates makes its debut at Brunswick Community College in early November. The food truck is booking now to park at local breweries and distilleries and can be followed here for scheduled events.

“We look forward to introducing the community to something that we love and hope others will love and crave as much as we do,” Rob said.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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