DoNorth

Experience the North Country Michigan

(Do North/Natasha Courter) In the North Country, there is this thing they call a Michigan. The steamed, red-skinned hotdog cradled in a custom-made bun, beneath a light touch of mustard, diced onion and seasoned meat sauce makes for a unique breed of comfort food. For over half a century, Michigans have been the uncontested taste of the region. There is no wrong place to grab a Michigan. Able establishments pepper the landscape from Keeseville to Malone, and I have yet to visit one that hasn’t mastered the mysterious dog. McSweeney’s, Gus’ and every stand, deli or restaurant that serves the…

Clare & Carl's

(Do North/Natasha Courter)

In the North Country, there is this thing they call a Michigan. The steamed, red-skinned hotdog cradled in a custom-made bun, beneath a light touch of mustard, diced onion and seasoned meat sauce makes for a unique breed of comfort food. For over half a century, Michigans have been the uncontested taste of the region.

There is no wrong place to grab a Michigan. Able establishments pepper the landscape from Keeseville to Malone, and I have yet to visit one that hasn’t mastered the mysterious dog. McSweeney’s, Gus’ and every stand, deli or restaurant that serves the dirt-cheap delicacy does so with personal interpretation, using recipes older than color television. One of those mouth-watering recipes can be found on the side of Route 9, just two miles south of downtown Plattsburgh.

At the center of the large, sloping parking lot sits the small, white stand with a big red sign on the roof that reads “Texas Red Hots.” Welcome to Clare and Carl’s. If there is a right place to grab a Michigan, this is it.

“The place is so simple,” says Dustin Eells of Vail, Colorado, during his recent visit to Plattsburgh, “but this is the best type of simple I can think of.” Terry Murray purchased the establishment in 1979 and keeps the dog and drive-in atmosphere simple by sticking to tradition.

Long before Murray took ownership, there was, indeed, a Clare and a Carl. With nothing but a desire to make dogs and a dream, they started selling kraut dogs downstate near Westchester. After experimenting with various ingredients and moving to the North Country, Clare and Carl Warn discovered what would soon become a staple in culinary culture for visitors and residents of the Adirondack Coast.

When the stand opened in 1943, Clare twisted and tweaked a recipe for a hearty meat sauce that Eula Otis, a woman from Michigan, shared with her. Clare drizzled the sauce on top of a steamed dog and added a half-handful of chopped onions and a squeeze of mustard.

When first hearing of the Michigan, the idea hardly impressed me. If I’m looking for a hearty lunch or dinner, I don’t usually prefer hot dogs. But the day I rounded the bend and saw the stand, curiosity had my SUV parked outside Clare and Carl’s. The waitress approached my driver’s side window. Mimicking the older gentlemen in the adjacent truck, I ordered two Michigans and a Pepsi.

Every soft, yet hearty bite was completed with a final oniony crunch. The mustard didn’t bully the other flavors, and the few chili-dog comparisons sounded foolish. The sauce is far more consistent and focuses more on a rounded flavor than the spicy Tex-Mex taste of its southern cousins. Dave Calkins of Schertz, Texas, has access to the famous Texas chili dogs any day of the year but still testifies to a Michigan’s superiority.

“I’ve had both a Michigan and a chili dog and have to admit I still lean toward a good Michigan,” says Calkins from his home, about 2,000 miles southwest, “and Clare and Carl’s makes the best.”

I got a glimpse into what Clare and Carl’s looked like 71 years when it opened. Aside from the faces that passed through the door, Clare and Carl’s is exactly what it needs to be: the same. The Michigan is no ballpark dog, but it slams any Frank or Brat out of the park – the Adirondack Park. DoNorth gives the Michigan four out of five stars.

Issue: 2 Winter/Spring 2014

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  • Article is right on !!!!! Clare’s are the best no question. Having said that, there are some other places where the Michigans are very good as well. But be forewarned, some of the Michigan dogs at other places in the area are downright awful !!!
    I’m proud to say that the original Clare and husband Carl were personal friends. Carl had an invisible dog, Bismark. Bismark was especially fond of attractive young females. Nuff said. LOL.

    Iterestingly, a Michican ” without” ( without onions that is) is an entirely different flavor experience.

    If you’ve never had a Clare and Carl’s Michigan, you have no idea of what you are missing !!!

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