Category: Michigan History

In Food Writing, Northern Michigan Is …


A Beef & Pork Rutabaga Pasty from Nylund’s Pasties in Crystal Falls, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Yes, Michigan does indeed have an Upper Peninsula.

A couple of my biggest pet peeves have to do with Michigan food writing in general. There are quite a few food writers here in the state and, make no mistake, they’re all excellent writers. Michigan has a plethora (love that word) of foods, restaurants, festivals and cuisines and there’s plenty of material to go around.

One problem I have is when any of those writers claims that a specific project is supposed to represent all of Michigan when, in fact, doing so would be impractical at best for any short-term deadline. It can simply be expensive and quite time-consuming to get the physical coverage required for a given project.

Even the most well-meaning food writer makes this kind of mistake, and needs to be called on the carpet about it. Yesterday, MLive Entertainment writer John Gonzales released what he titled “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint 2013“. MLive hubs across the state had compiled voting lists from readers, who then selected the top two restaurants for a given area. Then John, along with Mike Jensen of Saranac, visited 30 restaurants over a six-day period before selecting their top ten. Yesterday morning they named Anna’s House in Grand Rapids “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint 2013”.

But John and Mike had never traveled north of Traverse City for the contest. They never set foot on the extensive land mass of the Upper Peninsula. Nor did they come down this way into either Lenawee County or Monroe County.

What Anna’s House had actually earned was the title of “MLive’s Best Breakfast Joint”.

Over in the comments on yesterday’s article containing that news, I made certain to make my feelings known about this. Other readers, including Robin Linwood of Porcupine Press’s UPMag, echoed my sentiments about the issue. John was understandably a bit defensive about it at first, but I got the impression he quickly understood it was the unfortunate mis-naming of the “award” I had a problem with. Some other readers, however, took issue with my “negativity”, saying I should have been more involved. I pointed out I was heavily involved in the selection and voting for the Genesee County portion, which they didn’t see. And I hadn’t really known what the coverage area was going to be. I think only John really knew what that coverage was.

The basic issue is that of geography. In either of the peninsulas it can easily take hours to get from one end or corner to the other of that peninsula. And if a writer is hoping to includes foods and/or locations from the other peninsula in their writing, they’d better book a couple nights in a hotel somewhere. It would have taken John and Mike months, maybe a year or more, along with considerable funding, to actually determine an honestly-named “Michigan’s Best Breakfast Joint”.

The other concept I have a problem with, one quite possibly shared with the quarter-million-or-so people of the UP, is a concept that shows up far too often in food writing and other journalism in and about the state of Michigan. It’s the one where “trolls” inaccurately and ineptly refer to an area that’s much too far south as “northern Michigan”. This area encompasses the land that begins north of Mt. Pleasant (excluding the tip of Michigan’s “thumb”), and ends at the straits of Mackinac.

The Wikipedia entry for “Northern Michigan” does a rather nice job of explaining the feelings about the inadvertant naming of this area by various groups of the state’s population:

“Across the Straits of Mackinac, to the north, west and northeast, lies the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the ‘U.P.’). Despite its geographic location as the most northerly part of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula is not usually included in the definition of Northern Michigan (although ‘Northern Michigan’ University is located in the U.P. city of Marquette), and is instead regarded by Michigan residents as a distinct region of the state. Although, residents of the Upper Peninsula often say that ‘Northern Michigan’ is not in the Lower Peninsula. They insist the region must only be referred to as “Northern Lower Michigan” and this can sometimes become a topic of contention between friends who are from different Peninsulas. The two regions are connected by the 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge.”

Reader Holland Sparty posted some notes yeaterday that, I have to admit, help to describe accurately where this mis-naming comes from among Michigan’s “trolls”:

“Dave, consider that there are many regular folk (myself included) who live in the lower half of the lower peninsula that consider going ‘up north’ to be going to places such as Traverse City or the Leelanau area or Mackinaw City. We don’t necessarily consider the UP as going ‘up north’ but simply going to the UP … To be clear, obviously the UP is further north than the northern lower peninsula but for many of us the UP is something more distinctive than simply going ‘up north’.”

