From end to end, Park Avenue is packed with things to see and do. That is why, when people call us looking for their new digs, more often than any other answer to the question “Which neighborhood do are you looking to move to?” apartment hunters respond with a definitive “Park Ave, of course.” The “of course” is usually silent, but implied with their tone, so much so that I usually feel silly afterward for even having asked. Now, as a connoisseur of Rochester’s neighborhoods, I know of at least half a dozen that I’d be thrilled to call home, but I cannot deny that Park Avenue is very high on my own list as well. The neighborhood is flanked on either end by Rochester’s only tea house and the city’s only Wegmans, with every inch in between teeming with pedestrians who have come to patronize the clusters of coffee houses, upscale boutiques, beloved eateries, and galleries.
Just North of where Park Avenue starts, at Alexander Street, you’ll find the East End, the centerpiece of Rochester’s nightlife scene. One street south of Park Avenue, Alexander intersects with Monroe Ave, another popular city corridor full of restaurants, shops, and pubs. Being smack dab in the middle of all of this action, its easy to see how Park Avenue became such a focal point for the city. There are so many places on Park Avenue, that we would fill pages and pages with hot spots. Charlie’s Frog Pond and Jines are as much Rochester as apple pie is American. When the long winter finally gives way to the first warm sunny days, people flock to the corner of Berkeley Street and Park Ave to grab a seat at one of these treasured diners. You can grab sushi at Piranha, Thai food at Esan, Mediterranean at Sinbad’s, a glass of wine at Cibon, pizza at Chester Cab, amazing soup at Nathan’s, frozen custard at Abbot’s or gourmet cupcakes at Sugar Mountain Bake Shoppe. Needless to say, it may take your entire first year in Rochester to eat your way all the way down Park Ave. All this excitement draws tons of Rochester’s college students, and the streets are filled with moving trucks at the beginning and end of each school year. If you want a chance to meet everyone in Rochester in one day, be sure to check out the Park Ave Fest which routinely draws more than a quarter million visitors every summer.
Like the East Ave neighborhood, Park Ave is blessed with some of the nation’s most beautiful housing inventory. As Rochester’s first well-to-do suburb, this neighborhood has thousands of well built, stately homes from the 1870’s through the 1930s. It’s not at all uncommon to have stained glass or solid mahogany doors in apartments in this area. While it’s easy to be swept up in the charm of some Park Ave apartments, renters should be very aware of the possibility of loud neighbors, or exceedingly drafty apartments. Old homes are beautiful, but if they haven’t been property insulated, utilities can easily exceed $250/mo for a 2 bedroom apartment in the winter. Be sure to ask about the heat source, insulation and condition of the windows.
The Park Ave neighborhood also offers plenty of mid-sized apartment buildings. Most of these were built between 1920 and 1950, range from 16 to 100 units, and vary in price, condition and amenities. The Barrington is close to the center of the action, and The Parkwin is further East at the quieter end of the neighborhood.
When moving to Rochester, NY, it is essential that you learn to speak the local dialect: Rochesaaayyyrian. Aside from learning to reroute all of your vowels through your nasal passage, you will also need to learn several quintessential phrases such as “lake effect,” “white hot,” and the subject of this article: “garbage plate.”
Nick Tahou's Garbage Plate
The Garbage Plate is a true Rochester, NY delicacy. You won’t get far in this town without a local asking whether you’ve tried one yet. Beware of answering that you have not! The Rochester local will lock eyes with you and insist that you ABSOLUTELY MUST TRY ONE. Your replies that anything called a “Garbage Plate” could not be meant for human consumption, and that it really does not sound all that appealing will only be met with an even greater level of insistence that you are dead wrong. Eventually, it is likely that you will succumb to these outcries, and once you do, you will be forever changed, newly converted to the garbage plate cause.
To become properly initiated to the world of “Garbage Plates,” you will first need to know that Nick Tahou’s restaurant, who invented this delicious mess, has a trademark on the name “Garbage Plate.” For that reason, the term is often shortened to simply “plate.” You can get a “plate” at, dare I say, most restaurants in Rochester. Depending on the establishment, it may be called a “rubbish plate,” a “trash plate,” a “Bum’s plate,” or any number of other similar terms – so use your powers of acumen to find one of these on your chosen establishment’s menu.
The second thing you’ll need to know is that stating that you’d like to order a plate is just the beginning of the ordering process. You’ll next be faced with a barrage of decisions which you should prepare for, lest you face the eye rolls of everyone standing in line behind you as they realize that you are a garbage plate virgin. There is some variation in the options, depending on the restaurant, but seeing as this is your plate initiation, you really only need to know the most traditional options anyways.
Think of the garbage plate as a delicious pile of food that will be built from the base up. At the base of this pile, you will need to choose no more or less than two of these options: home fries (sometimes french fries), macaroni salad, or baked beans. I’m just going out on a limb here, but does anyone really choose baked beans over the heavenly combination of mac salad and home fries? I doubt it.
Next you will be asked to choose between “hots” and burgers. A “hot” is a hot dog. Rochester happens to be obsessed with making the perfect hot dog, but you’re not going to go wrong choosing cheeseburgers either. The least decisive of you can get one of each, because there are always two pieces of meat on top of your plate. This is where some restaurants decide to get quirky, offering italian sausage, fish fry, or even eggs, but for your first plate ever, do yourself a favor and stick to hots or burgers. Did you choose “hots?” You have another decision to make: red hot or white hot. Bam! You’ve just been initiated into another segment of Rochester culture: the white hot. I don’t want to get too off course here, but if “white hot” still sounds like gibberish to you, that’s what you should choose. Trust me.
You’re almost done! Your delicious food pile has one more layer to choose: toppings. The “hot sauce” that traditionally tops a garbage plate is not your standard tabasco. Its a greasy spicy concoction loaded with ground beef. One of the lesser known hot sauce ingredients is cinnamon. Say yes to the hot sauce. You’ll also be asked if you want mustard and onions on your plate. Don’t worry about choosing between these toppings – you’re not going to go wrong saying “yes” to everything. But just keep in mind that these toppings are optional, in the event that you absolutely hate onions, or have some similarly blasphemous problem.
Now you wait – it won’t be long until your plate arrives. If you’re lucky, they’ll serve up your plate with your very own bottles of ketchup and Frank’s red hot, and a slice of soft italian bread. Generously apply ketchup to the entirety of your plate, and don’t be skimpy on the Frank’s red hot either. It may cross your mind that the last thing you need is another carb after you eat your home fries and mac salad, but when you get down to the greasy dredges underneath, you’ll realize the bread is there to soak up every last drop.
Are you ready for your first plate? If its authenticity you seek, don’t forget to print this handy coupon before heading to the original Nick Tahou Hots, which is housed in an 1881 railway terminal at the edge of the Mayor’s Heights and Susan B. Anthony neighborhoods. For the vegetarians amongst you, you’ll be delighted to know that Dogtown Hots in the Pearl-Meigs-Monroe neighborhood serves up an incredibly tasty vegetarian plate! You can also check out the ever-growing list of restaurants that serve “plates” on RocWiki to find someplace close to your new digs.