Michigans: A North Country Custom
Story and photo by Jess Bellack
If you asked New Yorkers what a Michigan was, their response would most likely be in referrence to the geography. But here in Clinton County, it's a hometown tradition. Also known as a red-hot, the hot dog in a steamed bun, smothered with meat sauce and usually mustard and onions may have different variations nationwide, but Michigans are unique only to the North Country.
Most Plattsburgh natives have different recollections about how the Michigan came to be in the North Country, but a few years back researcher Dr. David J. Duquette gave his views in the Press Republican, Plattsburgh's newspaper. He reported that a Mr. George Todoroff created the sauce in Jackson, Michigan originally used for chili. He took his recipe to Coney Island and opened his first restaurant in 1916 where he developed his first and famous Jackson Coney Island hotdog. To date no one is sure how the Michigan name came to be.
Gordie Little, a Press Republican columnist, disagrees. In 2002, Little published an article revealing that Garth and Eula Otis created the first Michigan stand in Plattsburgh in 1925.
"George Todoroff from Michigan had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with bringing Michigans to Plattsburgh. You can take that to the bank. I don't know David Duquette and have no idea what his sources might have been for the origin of the Michigan here, but I can assure you that it has nothing to do with the chili dog either in Coney Island or in Michigan. The Coney Island, the chili dog, and the Michigan have very little in common," says Little.
According to Terry Spiegel, an employee at Clare and Carl's restaurant in Plattsburgh, Mrs. Otis was from Michigan. She and Clare knew each other and Clare made a new recipe for the sauce. Clare and Carl's have been open for 63 years, and like most Michigan makers, won't divulge the secret recipe for their secret sauce.
"Everyone has their own recipe, and no one will tell you what it is," confirms TJ Baglyos, a manager at Michigan's Plus on upper Cornelia Street in Plattsburgh. Baglyos explains that the variations of Michigans lie mostly in the spices of the meat sauce. "They're a big, big seller here," she continues.
Restaurants that serve Michigans are not scarce in the city of Plattsburgh and most residents can't agree to where the best dog can be found.
If you are looking for atmosphere, I'd suggest Clare and Carl's. Found on Tom Miller Road, the building doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside it's a different story. With a retro diner-like atmosphere, Clare and Carl's looks as if it could be a popular hangout from the fifties. Vintage decorations add to the vivid and inviting environment.
If friendly and speedy service is what you're looking for I'd recommend McSweeney's on Route 3 in Plattsburgh. On a Thursday at lunchtime, my party and I ordered three different dishes and received them in about four minutes with a smile. The restaurant was modest and quite unfilled, but the buzz of the regulars livened up the scene.
Michigan Recipe, courtesy of Bob Graham New York resident and avid cook
1 package of hot dogs
1 package of hot dog buns
1 pound of ground beef
1 cup chopped onions
1, 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
1, 7.5 ounce can stewed tomatoes
1, 4 ounce can of diced chili peppers drained 2-3 teaspoons (to taste) of chili powder
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
In a large skillet cook meat and onions till meat is brown.
Stir in, tomato sauce, green chili peppers, chili powder, garlic salt and 1/4 cup water.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat
Simmer for 20 minutes stirring often
Toast or steam hot dog buns while grilling or barbecuing hot dogs.
Pour chili mixture over hot dogs which are seated in the toasted buns. Top with onions and mustard.
Serve and enjoy!
Clare and Carl’s Hot Dog Stand
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