Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with Coney dogs from Michigan, which joined the union on January 26, 1837.
The state: Michigan. The Great Lakes State. The Mitten. The birthplace of American music (well, MoTown… plus Eminem, Madonna, Jack White and Patron Saint of Michigan Bob Seger) and the deathbed of the American Dream (thanks a lot, GM). A land divided, with the Lower Peninsula and the far more forested Upper Peninsula separated by the Straits of Mackinac. A place of serene shorelines and ample crime scenes. Home of the best hockey team in history, the worst football team in history, and claimant to two of the most violent—yet stubbornly prideful—cities in the country. Those black-and-white “ruin porn” pics of dilapidated buildings on your friend’s Instagram feed? Yeah, that’s Michigan.
The food: The Coney Dog, which has nothing to do with Coney Island and everything to do with the messy and perfect combination of a beanless chili, mustard raw onions, and a hot dog. Not just any hot dog, either… Michiganders have enacted a “hot dog” law dictating those wieners are filled with real cuts, not the scraps. Styles vary, but the most common are Detroit-style—with wet chili sauce—and Flint-style, which goes with a dryer chili that looks like taco meat and is often made with ground offal and hot dogs (Michigan’s really into hot dogs).
Other dishes considered and rejected: Gravy-smothered pasties, Mackinaw Island fudge, Hamtramck kielbasa, Detroit-style pizza (thick & square), fried whitefish & chips, venison chili that your neighbor made after killing a deer, cherry pie.
Get it from: Purists are out of luck for total authenticity, but you can get both major styles in some form. For the Detroiters, hit up dirt-cheap diner Roake’s (1760 NE Lombard Pl, 289-3557 & 181 SE McLoughlin, 654-7075), where the “wet” chili’s got the consistency of pasty biscuits & gravy and the bun’s dry, but the 10-inch dog’s got the perfect snap. For the Flint Town experience, Nick’s Famous Coney Island (3746 SE Hawthorne, 235-3008, nicksfamousconeys.com) is your jam: The SE institution commits the cardinal sin of caramelizing the onions (something that might get you shot in the Mitten) and presenting a flaccid hot dog with no snap, but the gigantic pile of ground beef on top—plus the steamed bun and the inauthentic but welcome cheese—is the real deal… a gut bomb that will have you looking like Michael Moore in no time.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.