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The mystery of the Michigan

If you asked for a Michigan at a diner in Michigan, the waitress would probably give you a funny look. Similarly, if you were after a Texas Red Hot in Texas, you’d be greeted with dubious stares and labeled a Yankee. Michigans are most definitely a Plattsburgh thing.

What are they?

Michigans and Texas Red Hots are the same thing. (They're called Texas Red Hots on the menu board, but never in conversation). The best comparison I can give you is a chili dog, so basically a hot dog in a boat-like bun with spicy minced meat on top. No one really knows what is in the spicy meat sauce, but it tastes quite different from chili. My mum makes her own Michigan sauce, and she puts in varying ratios of Hungarian chili powder, red peppers, oregano, garlic, basil and cumin, sometimes adding and omitting ingredients. She and the rest of the world have yet to crack the code to the true Michigan (should we call them NY Michigans?)

How many calories are in a Michigan?

Umm…we’re not going there. I don’t ever want to know.

Where can you get one?

There are four restaurants in Plattsburgh that offer Michigans: Gus’s, Nitzi’s, McSweeney’s, and Clare and Carls. Every Plattsburgh family has Michigan loyalties, and will stand against anyone attempting to claim that their chosen Michigans are not the very best. I will admit to having tried them all, but my family’s loyalties belong to Clare and Carl’s. Please forgive my obvious bias as I use this restaurant to illustrate the Michigan culture.

Caution: There are some ice cream places and convenient stores that have hopped on the bandwagon and are offering Michigans for a dollar. Run away! Save your dollars for the real thing!

Clare and Carl’s

I take all of my non-native friends to Clare and Carl’s, and they either love it or refuse to try it, which is unfortunate for me. If ever someone didn’t like it, I would gladly devour a second one.

Clare and Carl’s, built in 1942, is a 50’s style shack with neon lights attached. It looks a little unclean. The old roof is sinking into the building which is sinking into the ground as the paint chips away. You can buy T-shirts depicting the building which would barely qualify as caricatures. Surrounding the building at any given lunchtime, you’ll find BMW’s and Mercedes mixed in with rusty pickups.

Clare and Carl’s is a drive-in diner. When you’re ready for service (menus don’t exist), turn your headlights on, and someone will run out and take your order. When it’s ready, they attach a tray to your window, complete with lots of napkins!

On your Michigan, you will automatically get mustard, so if you’re allergic/can’t stand the stuff, make sure you say so. They will also ask you “with or without?” This question is about onions. My reply would be “with, buried,” indicating that I would like my onions under my hot dog so I don’t drop greasy bits all down the front of me while I eat it. In order to get the full effect, be sure to indulge in some crinkle-cut French fries and a root beer.

The Secret Recipe Rumors

The recipe for the sacred Michigan belongs to the family of the original Clare and Carl, passed down through the generations. Rumor has it that the spices are mixed at home and brought to the restaurant in a sealed plastic bag. Rumor also has it that Clare and Carl’s sued McSweeney’s for a stolen recipe and won. This is, of course, biased hearsay. Maybe if I get brave I’ll ask about it next time that I’m in for lunch. If I get really curious, I‘ll ask around at McSweeney‘s. Not likely though. I have my loyalties.

Pictures, Recipe attempts, and sources


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