Some time ago, we got an email with insiders' tips about the Michigans of upstate New York. The correspondent said, "There are almost as many Michigan sauce recipes here in the 'North Country' as there are households that have a liking for the stuff. Roadside Michigan stands abound in the summers in all the little hamlets up here. But true aficionados are in the never-ending pursuit of the perfect combination of ingredients which will most closely approximate the ultimate Michigan sauce; that of Nitzi's restaurant on the Lake Shore Road. Nitzi died years ago, but my dad remembers him and going to Nitzi's place. After Nitzi's death, the restaurant was sold, but the new buyers didn't want to pony up the money being asked for the famous recipe."
Although Nitzi's is gone, its main competitor across the road, Clare and Carl's, is still thriving and is the oldest red-hot shop in Plattsburgh. A newspaper story posted inside the 1943-vintage drive in says that Michigans owe their name to a Michigander named Eula Otis who came to work for Clare Warn in the early days and went around to area restaurants saying, "I'm from Michigan. Would you like to try one of our chili dogs?" The state's name clung to the hot dog topped with Warn's sauce, which she had invented because New York-style hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut weren't selling well. The Michigan became a local passion – served at summertime stands, in grocery stores and even in the cafeteria at the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Medical Center.
Clare and Carl's presents its Michigans in a tender bun that is similar to the traditional northeast split-top, but is thicker at the bottom and closed at both ends, forming a trough to shore in the sloppy topping. The chili is thick with minced meat, vividly spiced, not at all sweet and just barely hot. It is intriguing.
There is another Clare and Carl's in town, but the original is a wonderful vision of long-gone roadside Americana, its clapboard walls so old that they appear to have settled deep into the earth. Car hops attend customers in a broad parking lot; and there is a U-shaped counter with padded stools inside. A menu posted above the open kitchen lists Michigans first, but signs outside advertise the house specialty as Texas red hots.