Travel | August 21, 2020 8:51 am

The Meat Sauce-Smothered Hot Dog You Can Only Get in Upstate New York

Exploring the delicious world of the michigan dog

Clare and Carl's
Clare and Carl's.
Carina Koeppicus

Plattsburgh, New York, has a few claims to fame: an eponymous battle during the war of 1812, Ausable Chasm (the Grand Canyon of the East) and michigans (always with a lower-case m), meat sauce-slathered hot dogs that’s only found in this particular region.

There are few things I love more in life than roadside stands that look like they came straight out of the 1950s and obscure sandwiches you can only find in rural towns, so when it was time to plan a weeklong road trip through New York’s North Country region for my birthday, I knew I needed to try some michigans. 

A michigan consists of a natural-casing frankfurter, often but not always from local producer Glazier’s, on a sturdy top-loaded bun piled with meat sauce, chopped onions and yellow mustard. Though they originated in Plattsburg in the 1930s, you can find michigans all over the North Country, which spans from the Canadian border south through the Adirondacks. If you’re driving around this area, keep an eye out at gas stations, roadside dairy bars and concession stands — odds are they’ll have michigans. 

In the Plattsburgh area, there are four standout purveyors of this meat-covered hot dog: Clare & Carl’s Texas Red Hots, McSweeney’s, Ronnie’s Michigan Stand and a relative newcomer, Michigans Plus. I planned to visit all four in one afternoon. 

Another michigan
A michigan at Ronnie’s.
Carina Koeppicus

Our first stop was Ronnie’s Michigan Stand in Morrisonville. We pulled into the parking lot and were caught off guard when a teenage carhop came to our window and immediately asked what we wanted without offering a menu. Thankfully, I had done my homework, so I ordered two Glazier michigans, along with a side of onion rings and a BLT for good measure. 

Within minutes, a vintage metal tray was clipped to the driver’s side window, and I was staring in awe at my first michigan. It looked like no other hot dog I had ever seen. The dog itself was almost neon red, a striking contrast to the snow-white chopped onions and streak of bright yellow mustard. The sauce tasted like a homemade Bolognese, and the Glazier frank snapped like bubblegum when I took a bite. It was better than I expected, and I was ready for more. 

Before we pulled out of the parking lot, Monique Worley, the daughter of Ronnie’s owner Ken, who bought the stand from “Ronnie” herself, stopped by our car to chat. Wearing a bright pink Ronnie’s T-shirt and matching face mask, it was immediately clear that Worley was passionate about michigans. Local preferences, she said, depend on where in the area you grew up. Although her family now owns Ronnie’s, she grew up eating michigans of the Clare & Carl’s variety. 

While Ronnie’s is not the oldest michigans stand in Plattsburg, it’s one of the most unique. According to Worley, the original owner’s daughter wanted to eat hot dogs every day, so Ronnie came up with a healthier meat sauce that would allow her to sneak a few vegetables into her daughter’s diet. The sauce is the big differentiator among michigans, and every purveyor has their own closely guarded secret recipe. The sauce at Ronnie’s was lightly sweet, tomato-forward and had a lot of flavor without being spicy. 

“Only four people know the spices,” Worley told me, explaining that she preps the spice blend in advance and brings in jars of the blend for her staff to use in the sauce. 

Michigan at McSweeney's
A michigan at McSweeney’s.
Carina Koeppicus

Our next stop was McSweeney’s, which has three locations in the Plattsburgh area. The restaurant looks like it could be residential, a nondescript one-story building with vinyl siding and a fading sign in the parking lot. Already feeling pretty full, we ordered a single michigan and a bag of homemade french fries. What came out looked more like a typical chili dog, with the hot dog completely buried under a meat sauce, the paper boat stained with orange grease. 

I could tell from the first bite that this was a different kind of michigan. The first thing that hit me was the cumin, then the heat. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it made my lips tingle. This hot dog didn’t have the snap of the Glazier, and the whole affair was a soft, delicious mess, not unlike a Sloppy Joe in hot dog form. The homemade fries, it feels important to note, were great. 

By the time we left McSweeney’s, Michigans Plus was already closed, so we moved on to Clare & Carl’s, which is the oldest michigans stand still in operation. The sign outside of the painted white roadside shack says “Clare & Carl’s Texas Red Hots,” a nod to the similar-but-not-the-same Texas Red Hots style of hot dog that was invented in, wait for it, Patterson, New Jersey. 

New York’s michigans and Troy mini dogs, Rhode Island’s New York System and New Jersey’s Texas Hot Wieners are all relatives of the Coney dog, which can be found in Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, with regional variations across states. While it’s likely that some of the very first Coney dogs did originate along Brooklyn’s iconic seashore, all of these hot dogs with meat sauce have ties to Greek immigration to the United States. Michigan sauce is very similar to the meat sauce used in the Greek dish Makaronia me Kima, which is basically a cumin-laced Greek bolognese. 

hot dog
A michigan at Clare and Carl’s.
Carina Koeppicus

By the time we got to Clare & Carl’s, we were in no way hungry thanks to the grievous error we made in stopping for malted milkshakes between Ronnie’s and McSweeney’s. I was planning on getting a single michigan and some poutine to complete our tour, but my ever-gluttonous husband added a fried chicken sandwich and two cans of Pepsi to the order. 

The atmosphere in the Clare & Carl’s parking lot was pure kitsch, and the food that arrived had an attitude to match. The poutine was closer to diner-style disco fries than the Canadian classic, and the michigan was clearly a relative of the McSweeney’s version. At Clare & Carl’s, the bun was sturdy, and the sauce was both less spicy and less greasy than the McSweeney’s version. It was fine, but sort of unremarkable. The real appeal of Clare & Carl’s is the vibe. From the moment you see the sign in the distance as you drive down U.S. 9, you can tell you’re about to experience a piece of local history. 

If you’re road-tripping in upstate NY, adding a michigans quest to your itinerary is a memorable way to spend an afternoon. Below is a list of all the best places to get a michigan in the area, but don’t shy away from stopping anywhere you see them advertised. Like many cult-classic roadside foods, every michigan is unique, and the experience of trying a bunch of different varieties is a big part of their continued appeal. 

If you can’t make it to the North Country, it’s fairly easy to create an approximation at home if you’re willing to order a few specialty ingredients. Glazier’s sells their franks online, and you can order Grandma Gagne’s Michigan Sauce seasoning packets in original or hot. Follow the instructions on the packet, place your Glazier in a top-loader bun (Pepperidge Farm makes a decent one), then add chopped white onions and yellow mustard to complete the package. 

Where to get michigans in Plattsburgh, NY 

Ronnie’s Michigan Stand 
1265 NY-3, Morrisonville, NY 12962

McSweeney’s Red Hots 
Multiple locations 

Clare & Carl’s 
4729 U.S. 9, Plattsburgh, NY 12901

Michigans Plus 
313 Cornelia St, Plattsburgh, NY 12901

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