In considering this rather accurate description for a while, I came to the conclusion this has created more of a problem than us “trolls” can bring ourselves to admit. I understand the state has a geographical situation different from a lot of states in the Union, but that does not mean anyone should ever ignore or push aside a certain population.

But unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened.

The few miles across the occasionally dangerous Straits of Mackinac weren’t connected by the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge until 1957. Lower peninsula-based food writers, other journalists, and the general population, tend to treat the upper peninsula as though it’s some sort of Siberian outpost. Is it any wonder then that the upper peninsula peoples regularly vote on seccession and have since 1858? That they even have their own version of the Michigan State Fair, held since 1928? That they refer to us as “fudge-sucking trolls”?

No, travel along the four-lane bridge isn’t as easy as any of us would like. And during inclement weather it can still be a dangerous crossing. But the upper peninsula is indeed part of Michigan. All of us need to think of it that way and treat it as such. Otherwise, they’re just going to leave like they’ve wanted to. And that would be a sad day.

Here are some simple facts:

  • Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the true “northern Michigan”.
  • The land that begins north of Mt. Pleasant (excluding the tip of Michigan’s “thumb”), and ends at the straits of Mackinac, can only be accurately called “northern lower Michigan”.
  • Michigan’s food writers, and other journalists and writers, will always have a responsibilty for accurate reporting, without the common and outlandish claims of their writing being of a statewide nature, which they can rarely achieve with any honest practicality anyway.

So here I am, six miles north of the Ohio state line, and after writing all this I’m craving a beef & rutabaga pasty with gravy. Go figure.

Todoroff’s Jackson Coney Sauce, Retail Package


Click on any image for a larger version.

While you’ve probably heard of both Flint and Detroit Coneys, the disputes about which one is best, and the decades-long dispute between the Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island over which one is the best Detroit coney, you probably have never heard of the third contender in the state of Michigan: The Jackson Coney. Developed by George Todoroff, the Jackson coney has been sold at Todoroff’s Original Coney Island at 1200 West Parnall Road in Jackson, Michigan, since 1914.

One of the key points about the Jackson coney and why it’s important is that it’s linked to the development of what’s known as the Michigan Hot Dog that’s popular in upstate New York and parts of Quebec. From the Wikipedia article on the Michigan:

(i)ts also been reported that the Plattsburgh origin of the “Michigan” name came from Plattsburgh residents, Jack Rabin and his wife, who discovered the Jackson Coney Island Hot Dog while vacationing in Coney Island, fell in love with it, and subsequently recreated the sauce at Nitzi’s, their “Michigan Hot Dog” stand on Route 9 just outside of Plattsburgh … At least one other story exists linking Plattsburgh to the “Michigan Hot Dog”. This story claims that a Canadian, possibly a salesman, traveled between Montreal and New York City. and – 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”.

This past Saturday while shopping at the Country Market in Adrian, Michigan, for the ingredients for Sharron Lee’s fruitcake for the previous post, I glanced in one of the island freezers and spotted this tub of sauce.  Having never been to Todoroff’s at any point in my life, even though I’ve lived here in Michigan the majority of it, I had to have this container of “Todoroff’s Original Chili No Beans”, aka original Jackson coney sauce. I then promptly sent Ryan off for a couple packs of Koegel Viennas and some decent buns.

One of the things we’ve noticed about pre-packaged hot dog and coney sauces is that they seem to lack the flavor of the same sauce directly from the restaurant of the same name. Ron is one of the cashiers at the Kroger in Point Place, Ohio. When Rudy’s Hot Dog of Toledo recently released their sauce in a can, Ron told me some of his customers had pointed out the canned version didn’t quite taste the same since it hadn’t been simmering in grease all day.

Before taking the above photo, I made sure enough of the grease … er, oils … had simmered to the top of the Todoroff’s sauce to illustrate that their version is probably quite close to what’s served in Jackson. Of course, if you want to spoon this off go right ahead. The flavor probably won’t suffer since apparently it’s the same as what’s served in the restaurant.

