Just before Christmas Eve dinner, the guests of the Royal Family retire to the Saloon to enjoy gin and tonics with the Queen (who drinks a dry Martini).  Afterwards, the guests are seated at 8:30 pm for a splendid, candlelit meal that unfolds in rehearsed waves of grandeur.  White wine is served with the hors d’oeuvres, Claret with the entrees and Champagne with dessert.

For the Brits, structure, tradition and ritual are all intertwined with the food and drink.  In fact, this is the way most of Europe dines and a way we Americans have often neglected.  And that’s a shame, because great food is often incomplete without great drink.

Fit for the Queen

What the hell am I rambling about, you ask?  Well, for me, it was a very British Christmas.  A British Christmas in Rochester, that is.  For four days, I was inducted into my in-laws ways and made an honorary Englishman (although I still prefer my turkey sannies warmed up in the microwave and WITHOUT the Branston Pickle).

The food and drink were superb, and the rituals and traditions unfolded around me like clockwork.  I left satiated and, despite the onslaught of tasty delights, hungry for more.  Well, that is except for one dish.  A dish that is still wrecking havoc on my tempermental Irish bowels…but more on that later…

More scrapies?

My friends, it was a swirl of unfamiliar dishes and unfamiliar customs.  A whirl of plates and serving bowls and Sherry glasses and Pilsner steins.  It was a world of food names ending in “y” or “ies” that served to make everything sound so cute and dainty (like the Queen herself) that I felt like I’d been whisked away to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

With the Shepard’s Pie for Christmas Eve, I found myself fighting for the blackened, caked-on potato bits known as “Scrapies”.  We rationed out the final “Roasties” like they were the last roasted potatoes in Ireland.  For dessert, it wasn’t Fig Pudding but, you guessed it, “Figgy Pudding”.  Before retiring for bed, we drank “Milky” coffee (warm milk and instant decaf coffee).  It’s kind of akin to translating everything into Pig Latin…except you simply add a “y” or an “ie” and you’re good to go and fly the Union Jack on your porchy).

Ah, but it was grand.  Christmas Eve dinner began casually in the living room with sips of Cream Sherry, followed by a bottle of Rose Champagne that whisked us into the dining room where a splendid meal ensued.  For days, our chalaces were full of fine drink and our hearts with laughter–all was right in the world.  Until I met my culinary nemesis.

The Champagne of Rochester

Yes, my friends, a horrid beast lurked on the horizon.  One night, as I went in search of the true Rochester, and after a few hours of bowling and some pitchers of Labatt Blue, I was whisked into the car, told to not speak nor protest, and taken into the heart of Rochester to a small, non-descript diner.

It was unfair, really.  Because after a few days of great dishes and delicious Tawny Ports and Saranac microbrews, I was defenseless and unsuspecting.  Brutally, I was yanked into a dark world of grease and shady characters, where a styrofoam box filled with an unidentifiable steaming mass of food was shoved in my face.  And did I have a chilled, Finger Lakes Riesling to sip with it?  Nope.  An ice cold Pilsner to force it down with?  Nope.  Merely a sugar-laden, lukewarm soda and the cries of “mama” in my head.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my first “Garbage Plate” (or is it the Trashy Mashy?  Or the Filthy Stinky?)

Check out the horrifying video below:

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13 Responses to “A Very English Christmas…in Rochester”

  1. Joe F. says:

    Looks like I’d stick with the figgy pudding and scrapies next time and avoid the Garbage Plate…woof!

  2. Jim F says:

    I hate to admit it, but I think I would like the Garbage Plate! Really enjoyed the read, Dave!

  3. Lex says:

    Keep ’em coming! Glad I got to here about it, and to see it in action. Garbage Plate? One man’s garbage . . .

  4. Joe, wise plan…but how very un-Rochester of you….perhaps they make a vegetarian garbage plate? Tofurkey smothered in hot pepper sauce over a bed of brussel-sprout saturated spinach covered in green-pepper infused leeks. (It wouldn’t be a true garbage plate without the GI tract overload at about 3 am while tossing and turning in bed in a feverish sweat)

  5. Oh yes, Jim, you are quite right. You would definately like the Garbage Plate going IN…its more the aftereffects that make you rethink the decision. Sort of like one’s first experience with Tequila (“it’s just SO fun! Ah, what the hell, I’ll have another!!”)

  6. Lex, interesting point…hmm….one man’s garbage…is another man’s colon blow?

  7. Katherine (The Misses) says:

    The best part was the we didn’t have to choose.
    We could have it all.
    And we did.

    And may I add that our Garbage Plate partner in crime was my dear friend Corey, a native Rochesterian who wins marathons and teaches second year med students at Harvard.*

    He examined Dave’s GI Tract in Stevie T’s parking Lot prior to the late night snack. There was a slight figgy pudding glut but with a quick jab to the gut, Corey cleared it and gave Dave the green Grabage Plate light.**

    *True
    **Not True

  8. David H. says:

    I could still smell it coming out of Dave on NYE. Made me hungry for those greasy, potatoey, meaty viddle piles in styrofoam.

  9. Kay says:

    YES! I grew up in Rochester (now living in Boston for almost 8 years) and miss these. It’s working man food, the original Tahou (before it broke into Steve T’s) an immigrant looking to serve working man food that was filling and fast. Now I’m curious about two things … first, what did you get on yours? I find that what someone chooses can be very telling about the person. (I’m a cheeseburger plate, french fry, homefry and just sauce kind of person — all shouted very fast, of course)

    Second, did you try any of the other token Rochester foods / drinks? This includes Genny Cream Ale (it’s really not that bad, and brings back fond memories .. you can skip the Genny Lite) or Abbott’s Chocolate Almond Custard?

    Hope you had fun :) Even though I’m now a Bostonian and love every minute of it, I’ll always be a Rochester girl at heart.

    – K (and surprisingly, after my share of plates thru the years, still have a waistline) :)

  10. Ha, nice Kay. Great to hear from a true Rochesterian who’s lived the trenches of their food and wine culture. So, I guess in terms of what type of mess I had on my plate, we slammed down a burger plate next to a hot dog plate. In all honesty, my naive ass was shunned from the ordering counter for fear of embarassment and waited nervously in the booth for its arrival. From what I could tell, there was home fries, oodles of hot meat sauce, a boatload of salt and an extra helping of colon destruction powder.

    I’ll have to go back for the Genny Cream Ale, but we did check out a great microbrew pub near Greece called Rohrbach’s. Anyone know it? Had a “Flaherty Irish Ale” which I was stoked to see (not even remotely my favorite though, sadly enough)

  11. Kyle says:

    I can only draw on what the misses said…every kid does dream of the day they have their first garbage plate. Although I must add, they are infinitly better at 3am after a solid night of drinking. I wonder how Dave felt a few hours after eating that virgin plate of his…after the food had a chance to make its way through his system…

  12. Kay says:

    Ha! I know Rohrbach’s well. There are only a few decent brew pubs in Rochester, Rohrbach’s being one of the last that brew on site, and a few others like MacGregors and Acme that have solid selections. Decent German-American pub food too :)

    Glad you enjoyed your time in the Roch. It has a lot of charm, I’ll give it that much.

  13. Kay says:

    p.s. you can also buy the meat hot sauce at wegmans … and boy that stuff is good 😉

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