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Man Bites Food

10 Deliciously Weird Dishes across the Country

For the following iconic bizarre dishes, beauty is in the eye (or tastebuds) of the beholder. They may not win any Instagram competitions, but they're a testament to American ingenuity and display a devotion to creativity with comfort food. These dishes exist because some visionary chefs and restaurateurs across the country were unafraid to say "YES" to more gravy, French fries, chili and anything else for the sake of inventing some messy and indulgent, but brilliantly weird foods. 

The Garbage Plate, Nick Tahou Hots (Rochester, NY)
Perhaps the country's most famous towering pile of food, the Garbage Plate's origin is widely attributed to Nick Tahou Hots, a Rochester institution since 1918. The base of the dish is always the diner’s choice of two sides — home fries, French fries, macaroni salad or baked beans — topped by your choice of meat — hot dog, hamburger patty, Italian sausage, or chicken tenders. Finally, the whole mixture is dressed with mustard and onions, then doused with Nick’s signature hot sauce.

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photo credit: Eugene Peretz

Loco Moco, Eggs 'n Things (Honolulu, HI)
A regional Hawaiian delight that can be found throughout the islands (Eggs 'n Things is just one noteworthy purveyor), Moco Loco is a layered dish of fried eggs, a hamburger patty, white rice, brown gravy, and sometimes Spam (ubiquitous in Hawaii) or other meats. 

7 Pound Breakfast Burrito, Jack-n-Grill (Denver, CO) 
Not exactly your padre's grab-and-go, foil-wrapped burrito, Jack-n-Grill's 7 Pound Breakfast Burrito is every bit as intimidating as it sounds, filled with 5 lbs of potatoes, 12 eggs, 1/2 a pound of ham, onions and green chiles (fire-roasted on the premises), then topped with a mound of cheese and their signature green pork chile. The Travel Channel's Adam Richman threw in the towel while attempting to tackle this burrito beast, but if you manage to succeed, your polaroid will have a place on their wall of fame.

The Hot Hamburger, Murphy's Steak House (Bartlesville, OK)
Leave your preconceived notion of a "hamburger" at the door at this Bartlesville institution dating back to 1946. The Hot Hamburger is a gut-busting tradition that layers a generous hamburger steak patty on buttered Texas toast with grilled onions (optional but only a rookie would forego them) and an ungodly amount of fries. The whole thing is smothered in glorious brown gravy. 

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Pastrami Cheese Fries, Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen (Portland, OR)
Not all loaded fries are created equal. Many spuds become soggy under the weight of chili and a variety of other toppings. But we can totally get behind an over-sized plate of thin, crispy fries topped with a heapin' helpin of Kenny & Zuke's signature pastrami and covered with melted Swiss cheese. Something this extraordinary probably shouldn't be hiding under "Sides" on the menu. 

Chili Six-WayBlue Ash Chili (Cincinnati, OH)
It's difficult to spend any amount of time in Cincinnati without stumbling face first into a plate of chili, be it 3-, 4- or 5-way. Blue Ash takes things a step further with their chili 6-way: that's their signature Cincinnati-style chili (1) on top of spaghetti (2) topped with copious amounts of shredded cheese (3), onions (4), beans (5) and the coup de grâce, fried pickled jalapeno caps (6). 

The Tamale SpreadMcClard's Bar-B-Q (Hot Springs, AR) 
A former favorite of President Clinton (before he went vegan — raise your hand if you saw that coming), McClard's signature item is the Tamale Spread, a heaping pile of food consisting of two open faced tamales covered with Fritos, beans, chopped beef barbeque, and no insignificant amount of cheese and onions. It all combines for one intense, yet strangely delightful flavor. 

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Slayer, Kuma's Corner (Chicago, IL)
This perpetually packed headbangers' hamburger heaven names their innovative burgers after metal bands (Black Sabbath, Mastodon, Pantera, etc). The Slayer might be the most hardcore of its offerings — a bunless spread composed of a 10 oz burger patty, chili, cherry peppers, melted Monterrey Jack, green onions and of course, ANGER (this is actually listed as the final ingredient on the menu). 

Tender Royale, Pepperfire (Nashville, TN)
A relative newcomer to Nashville's hot chicken scene, Pepperfire does not withhold the heat when it comes to their take on the pan-fried, cayenne-crusted bird. Their most unique contribution, however, is the Tender Royale, a deep-fried grilled cheese with melted pepperjack oozing out the edges that is then topped with three sizable tongue-torching hot chicken tenders. The cayenne dusting lightly coats the bread of the grilled cheese for quite the taste sensation — fork and knife it, lest you make a bigger mess.

