The Adjustment Bureau: New York’s Garbage Plate Sauce

Year Released: 2011
Directed by: George J. Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie
(PG-13, 106 min.)

"Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" William Shakespeare

There is a new wind blowing through Hollywood lately – light and sweet, and it is neither befouled with the stagnant decay of nihilism nor bogged down with political polemics. It whirls around essentially likeable characters who actually seem real to us, whether they are stuttering monarchs, punch-drunk fighters, over-the-hill gun slingers, or in this case, a refreshingly honest politician.

We meet this rare animal, David Norris (Matt Damon) through a collage of images during the last days of his senate campaign. He kisses babies, flashes his dazzling smile on the “The Daily Show,” and walks the neighborhood without missing a beat. Yet when a perfectly timed small scandal from his youth emerges to jostle him from the winner’s circle, he takes his sudden fall from grace with the same equanimity as his meteoric rise. 

Practicing his concession speech in what he thinks is a deserted men’s room, David is taken by surprise when Elise (Emily Blunt), a lanky beauty comes out from hiding in one of the stalls. Why she is there is a story in itself, but right away we know she is no conventional beauty. From her bizarre entrance to her irreverent wit – “Do I sound like I’m part of your voting public?” she quips in a saucy British tongue – Elise is an outsider, someone immune to the poll driven parameters that box David in his world. And she shakes him loose from those predictable moorings. 

While their men’s room meeting lacks the white tie tropical glamour of,

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger
You may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see her again and again.

it is every bit as highly charged and romantic. And as pivotal. Neither David nor Elise will ever be the same again. It ends with a kiss that promises a lifetime of them, and inspires David to throw out his rehearsed presentation and speak from his heart.

And by throwing away the script as he frankly recalls the staged machinations his campaign used to determine everything from the color of his tie to the optimal amount of scuffing on his shoes, he becomes a victor of sorts in his defeat, a strong contender for another stab at the office next time around.

In fact, David Norris is so stellar that his fate is in the stars, which in this case are more or less under the control of a wonderfully semi competent group called The Adjustment Bureau. A marriage between the sinister agents of The Matrix and the semi-comic duo from the Men in Black franchise, its members make the occasional stafu. (They are, after all, bureaucrats.) Such as when Norris’s guardian (angel, if you will) falls asleep on a park bench instead of spilling coffee on him. Without that delay Norris walks in on one of their “realignment sessions,” finding a group of the deadpan agents fiddling with what looks like a wired football helmet attached to his colleague.

But that’s not nearly as bad as his renewed acquaintance with Elise, someone the arbiters of his fate do not see in his future. But David Norris obviously does, and he spends the rest of the film trying to dodge these mild mannered organization men, as soft spoken and doggedly persistent as IRS agents.

While the film dances around the question of fate verses free will, it really undercuts any serious philosophical considerations with the presence of the kooky band of fedora sporting men in black. They bear no real existential dread, except maybe their threat of extraction, a kind of clean sweep of the mind they prefer to use as a last resort.

And then there’s Harry (Anthony Mackie), a young black version of the angel Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, who takes the side of the young lovers and tutors David on how to make it though cross town Manhattan in a blink, using his borrowed fedora to turn ordinary doors into magic portals. 

But the real magic here is that age-old concoction called love. We see it sparkle and flame, then watch its embers come back to life when we are sure they have been choked off. It’s the oldest story around, one we never tire of when it’s done right. And this one is.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

While David and Elise are too busy evading the persistent members of the Adjustment Bureau out to crash their romance to stop for a bite to eat, I’m sure David spent many evenings downing the local chow during his campaign for senator. 

One of the more interesting local concoctions comes from a Rochester, New York, landmark restaurant featuring a dish called the Garbage Plate. A Garbage Plate is a combination of one selection of cheeseburger, hamburger, red hots, white hots, Italian sausage, chicken tender, fish (haddock), fried ham, grilled cheese, or eggs; and two sides of either home fries, French fries, baked beans, or macaroni salad. On top of that are the options of mustard and onions, ketchup, and Nick's proprietary hot sauce, a meat sauce with spices and ground beef. It's served with rolls or Italian toast on the side, fresh from the bakery next door. named the Garbage Plate the fattiest food in the state of New York.

Given that David spends a considerable time high tailing it through New York via its old sewers as he desperately tries to outrun the Bureau, this recipe seems doubly appropriate. Don’t be turned away by its “fattest food in New York” label, since that comes from what you pour the sauce over, rather than the sauce itself. I bet it would be great over lentils or some other more healthy choices.


New York’s Garbage Plate Sauce


  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and stir in the ground beef. Cook and stir until the beef is crumbly, evenly browned, and no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and discard any excess grease.
Transfer the cooked beef to a blender and blend until the meat is finely minced. Bring the minced beef, water, vinegar, paprika, black pepper, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, allspice, cloves, cumin, thyme, and cinnamon to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; cook for at least 30 minutes, adding water as needed to keep the mixture moist and gravy-like.

Recipe Source: