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Hot Dog of the Week: Decoding the "Michigan Dog" of New York State
We first covered Michigans, one of the most fascinating of the "regionally incorrect meat sauce dogs," a couple of years ago when I trekked up to Plattsburgh, New York, on a pilgrimage to the legendary Clare & Carl's only to find it closed and ended up at Gus's, also a fine example of Plattsburgh's signature dog.
I was surprised to find that Michigans aren't the obscure forgotten dog I thought they were. Literally from the Canadian border (and even into Canada, although they are different) all the way down to Lake Placid, you can grab a "Michigan"—even a vegetarian version—from almost any roadside stand, diner, or gas station.
At first glance the Michigan might look like any other chili dog, but the best spots use these crazy top-loaded buns, sort of like New England style but sturdier, only available in the North Country and nobody seems to know who makes them. Legend has it they let the buns sit for a day uncut, until they are semi-stale, before slicing and steaming to create the perfect soft-but-sturdy vehicle for the dog, ideally a Glazier brand neon red natural casing frank.
Although the name "Michigan" supposedly has roots in a sauce recipe that traveled from Detroit to Plattsburgh in the early 1920s, Michigan sauce bears little resemblance to Detroit Coney sauce, with no offal and barely any Greek flavor, although the texture is similar to Flint sauce. It's chunkier and thicker than most hot dog sauces, made with tomato (sometimes even ketchup) and secret ingredients such as cabbage, vinegar, or brown sugar.
Cheese or beans are not allowed, mustard should be of the yellow variety, and onions are ordered "with" or "buried" under the sauce. Having tried a few of these, I can tell you that it's not just the name, the Michigan is really a special, unique regional dog, preserved for years in this semi-secluded part of the country.
Just in time for National Hot Dog Month (July!), Adirondack Life Magazine has published what might be the most comprehensive article about the mysterious Michigan to date, including a long list of bona-fide Michigan spots that serve the real deal, far beyond the "big three" of Clare & Carl's, Gus's and McSweeneys, the only ones I knew about before going up there. Check out the article at adirondacklife.com where you can also grab a t-shirt of the above artwork.
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/.