Across the lake, in neighboring Plattsburgh, NY, a couple of Michiganders named Eula and Garth Otis opened a hot dog stand. The year was 1927, and nearly 100 years later, the “Michigan” remains a regional favorite in and around Plattsburgh. Like Chicago’s Mother-In-Law sandwich, Long Island’s Grandma Pie, Baltimore’s Coddies or Rochester’s Garbage Plate, the Michigan is a longstanding unique regional American dish featured on basic cable food and travel shows pretty frequently.
So what is a Michigan? It’s a natural casing hot dog, served in a vertically-split steamed hot dog bun, covered with a slightly spicy finely-ground meat sauce. It’s like a Coney Island dog but more like a Flint style Coney Island than a Detroit style.
Flint and Detroit, incidentally, are cities in… you see where I’m going with this. My guess is that NY North Country Michigans are basically a transplanted Flint Coney with some regional evolution over the past century of separation.
Regardless the origins, I friggin’ love them.
The Michigan is royalty in the North Country (an area which refers to the northeastern half of New York’s 21st congressional district). You can get a Michigan in any number of places, and every recipe is just a little bit different. In Plattsburgh alone (not a very big town) there are five places that specialize in Michigans (and with multiple locations): McSweeney’s, Claire and Carls (no apostrophe), Gus’s Red Hots, Ronnie’s and Michigans Plus.
I’m a Claire and Carls man, personally. Every summer when I motorcycle through the area I stop there for three “with” and a side of onion rings. I worked there for a summer when I finished school, my day began with mashing up a big pot of ground beef, mash it, mash it, mash it, then the owner would come in with a wax paper bag full of spices etc, she’d pour it into the beef pot then go back out. Secret recipes are secret recipes.
Michigans have spread throughout the North Country, a little bit into Vermont (but not much), and they became popular in Montreal and around southern Quebec, but I’m to understand their recipe is more like a spaghetti sauce in flavor north of la frontiere. For myself and other riders I know they are classic roadside delicacies we look forward to every summer.