We all dream about hopping on planes destined for the world's greatest food cities. Yet the fact is flying often comes out of necessity and destinations aren't always the most popular among food bloggers.
When I recently booked a flight for the hills of western New York and Pennsylvania -- not the most sought after destination in mid winter 0- I was determined to make the most of it. I also made it into a mission to eat all of the hometown comfort foods I'd long heard my fiancée talk about, but never myself tried.
Much of the trip centered on Rochester, N.Y. situated just south of Lake Ontario. The area is famous for many things, including brutally cold weather and storms that can drop more than a foot and a half of snow.
The cold weather is an easy explanation for the food. Rochester is famous for the Garbage Plate, a Styrofoam container heaped with home fries, macaroni salad, cole slaw and baked beans. The whole thing is crowned with everything from a cheese hamburger ($9) (or three for $10.25) to Zweigle's White Hots, a locally made hot dog/sausage that's smoky with a pale grey color that made me think of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Lastly you're offered a ladleful of 'hot sauce,' which is actually a spicy, meat-only chili that tops off the massive meal.
It's one of those legendary dishes that a few places around town claim to have invented but is served under a variety of names. At Penfield Hots Gary and Sharon Brockler have been piling up "Rubbish Plates" for more than a decade. Inside a squat white building pictures of high school regulars were scattered across the walls. A picture the family's former pit bull, Diablo, hung near the counter where you order with only the word "justice" written below. Pit bulls seem to catch a bum wrap around the country, and the Brocklers' dog was shot four times when police responded to a complaint of a party in the neighborhood.
A one-time boomtown Rochester's population has fallen since peaking in the mid 20th century. It is still home to a number of high tech companies - Eastman Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Laumb - though their size by employment today pales in comparison to years past. The number of jobs at Kodak in Rochester fell from 61,000 at its height to less than 7,000 after the company declared bankruptcy in early 2012.
Sure there are strip malls, and cloudy backdrop made them even drearier to watch go by in a car.