Mad Mex Oakland was a Pittsburgh institution. Our own Editor-in-Chief Ali Trachta wrote its eulogy when it closed. But “garbage plates?" They’re a Rochester institution, and Zechariah Vanzo, general manager of Mero Restaurant Group – which owns Stack’d, CHiKN, and Melt’d, among others – is bringing them to Mad Mex’s former location as the new restaurant, Pilez.
Now, if you’re not happy about another dubiously spelled restaurant taking over one of Oakland’s formerly great flagships, that’s fine. We’re not here to convince you that’s good or bad.
What we are here to convince you of is the undeniable culinary greatness that is a “garbage plate.”
But first, I should probably back up and explain what the fuck I’m talking about. “Garbage plates” are a specifically Rochester invention, so much so that the restaurant that created them, Nick Tahou’s, has the term trademarked (hence the name Pilez in the upcoming Pittsburgh establishment). Nick Tahou’s is a dive to end all dives, founded in 1918 by a Greek immigrant named Alexander Tahou. As a response to lean economic years and a working-class customer base hungering for something hearty, Tahou’s started to serve “hots and potatoes”: potatoes and hot dogs made by Zweiegle’s, an iconic local brand.
Of course, this hearty meal that was born out of necessity and the need to feed cash-strapped folks during war time was co-opted by the other great churn of American prosperity: really, really drunk people. A mashup of hearty, caloric food found its natural fanbase in Upstate New York, a land known as much for its ability to consume beer as it is for its ability to withstand snow. Out of this, the current “garbage plate” recipe was born:
- Two hotdogs, hamburgers, or cheeseburgers (NO BUN)
- Home fries (French fries are acceptable, but you will be judged)
- Macaroni salad
- Meat sauce (The most important element; a mix of ground beef, hot sauce, brown sugar and a few other elements to create something truly glorious)
- Chopped onions
- OPTIONAL: baked beans
I don’t know if Pilez will bring an authentic “garbage plate” to Pittsburgh, one that will make me proud to tell people “This is the food of my homeland.” What I do know is I will have outlandishly strong opinions about it, as Rochesterians are similar to Pittsburghers in their comical overprotectiveness of anything that can be claimed as their own. Letting the “garbage plate” into a new land is a big step for me; it’s like watching your kid go away to college. If all goes well, I’ll be the proud father, watching a whole group of new “garbage plate” devotees eat one of their favorite meals and then regret it shortly thereafter. No pressure, Pilez.