Feeling garbage-plate proud

By Kevin Oklobzija

First pitch was still 65 minutes away and a line snaked out of the Rochester Red Wings team store and out into the expanse of the stadium concourse.

Twenty minutes later, the line wasn’t any shorter, just 34 different people. And 10 minutes later, a different 41 people were waiting their turn.

They entered the store empty-handed; they left with a handful, or bag-full, of merchandise.

It seemed everybody at Frontier Field on Thursday night wanted something with the Plates logo. That even included the people who already were wearing the special Plates cap, jersey or T-shirt, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Nick Tahou’s garbage plate.

So many fans were wearing the predominately black and yellow Plates apparel at the ball park, you expected to see Andrew McCutchen on the diamond with the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not that case at all, however. Folks instead packed into the downtown stadium to celebrate their city.

They weren’t bemoaning the demise of Kodak. The decline of prominence for Xerox. The departure of Bausch and Lomb’s corporate headquarters.

A crowd of 13,281 packed Frontier Field Thursday night – the second largest Red Wing regular season crowd in history.(Photo: Bare Antolos/Rochester Red Wings)

They weren’t laughing about the Medley Center, bickering about what to do with Parcel 5 or giggling about the figurative sinking of the fast ferry.

No, on Thursday night, 13,281 fans enthusiastically embraced a staple of life in Rochester, and symbol of Americana.

“I don’t think anything’s been this popular in Rochester since the camera,” said Naomi Silver, president and chief operating officer of the Red Wings.

She might be right. This was the second-largest crowd ever to watch the Red Wings play an International League game at Frontier Field. The only time more people came to watch the Wings: when 13,485 showed up to see alleged phenom Hideki Irabu pitch for Columbus on June 30, 1997.

There’s no disputing the success — or future — of the plate, though. A century ago, Alexander Tahou immigrated to the United States and began selling the garbage plate on West Main Street. A hamburger and hot dog, home fries, mac salad, onions and mustard, all topped with meat-based hot sauce.

“That’s when people needed a good meal at a reasonable price,” said Alex Tahou, Alexander’s grandson and the current owner of the forever family owned restaurant. “The business survived the depression, the war. And we still provide a good meal for a reasonable price: $8.50 with tax.”

One hundred years later, the business is still thriving, and the garbage plate is iconic.

A jam-packed stadium was proof. So, too, was the pre-game buzz. Heading into Thursday, right around 8,000 tickets had already been sold. The only time the Wings have that sort of advance sale is for the annual July 4 evening of baseball and fireworks.

Simply put, the garbage plate says Rochester. You can get a Philly cheesesteak pretty much anywhere. Tex-Mex restaurants are everywhere. Kansas City is world-famous for barbecue, but you can find mighty tasty brisket or pulled pork right here in Rochester on Culver Avenue or Court Street.

But a garbage plate? It’s indigenous to Rochester; found only here. You’re not getting one on vacation in Florida, on a trip to the Grand Canyon or anywhere along Interstate 90 from Boston to Seattle — except right here.

And the fans watching the Red Wings last night came out to celebrate their city, their food.

They filled the seating bowl, both the lower and upper levels. The left-field berm was so packed, you couldn’t see grass. The sliver of sod between the outfield railing and the left-field scoreboard was two- and three-deep with spectators.

Matt Snyder of Canandaigua brought his two sons, 14-year-old Gage and 8-year-old Brant. Matt, who works at another Rochester institution, Genesee Brewing Company, was wearing a No. 17 Plates jersey with ROCHESTER as the name plate.

“The Red Wings, a garbage plate and Genny beer — the perfect trifecta for Rochester,” Snyder said.

Alex Tahou certainly would agree. He wore his own team-provided Plates jersey before the game with, appropriately, No. 100. During pre-game ceremonies, Norm Jones, commissioner of environmental services for the City of Rochester, declared Aug. 10, 2017, “Plates Day in Rochester.”

For Tahou, however, every day is plate day.

“It doesn’t take this to make me proud of my father (Nick) or the business,” he said. “The quality, the value, the idolization … it’s something that’s a cult-like thing.”

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