One of America’s Favorites – Michigan Hot Dog

January 28, 2019 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | 4 Comments
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Michigan Hot Dog

A Michigan hot dog, or simply “Michigan”, is a steamed hot dog on a steamed bun topped with a meaty sauce, generally referred to as “Michigan sauce”. The sauce may be tomato-based, depending on where the Michigan is purchased. Michigans can be served with chopped onions. If served with onions, the onions can either be buried under the sauce, under the hot dog itself, or sprinkled on top of the sauce.

Michigans are particularly popular in the North Country of New York State, and have been so for many decades. Their popularity soon spread to New York City where they remain a fast food staple. One of the earliest known advertisements for Michigans appeared in the Friday, May 27, 1927, Plattsburgh Daily Republican.

Michigans are also very popular in Montreal and other parts of Quebec, where the sauce is often tomato-based. Lafleur Restaurants, a Quebec fast food chain, is known for its Michigans and poutine.

Oddly enough, “Michigan hot dogs” are never referred to by that name in Michigan itself, nor anywhere else in the Midwest. A similar food item, the Coney Island hot dog or “Coney dog”, is natural-casing beef or beef and pork European-style Frankfurter Würstel (Vienna sausage) of German origin having a natural lamb or sheep casing, and topped with a beef heart-based Coney sauce. Conversely, the “Coney Island” is not referred to as such on Coney Island, or anywhere else in New York State, instead called either a “Michigan” or a “Red Hot.”

There is no consensus on the origin of the Michigan. Although there are many different varieties of Michigan sauce available today, the original Michigan sauce was possibly created by George Todoroff in Jackson, Michigan. The sauce was originally created to be used as a topping on Coney Island hot dogs. In 1914, Mr. Todoroff founded the Jackson Coney Island restaurant and created his Coney Island chili sauce recipe. He retired in 1945.

How and when Michigan sauce arrived in upstate New York is somewhat of a mystery. The earliest known advertisement for Michigans appeared in the Friday, May 27, 1927, Plattsburgh Daily Republican. The ad announced the opening of “the Michigan Hot-Dog Stand Tuesday May 24, located between the two dance halls”. That hot dog stand may be the same one mentioned in the Plattsburgh Sentinel on Sept. 16, 1927, as being owned by a Mr. Garth C. Otis:

“Garth C. Otis has leased the quarters in the Plattsburgh Theatre building formerly occupied as the Locomobile salesroom in which place he will conduct an eating place under the name of the Michigan Hot Dog and Sandwich Shop opening Saturday. Mexican chili con carne will be one of the specialties. Mr. Otis promises a first class place for those who desire short order lunches.”

The origin of the “Michigan” name may have come from Plattsburgh residents Jack Rabin and his wife, who fell in love with the Jackson Coney Island hot dog while vacationing in Coney Island and subsequently recreated the sauce at Nitzi’s, their Michigan hot dog stand on Route 9 just outside Plattsburgh. However, a 1984 Sentinel article indicates that Nitzi’s was established in 1935, and says Jack Rabin indicated “his sauce came from Mrs. Eula Otis, who first coined the name ‘Michigans’ for her hot dog and sauce.” Otis was originally from Nashville and met her husband in Detroit, Michigan, where she learned to make meat sauce. They moved to Plattsburgh in the 1920s.

The Nitzi/Otis recipe is currently in use at Michigans Plus, located in the former IHOP building on Route 3.

In Vermont, the Michigan dog is almost always split and cooked on a grill before the meat sauce onions and mustard are added. Often, the bun (or a slice of bread) is also grilled. The first ones sold around the Burlington area were called Charlie’s Red Hots and the small shop was started during World War II by a well-known and respected restaurateur. The family closely guarded the sauce recipe. The originals are no longer sold, but there are many Michigan copies around and many local families claim to have the “Charlie’s” sauce recipe.

 

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