A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from September 14, 2008
Plattsburgh: Michigan Hot Dog

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Michigan hot dog
A Michigan hot dog or, ”Michigan“, is a steamed hot dog on a steamed bun topped with a meaty sauce, generally referred to as “Michigan Sauce”. The sauce may or may not be tomato-based, depending on where the Michigan is purchased. Michigans can be served with or without chopped onions. If served with onions, the onions can either be buried under the sauce or sprinkled on top of the sauce.

Michigans are a particular favorite in the North Country of New York State, and have been so for many decades. In fact, one of the earliest known advertisements for Michigans appeared in the Friday, May 27, 1927, Plattsburgh Republican.

Michigans are also very popular in Montréal and other parts of Québec, where the sauce that is put on them is invariably tomato-based and is often simply referred to as “spaghetti sauce”. Lafleur Restaurants, a Québec 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 Dog” or “Coney Island dog”, is a hot dog topped with onions and either chili or a meatless chili called coney sauce. Conversely, the “Coney Island” is not called as such on Coney Island, or anywhere else in New York State; it’s called either a “Michigan” or a “Red Hot.” Finally, in southeast Michigan, a “Coney Island” is also the local slang term for a greasy spoon.

The Origin of the Michigan Hot Dog
Although there are many different varieties of Michigan sauce available today, the original Michigan sauce was created by Mr. George Todoroff in Jackson, Michigan. The sauce was originally created to be used as chile sauce. In 1914, Mr. Todoroff took his recipe to Coney Island in Brooklyn New York and opened his first restaurant. However, the hot dog hadn’t arrived on the scene when he first opened his restaurant, so he had to wait until 1916 to make his first famous “Jackson Coney Island” hot dog. Todoroff’s restaurant in Jackson remains in business to this day.

In 1867, Charles Feltman, a German born immigrant, was selling pastry items from a small food cart at Coney Island. To make any money, he needed to sell a lot of food from a small space. His idea was to take a hard roll, steam it and wrap it around a German sausage. At that time, sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan caricatured German figures as Dachshund dogs and eventually coined Feltman’s sandwich a “Hot Dog”! The hot dog was a big hit and it didn’t take Todoroff long to capitalize on combining the hot dog and his chili sauce.

The name of the Michigan hotdog originally came from Plattsburgh, New York. However, how and when the Michigan Sauce arrived there is somewhat of a mystery. As mentioned above, 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....”

There are also two commonly told stories about how the sauce made its way to Plattsburgh. The first story is of a Canadian, possibly a salesman, who traveled between Montreal and New York City. On his way home, he would stop in Plattsburgh and spend the night at the Witherill Hotel. Apparently, he would bring back several of Todoroff’s “Jackson Island Conies” and get the cook at the hotel to warm them. The cook liked the flavor so well that he created a similar sauce with similar taste and it caught on and spread in several of the local restaurants. Soon thereafter, everyone in Plattsburgh began referring to them as, “Michigan hot dogs”.

According to the second, and more likely story, a couple (Mr. Jack Rabin and his wife) from Plattsburgh went to Coney Island on vacation. They, like everyone else at Coney Island, ate a Jackson Coney Island Hot Dog and fell in love with it. When they came home to Plattsburgh, they recreated the sauce and decided to put it to work. They opened a “Michigan Hot Dog” stand, named Nitzi’s, on Route 9 just outside the city. The name came about because they couldn’t call their sandwich a Jackson Coney Island so they gave it the name of the state from where it was born.

When Nitzi (Rabin) sold his stand many years later, the buyer didn’t want to pay Nitzi’s price for his now-famous Michigan Sauce Recipe. While there are many places in the North Country to get Michigans, it is believed that Michigans Plus--located in the former iHOP building on Route 3--currently has Nitzi’s recipe.

In Vermont, the Michigan dog is almost always split and cooked on a grill before the meat sauce onions and mustard are added. Often, but not always, the bun (or 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 WWII 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.

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 reg. onion
1 tbsp. chili powder
Level tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. prepared mustard
3 tbsp. catsup
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
6-8 oz. water

Saute onion in oil, add ground beef until brown, return to heat - add remaining ingredients, let simmer at least 1 hour adding water if necessary to keep mixture moist.

