New York state's Michigan "Red Hots" are one of the most fascinating hot dog varieties that I've come across so far. The history of the Michigan Hot Dog is a jumble of legends, a culinary anthropologist's dream. Also known as "Texas Red Hots" but found in the North County region of New York state. The original sauce recipe supposedly came from a Detroit woman who moved to Plattsburgh, hence the name "Michigan" and is slightly similar to Detroit Coney sauce.
But locals will stress that Michigans have nothing to do with Detroit. The flavors are also similar to the Greek sauce of the Texas Weiner/Texas Hot stands than line the eastern edge of New York state—likely another influence on the creation of the "Michigan."
Throw in local Tobin's or Glazier "red skin" franks—bright red natural casing dogs not too different from Maine's Red Snappers—and buns that are similar to New England rolls but longer and sturdier, originally made by the now defunct Bouyea-Fasset bakery—and you have one of the most unique hot dogs in the country.
The sauce is thick and has a little bit of the Greek flavor (cumin? cinnamon?) found in similar sauces, without being overpowering. The raw onions are roughly chopped. You can get them "with," "without," or "buried" (under the frank). A thin line of yellow mustard is the standard condiment, some enjoy a few drops of hot sauce, but ketchup is never even suggested. The paper boat and sturdy roll help to hold it all together. Some places even let the rolls sit and "toughen" for 24 hours before slicing and serving, to better hold in all the sauce.
I was impressed with the great care that was taken to carefully build each dog—something you don't always see at a hot dog joint. To the casual observer, it might "just look like a chili dog." But to hot dog aficionados and North County residents it's a rare gem, worth a long drive just to taste one. And summer is definitely the time to give them a try since many of the Michigan stands (little more than roadside shacks) are closed for the ice and snow covered winters.
The most plausible story of the birth of the Michigan goes back to the first known Plattsburgh hot dog stand, Garth Otis' Michigan Hot Dog and Sandwich Shop, which opened in 1927. In 1935 Nitzi's (now Mcsweeney's Red Hots) opened, where the owner Jack Rabin got the secret sauce recipe from Eula Otis, Garth's wife. Clare & Carl's opened in 1942, where Eula Otis also worked, and shared a version of her secret recipe that they supposedly use to this day.
Clare & Carl's is probably the most well-known Michigan stand, a tiny shack on the side of the road that looks to be slowly sinking into the ground. Also the oldest unless you count Mcsweeney's which has three locations, one being the original Nitzi's, still sporting the original sign. Gus' Red Hots is another standby, with a full diner menu of great specials like fried perch, which is pulled straight out of the lake and into the deep-fryer, served up with a side of slaw.
There's also plenty of lesser-known Michigan stands with their own loyal following. Michigan's Plus is a newer place that also apparently uses the Otis family's original recipe, where you can order a plate of Tater Tots slathered in Michigan sauce. Ronnie's Michigan Stand and Gene's in Port Henry are other local favorites.
Michigan Hot Dogs can also be found in western Vermon—a 10-minute ferry ride from Plattsburgh—usually made with Mckenzie's or Nathan's franks, at diners and gas stations, served on a standard New England bun rather than the special Michigan roll. Then in nearby Montreal, the "hot dog Michigan" is everywhere, but remarkably different—it has onions and spaghetti sauce, and usually served alongside a pile of poutine.
About the author: Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.
Clare & Carl's
4729 NY-9, Plattsburgh, New York
(Open spring and summer)
Gus' Red Hots
3 Cumberland Head Road Plattsburgh, New York 12901
McSweeney's Red Hots
4704 State Route 9, Plattsburgh, New York
Ronnie's Michigan Stand
1265 State Route 3 Plattsburgh, New York 12901
313 Cornelia St Plattsburgh, NY 12901-2308
Gene's Michigan Stand
4201 Nys Route 9N Port Henry, New York 12974
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