The Big WoodyBilly's Blue Duck BBQ (Liberal, Kansas)
A Liberal local favorite for barbecue, burgers and Tex-Mex offerings, Billy's is the home of the behemoth Big Woody — a 10-inch Hebrew National hot dog that's deep-fried, wrapped in a tortilla, and smothered in chili, cheese and onions (sour cream is optional).  

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Roadside Attractions: Barbecue at McClard's

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Almost every great barbecue joint comes with a great origin story. There's usually a secret technique or recipe transcribed in an ancient rural dialect and handed down by a grizzled great uncle who never slept for tending the pit. McClard's Bar-B-Q in Hot Springs, AR proves to be no exception. A hotbed of illegal gambling in the late 19th century and a favorite hangout of Al Capone and other gangsters in the '30s and '40s, Hot Springs was not a place unfamiliar with shady deals and unorthodox business transactions. Though the origins of McClard's were by no means criminal, they were certainly unusual. Alex and Gladys McClard weren't in the food business at the time. Rather, they ran a small hotel near Hot Springs National Park. As the story goes, a traveler who was unable to pay the $10 for his two-month stay offered the McClards alternative compensation: a recipe for the "the world's greatest barbecue sauce." The rest is history. They transformed the hotel into a barbecue restaurant in 1928 - goat was the centerpiece of the menu - and moved to their current location in 1942. While passing through Hot Springs on scenic highway 7, I couldn't resist stopping in for some of their legendary barbecue.

A full parking lot at 11 am on a Friday afternoon came as no surprise. As my dining companions and I entered what was likely the incorrect door, we were greeted by all sorts of Clinton-related paraphernalia - Bill and Hillary always made it a point to stop in McClard's when in the area (that is, before Slick Willy surprised us all by going vegan). The bustling restaurant had no available tables, and we definitely drew a few "y'all ain't from around here, are ya?" looks as we stood awkwardly, attempting to decipher the seating system, which is somewhat non-existent. Turnover is pretty quick at McClard's, so it wasn't before long until our party of five was seated in a huge booth, after a friendly elderly couple offered to give up their sizeable table and sit at a smaller one (Arkansas friendliness is a special thing).  

As for the barbecue, the menu offered a wide variety of options, from ribs and sandwiches to pork and beef, both available chopped and sliced. I've long held that Arkansas is somewhat of a barbecue no-man's-land. It's not far from Memphis where pork is king, and it shares a border with Texas, where the cow dominates the 'cue scene. Even St. Louis is only a few hours away. This might explain why I grew up eating soiee-moiee sandwiches -- that's both pork and beef bbq on the same bun --at a barbecue restaurant in my grandparents' home town in Northwest Arkansas, but I digress. We decided to try a little of everything and were not disappointed with the results. I opted for the rib and fry plate, which is about what it sounds like: a pound of ribs absolutely covered in French fries. I eventually needed an additional plate to pile fries upon just so I could get to the ribs unimpeded. Generally, I'd prefer a dry rub, but since the sauce is the specialty at McClard's (the recipe currently resides in a safety deposit box elsewhere) I opted for sauce on the ribs. This was not a regrettable decision: the thin, peppery vinegar sauce with a touch of sweetness and a late spicy kick absolutely lived up to the hype. As for the ribs themselves, they were heavily seasoned, tender and quite meaty, albeit slightly fatty - not that I'm complaining about this. 

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Perhaps the most unique item available at McClard's however, is the Tamale Spread. This monstrous creation consists of two open-faced tamales covered with Fritos, beans, chopped beef bbq, and a ton of cheese and onions. Somewhat akin to a Frito pie, but from a barbecue angle, it carries an intense combinations of flavors. Strange as it may sound, it's an absolute must try at McClard's. 

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As we staggered back to the car after our heavy meal -- with "lard" in the title, we weren't expecting a light lunch -- I couldn't help being impressed and relieved that a place with such a colorful history and reputation was keeping the quality at such a high level. Some spots coast on their name and know they'll draw enough tourists so that it doesn't matter. But as is often the case with barbecue, it's a matter of pride. And shortcuts are not taken by the country's best pitmasters. For further reading, take a look at our selection of the country's 20 best barbecue restaurants

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