Todoroff’s original Jackson coney sauce … regardless if they want to call it something else, or if someone in New York wants to call it a Michigan … is pretty darn close in flavor and texture to my beloved Flint coneys. Serving it on grilled Koegel Viennas also added the correct meat and “snap” of the casing to really show how close the Jackson sauce is to the Flint sauce.

And for Mary’s and my daughter’s benefit, Todoroff’s sauce doesn’t contain any of those danged organ meats.

I’ll be picking up a few more of these next time. And the Viennas, too. We … I mean I … need a stash.

Review: Koegel’s Chili Topping

It’s not often I find a Koegel product I haven’t seen before. Having grown up trying all the products they make it’s probably been a good 25 years since doing a double-take in a grocery store when spotting an unfamiliar Koegel item. But that’s exactly what happened yesterday when I spotted these “chubs” of Koegel’s Chili Topping.

Now let’s be clear: These chubs do not contain the famed Flint Coney Sauce. Their own Hot Dog Chili Sauce is sold to restaurants in a 6 lb tube in the Detroit area and contains beef heart. The actual Flint Coney Sauce is made by Abbott’s Meats and is distributed by Koegel’s in a 10 lb tube.

This 13 oz. chub of Chili Topping contains no offal whatsoever and, as it says on the package, is “Great for chili fries, nachos, hot dogs, tacos. Add beans to make great chili.” It also says to add 1/4 cup water, stirring while heating. That sounded vaguely familiar …

I cooked up the contents of both chubs and grilled up the Viennas in a little olive oil like I normally do. After photographing these two, I added a bit of mustard and consumed them with a bit of “Happy Feet”. I then had to have a third dog, minus the mustard, to really get my teeth into what I was tasting.

The rubber’s about to meet the road. I can’t believe I’m going to write this. Here goes …

I always said if I reveiewed something and didn’t like it I’d be honest and say so. The fact is, Koegel’s Chili Topping is the first Koegel product that really does nothing for me. Sure, it has a nice body to it and a good, solid meaty flavor. But to be blunt it’s really rather non-descript. In a store, if I saw this side-by-side with the National Coney Island Hot Dog Chili Sauce I’d purchase the National Coney version over the Koegel’s.

I almost feel as though I need to hang my head like a shameful traitor. Bad LPC, bad …

Dad’s Eggs In A Frame: A Memorial Recipe Tribute for Downloading


A batch of dad’s Eggs In A Frame, made specifically for this memorial by my 14-year-old daughter Briahna.

As I’d written previously, my father Erwin F. Liske passed away on December 29th. Mom’s been in the hospital herself, so the funeral has been on hold. Visitation will finally be tomorrow with his funeral being on Monday. I’ve been working on two tributes. One is a digital photo frame with a slideshow of 80 photos of dad over the years, along with four songs I feel are fitting for him including Brad Paisley’s “Waiting On A Woman”. The other is this recipe of dad’s, the Eggs In A Frame he would make every Wednesday for whomever was in the house at the time. I’ve made a printable version you can download by clicking here. Just print it up on two sides of a piece of paper and fold it in thirds to have it just how it will be at the funeral home tomorrow next to the digital frame with the slideshow.

Following is some of the text from this pamphlet containing dad’s recipe plus a much older version.

Our dad, Erwin F. Liske, learned this recipe from a gentleman by the name of Larry Hagemaster. Erwin and Larry worked together at the General Motors stamping plant in Grand Blanc, Michigan, until Mr. Hagemaster passed away at the tender age of 40. Grandpa Erwin still made this for breakfast each and every Wednesday morning for decades for Grandma Joyce (after they completed a few games of Solitaire with real cards) and whomever else might have been in the Liske house at the time. He continued to make this breakfast as often as he could until he passed away at the age of 85 in late 2008.

My sister Barb reminded me of how protective dad was of how he made Eggs In A Frame. Dad tended to use quite a bit of salt on this dish as he was making it. If you didn’t want that much salt and said so, he would become quite indignant as he felt he knew best how to make this family favorite. But even though he insisted on using as much salt as he did, we always looked forward to his sharing this particular breakfast with us.

