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DISH '08: Local Food

A taste of Rochester: Five local dishes every local should try

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 BY SUSIE HUME

Live in Rochester long enough and you're sure to hear or read about various local landmarks that are "really Rochester" -- places that would easily make a Top 10 list of all places locals should visit at least once. But ask around about local cuisine and you'll probably get some baffled stares. While Rochester isn't necessarily a dining mecca like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, we do have our fair share of unique dishes that -- as the cliché goes -- every Rochesterian should try at least once. Buffalo can keep its wings, we've got our own dish to fry.

The "plate"

Arguably the most legendary of all local dishes -- it has been featured on the Food Network and in several print publications -- the "plate" is to Rochester what apple pies are to America. "Plate" is the generic name for what is known by most as the "Garbage Plate," a name actually trademarked by its creator, Nick TahouHots (320 West Main Street). That trademark is the reason for the dish's many alternate adjectives -- messy, sloppy, trash, refuse, dumpster, etc. -- found on menus at many other area restaurants. It could even be argued that you can't be a real Rochester dining establishment if you don't offer your own take on the "plate." But the traditional version consists of a choice of meat (typically either two hamburgers or two hot dogs) plopped atop a pile of French fries or home fries, macaroni salad, and baked beans, all covered in "the works" -- ketchup, spicy mustard, onions, and Rochester-style hot sauce (see below).

            With the ability to polarize even more than the upcoming election, the "plate" divides Rochester into two distinct groups: those who love 'em (the "it all ends up together anyway" types) and those who hate 'em (the food separatists), and there's really no room for an in-between.

            Where to find it: This iconic Rochester food is still served at its place of birth, Nick TahouHots, and at almost every other greasy spoon and diner in town.

            Recommended: After you've tried the original or a decent imitation, try one of its many spawn, including the "Garbage Pizza" offered by Piatza's Pizza Gourmet (365 Park Avenue).

The hot sauce

You can always spot a newly anointed Rochesterian by the puzzled look on their face after they've ordered their first hot sauce-smothered dish. The confusion stems from their expectation of a sauce more akin to Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot Sauce. But Rochester's take on this fiery topping is something quite different. More of a runny chili than a traditional hot sauce, the local version features finely ground beef and -- often off-putting to first-timers -- cinnamon. Somewhat gross, but ultimately charming, Rochester's hot sauce is a truly inimitable taste bud experience.

            Where to find it: See above. You just can't make a "plate" without the hot sauce, and you'll find it at the same places, plus any street meat cart.

            Recommended: Bill Gray's (several locations): a good mix of hot and sweet with the strange addition of turnips; it creates a very distinct flavor.

The white hots

You can get a hot dog in every American city, but order a dog in Rochester and you'll be asked to clarify, "white or red?" Outsiders usually scramble to decide if the hot dogs they are accustomed to are of the white or red variety, but true locals are clear on the difference. Made famous by Rochester-based companyZweigle's, white hots are a true Rochester specialty found very infrequently in other cities. They retain their white pork coloring because, unlike their red brethren, they are not smoked. White hot aficionados will also attest to the fact that white hots are distinct in more than just their color: they are often plumper than a traditional hot dog, and have distinguishing ingredients, often including mustard and a dairy component.

            Where to find it: Any establishment whose name ends in the word "hots" (and there are a lot) is a sure bet, and then most diners, burger joints, and street meat vendors.

            Recommended: If you order a white hot locally you're likely to get a Zweigle's dog, so order anywhere they're offered, or just pick up a pack at the nearest grocery store.

Pizza rolls

Not the kind that come in your freezer aisle, but not all that dissimilar, a pizza roll is the bastard child of an egg roll and a pizza. The "Chi-merican" (or "American-ese," if you prefer) dish is made from a thin sheet of dough filled with marinara, mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni, then dipped in egg and fried. And while it's hard to trace exactly where and how the pizza roll was invented, this genius creation is found most commonly in our fair city. Travel an hour east and pizza rolls more closely resemble stromboli; head an hour to the west and you'll simply find the bite-size Totino's version.

            Where to find it: Many local diners and pizza shops offer pizza rolls on the appetizer or sides sections of their menu.

            Recommended: Try the crispy, melty, and always super-hot pizza rolls offered at Mark's Texas Hots (487 Monroe Avenue).

Beef on...wick?

A food specialty that actually has its origins in Buffalo (specifically at the not-to-be-missed roadside restaurant Charlie the Butchers), Beef on Weck is one of our region's most distinct dishes. The dish gets its name from the locale-specific bread it's served on, kummelweck, which is a Kaiser roll coated in caraway seeds and pretzel salt. The kummelweck, or just "weck," is then covered in slow-roasted rare roast beef, horseradish, and sometimes au jus. And while this is really Buffalo's claim to fame, we've made this dish our own in Rochester -- not so much by changing the recipe, but more because we kind of messed up on the name. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Rochester establishment that doesn't mistakenly call it Beef on Wick, a colloquialism on a regional classic. Nice.

            Where to find it: This regional classic can be found everywhere from somewhat upscale restaurants to hole-in-the-wall delis.

            Recommended: Seriously, if you can afford the hour drive, head out to Charlie the Butchers. If not, Rohrbach Brewing Company (3859 Buffalo Road) serves a good local adaptation of the "wick" variety.

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