Put 2 pounds hamburger in saucepan with 1/2 to 1 cup water. Cook on medium heat, mixing with potato masher until mushy grey. Add 8 ounces tomato sauce and salt to taste. Add equal parts chili powder and prepared mustard according to how hot you like it, and mix well. Cook on low heat for a few hours. Can also add red pepper if hotter taste is desired. Boil hot dogs, use center cut hot dog rolls, (sometimes called “New England Style"). Fresh chopped onions, optional under sauce on hot dogs or on top of sauce.
This recipe is only one style of sauce which is very popular in the “North Country” of Upstate New York. There are many variations.

Northern New York Historical Newspapers
25 March 1960, Plattsburgh (NY) Press-Republican, “Family Page Notebook” by Cyndi Ress, pg. 6, col. 1:
“For a michigan hot dog sauce, I use ‘leftovers’. After we have spaghetti and meatballs, I add more hamburg, chili powder and garlic salt to the sauce and crush the meat so it is thick. I find this is a good way to use those ‘leftovers’.”

19 March 1971, Bennington (VT) Banner, pg. 5, col. 4 ad:
and of course our famous

Norther New York Historical Newspapers
26 April 1975, Plattsburgh (NY) Press-Republican, pg. 20A, col. 2:
Michigan Hot Dog Sauce
Carrie Meachem
Crown Point, N. Y.
Time: simmer 30 minutes
1 medium onion
2 T butter
2 T vinegar
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp prepared mustard
3 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup catsup
1/2 lb hamburg
1 can tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
salt to taste
Dash of red pepper
Cook onion in butter until soft.
Add hamburg and cook.
Drain off any grease.
Add remaining in gredients.
Can be frozen for later use.

23 May 1980, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, “State Editor Prefers Michigan Hot Dog” by George R. Carr, food section, pg. 4, col. 3:
I am a native of Northeastern New York, Plattsburgh specifically, and one of the favorite items at roadside quick lunch stands is the Michigan Hot Dog. No one really knows how it came by its name, nor has the original recipe ever been duplicated.

A consensus of homemakers over the year has concluded that the following recipe most closely duplicates the original.

1-1/2 pounds of hamburg
1 package of Sloppy Joe mix
1 six-ounce can of tomato paste
1 tomato paste can of water
1 Bay leaf
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
hot dog rolls

Brown the hamburg and drain. Add remaining ingredients, except rolls, and simmer for one hour. Spoon over hot dog roll.
NOTE: Some people like to add mustard to the roll before inserting the hot dog. Others like to sprinkle chopped onions on the top.

New York (NY) Times
Published: September 20, 1989
The Toot and Tell ‘em (Route 22, Plattsburgh, N.Y.; 518-561-4107) is an immaculate, cheerful diner specializing in homemade pies in at least 14 flavors including pumpkin, raisin, butterscotch and raspberry cream ($1.25 a slice, $5.50 a pie) and an Adirondack favorite, ‘’Michigan’’ hot dogs, served with a chili sauce ($1.40).

Plattsburgh (NY) Press Republican
No definitive answer to the birth of michigans
Date: May 14, 2000
Publication: Press Republican (Plattsburgh, NY)
Story Length: 838 words
Michigan sauce. Let me see. Where do we begin? In Michigan? I don’t think so. I doubt if you could buy a michigan, with or without, buried or on top, anywhere in the State of Michigan. That’s the weird part. The original michigan sauce may have come from Michigan, or was possibly called michigan sauce as a tribute to someone from Michigan, but there the connection ends.

I searched the Web for any mention of michigan sauce or michigan hot dogs and all I could find was…

Plattsburgh (NY) Press Republican
Michigan-origin mystery finally nailed down
Author:  Gordie Little
Date: June 30, 2002
Publication: Press Republican (Plattsburgh, NY)
Story Length: 832 words
Sometimes when you plant a seed, it grows far beyond your wildest dreams. Take michigans. When I began to research the subject, there wasn’t a whole lot of written history available. There were dozens of anecdotes, almost as delicious as a michigan “‘with.”

Anyone who has visited or lived in Plattsburgh and Clinton County is familiar with our special version of a hot dog on a bun. We call it a michigan.

How long we’ve called it…

Posted by Barry Popik
Nicknames of Other PlacesNew York State • Sunday, September 14, 2008 • Permalink