Today this tradition still stands, at least in my house. Dad’s Eggs In A Frame is the only reason I bought the biscuit cutter seen in the above photo. [This photo is in the recipe pamphlet.] The cutting board shown here is the one dad used for making this breakfast for quite a long time. I used it for the same purpose for a long while, teaching my own kids how to make this dish. My two middle kids Adam and Briahna love to make Eggs In A Frame. In fact, the image on the front of this pamphlet is of a serving made by Briahna at age 14. Briahna made this particular batch specifically for the image on the cover of this pamphlet, in loving memory of her beloved grandpa Erwin, whom she misses a great deal …

The back cover of this pamphlet contains a British version of this recipe from the mid-to-late 1800’s when the dish was called Ox-eyes. Online references give this centuries-old dish other names, such as egg in a window, egg in the hole, pirates eye, toad in the hole, Rocky Mountain toast, eggy toast, hobo toast, cave entrance, yolky pokey, o’johnnies, nest egg, toaster spurtals, egg-holey-o, submarine egg, gashouse eggs, eggs in a pocket, one-eyed Jack, baby in the hole, and bird’s nest. (partial source: Wikipedia.org)

Favorite Dive: Chateau Louise, Luna Pier, Michigan


The Chateau’s Seafood Platter. Click on this and the next two for larger images.

This past Thursday evening at the Chateau Louise here in Luna Pier (the same place with the one-pound burger shown in my previous post), we celebrated Mary’s birthday. The restaurant is only about a half mile from the house so we get there often. In fact, a little over a year ago some local high schoolers hung out at our house. One of them ended up with a job at the Chateau. Little by little, as older guys wouldn’t show up for work, a call would come in; “Hey, send so-and-so down here if he wants a job!” The result was that fully half the current kitchen staff was literally hired straight out of our living room.

The building itself was built by a Paul Dussia in the early 1900s when he moved his grocery store from a nearby neighborhood. This building included horse stalls, barns, and rooms for guests. The above photo of this version of the building was taken in 1915. In the early 1930s, Louise Gellar bought the store from Dussia. After a remodel, she subsequently created the original Chateau Louise.

This is the Chateau Louise today. If you click on this image for a larger version you’ll see the original metal roof is still intact. The current owner, Bob, lives in the upstairs apartment. Through that angled door in the front corner of the building is the current bar. The long, low section in the back contains the family restaurant and the kitchen.

One thing we’ve found is that, when you mention to folks from out-of-town to about a 50-mile radius that you live in Luna Pier, about 50 percent of the time they’ll say, “Oh yea, I ate at the Chateau once. Great place!” Here are some of the reasons the Chateau is so memorable …

When one of the servers brings out your crackers and bread, even before you’ve ordered, you also get one of these relish trays for about every four people at your table:

Fresh-cut tomatoes, crisp green onions, a handful of fairly hot pepperoncici, and some dill pickle spears … This makes a nice appetizer on its own, but one you don’t pay for.

We still head for the appetizer menu though …

We’ve only recently started enjoying the restaurant’s Deep-Fried Green Pepper Rings. At their most basic, these are simple rings from green peppers. These rings are dipped in the onion ring batter and fried just as the onions are. They’re not much different in texture from the onion rings themselves, but when they’re done just right you get a real burst of green pepper flavor when you bite into them.

One of the things owner Bob takes care of himself is making the rich and vegetable-ridden Turtle Soup:

When I first tried this soup a couple years back I was a bit leary of it. I’d never tried turtle before and had no idea what to expect. It fast became one of my favorite soups, and I get a bowl (not a cup!) every time we go there now. And yes, I do share if any Turtle Soup newbies are interested in trying it.

And of course, at the top of this post is an image of the Seafood Platter. All deep-fried, from left-to-right that’s scallops, shrimp, Lake Erie perch fillets, and frog legs. This also comes with a choice of potato and a salad or fresh-made coleslaw. While all of the platter was excellent, the scallops were the best part. Crispy on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside, I could have eaten a whole plate of them.

From I-75 in Michigan, take exit 6 at Luna Pier. Turn east toward Lake Erie. The Chateau Louise will be the brown building on the left just before the intersection at Harold Drive.