The Michigan: A Food with Rich Taste and Rich Past
Story by Jonathan Schmitt
Photo by Natasha Courter
From the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Do North
In the North Country, there is this thing they call a michigan.
The steamed, red-skinned hot dog cradled in a bun beneath a light touch of mustard, diced onion and seasoned meat sauce makes for a unique breed of comfort food. For more than half a century, michigans have been the uncontested taste of the region.
Michigans, the Saranac River and You
There is no wrong place to grab a michigan. Able establishments pepper the landscape from Keeseville to Malone, and I have yet to visit one that hasn’t mastered the mysterious dog. McSweeney’s, Gus’, Michigan’s Plus, Ronnie’s and every stand, deli or restaurant that serves the dirt-cheap delicacy does so with personal interpretation, using recipes older than color television. One of those mouth-watering recipes can be found on the side of Route 9, just two miles south of downtown Plattsburgh.
At the center of the large sloping parking lot sits the small, white stand with a big red sign on the roof that reads “Texas Red Hots.” Welcome to Clare and Carl’s. If there is a right place to grab a michigan, this is it.
“The place is so simple,” says Dustin Eells of Vail, Colo. “But this is the best type of simple I can think of.”
Terry Murray purchased the establishment in 1979 and keeps the dog and drive-in atmosphere simple by sticking to tradition.
Long before Murray took ownership, there was, indeed, a Clare and a Carl. With nothing but a desire to make dogs, and a dream, Clare and Carl Warn started selling kraut dogs near Westchester County. After experimenting with various ingredients and moving north, they discovered what would soon become a staple in culinary culture for visitors and residents of the Adirondack Coast.
When the stand opened in 1943, Clare twisted and tweaked a recipe for a hearty meat sauce that Eula Otis, a woman from Michigan, shared with her. Clare drizzled the sauce on top of a steamed dog and added a half-handful of chopped onions and a squeeze of mustard.
It took off.
When I first heard of the michigan, the idea hardly impressed me. If I’m looking for a hearty lunch or dinner, I don’t usually prefer hot dogs. But the day my SUV rounded the bend and the stand appeared, curiosity had me parked outside on the rugged half-pavement, half-gravel parking lot. I could’ve headed inside to enjoy the dog on a barstool, but the waitress approached my driver’s side window, and I stayed put. Mimicking the older gentlemen in the adjacent truck, I ordered two michigans and a Pepsi.
Every soft, yet hearty, bite was completed with a final oniony crunch. The mustard didn’t bully the other flavors, and the few chili-dog comparisons sounded foolish. The sauce is far more consistent and focuses more on a rounded flavor than the spicy Tex-Mex taste of its southern cousins.
The michigan is no ballpark dog, but it slams any frank or brat out of the park – the Adirondack Park.
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