Southerners, Meet the Trash Plate
The Port City Plates food truck brings Rochester, New York–style protein and carb mashups to southeastern North Carolina.
While we all know about Chicago’s legendary deep-dish pizzas and Philadelphia’s famous cheese steaks, a lesser-known but equally delicious signature dish has recently arrived in the Port City. Originating more than 100 years ago in Rochester, New York, at the landmark restaurant Nick Tahou Hots, the since trademarked Garbage Plate is gaining notoriety and foodie fandom across the country.
Rochester natives turned Leland residents Rob and Shelly Marketell are excited to be bringing their own version of this taste of home to the Cape Fear region with their new Trash Plate food truck, Port City Plates.
The Marketells worked together as teenagers at a movie theater in western New York. After three decades of working in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors, the couple decided to relocate to Brunswick County in 2021 in search of a new adventure.
“It’s always been my husband’s dream to have a business he can call his own,” Shelly says. “Food is his passion, so we started thinking of ways we could focus on that.”
After receiving guidance and support from Brunswick Community College’s Small Business Center, the Marketells landed on the idea of a food truck dedicated to their favorite meal from back home. Although the name might seem off-putting at first, Rochester’s notorious kitchen-sink–style dish of proteins and carbs is beloved by locals and anyone willing to give the unique mashup a try.
“The Trash Plate in the Rochester area has been around for a long time, and we both fell in love with it growing up,” Rob says. “It’s become a staple for kids from the universities to go to after a night of being out and celebrating with friends, and it’s one of the best comfort foods around.”
Across Rochester and beyond, various restaurants have their own version of the Trash Plate, with names ranging from the likes of Junker Plate and Dumpster Plate to simply a Plate.
The Marketells construct theirs using a base of home fries and house-made macaroni salad layered with a choice of either two bun-less cheeseburgers, two hot dogs or chicken tenders and topped with onions, mustard and a signature meat-based hot sauce. Customer favorites include the two-cheeseburger Carolina Beach Plate and the Cape Fear Plate, which mixes things up with a cheeseburger and hot dog combination.
“All of our plates are topped with a sauce that has a little kick to it, similar to a chili but without the beans, and then topped with mustard and onions, which really ties it all together,” Shelly says. “It might not be a flavor profile that seems natural to most people at first, but once they try it and taste the mixture of hot sauce with the macaroni to cool everything down a little bit, mixed with the potatoes, they see that it’s very good.”
Other menu options include the Trash Can, a smaller, easier-to-hold version of the Trash Plate featuring a single protein and served in a 32-ounce plastic container. The truck also serves typical sandwiches such as hand-pressed hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and turkey burgers plus sides like macaroni salad, french fries, home fries and loaded fries. The truck features the Rochester-based Zweigles brand of hot dogs, which come in both an all-white pork and a red all-beef variety.
“We have the hots sent in from Rochester because we love them and want to keep our plates authentic,” Shelly says. “They have a pop-open casing and are something different from your regular thin hot dogs. The white pork hot is really famous to Rochester.”
After only five months of being in business, Port City Plates is already on a roll. The truck makes four or five stops per week at locations ranging from Brunswick Community College to local medical centers to a variety of downtown bars and distilleries. With the help of the couple’s two adult children, who also live in the area, the Marketells are taking every opportunity they can to share their love of Trash Plates with as many people as possible, whether they are first-time customers or already-loyal fans.
“Every time we pull into some place and open up the window of the truck, we’ll meet a handful of people from Rochester who say they’ve been craving a Trash Plate and are so happy we’re here,” Rob says. “We’ve also met so many new people, and it’s been great seeing the adventurous nature of the people down here and how willing people have been to try new things.”
“We’ve had a very positive reception from people brave enough and willing enough to give the trash plate a try and see what it tastes like,” Shelly agrees. “We’ve been told the flavor profile is excellent; it’s unexpected and it’s just something different than anything they’ve ever had before.”
For the Marketells, one of the most special things to come out of this experience has been the feeling of comradery and community they have felt from other food truck owners.
Rob says he has enjoyed learning from the people he has met and sharing ideas and discussions about the area’s strong food truck scene. Both he and Shelly are overwhelmed by how much support they’ve already received in their short time in business, and they thank the community for embracing Port City Plates with open arms — and mouths.
“Everyone we’ve met has been so friendly and accepting, and we thank them for giving us the opportunity to serve them and share a little of our life with them,” Rob says. “We want everyone to understand our passion and what we love, and we hope other people love it too.”
Want to give it a try?
Photography by Leigh Roberts