Monday, July 30, 2012

Totchos, Michigans, and Coneys ... A Rambling Shpiel

Totchos??? What in the world is/are "totchos"?!?

I'll tell you: they're nachos made with tater tots! They have no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever - well, there were fresh tomatoes and jalapenos - but boy are they fun to eat!

My BFF Wendy and I went down to the Anchor Bar in Detroit awhile back, for a meeting of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society; they were planning to discuss the War of 1812 and Detroit's critical role in it.  Well, I like history - when presented properly, it offers stories of real people, decisions they face, defining moments in their lives. Sitting and chatting about a 200-year-old war and its logistics, though, wasn't my idea of a good time ... but it was an adventure, so why not try?

Well, it was even more tedious, truth be told, than I'd anticipated. The sweet but scattered woman who introduced the evening was confused about some key dates and locations. The first presenter was a very nice man who'd greeted Wendy and me when we walked in, but he reminded me of an 8th Grade history teacher droning through a lecture. There were a couple of questions and comments from folks who engage in war re-enactments. My mind wandered. These were clearly people more concerned with where to find the beer than with any intellectual pursuits ... emphasis on the "drunken" rather than the "historical."

But then - as always, with me - we come back 'round to the food to liven things up. There were totchos! Who doesn't love tater tots? Who doesn't love nachos? It was inspired to combine them into a crispy, crunchy, cheesy, gooey mess that was utterly irresistible. Perhaps because they were so good, in a trashy kinda way, or perhaps because I was so bored - could be either or both - I couldn't stop eating them. It took a great deal of will power to save enough to make an excellent breakfast for the next morning. I love my savory breakfasts, after all, and leftovers are just about a perfect thing to start my day.

We thankfully got to the last presenter of the evening, a Canadian man who'd been invited to share a different perspective on the war. He had a good sense of humor and a sharp wit; and he spoke with the cute "-oot" accent that my mother and her relatives haven't had for decades, having been in the U.S. for 60 years or so now ... think of the McKenzie Brothers from SCTV!

Somehow - I'm serious, the evening was so excruciating that my mind was off on a nomadic trek, so I really can't tell you how the tangent arose - this man found a way to mention that in Canada a hot dog with tomato sauce is called a "Michigan." What on Earth this had to do with the War of 1812, I can't imagine. But I've never heard of this name for a hot dog despite having lived in this state for more than 30 years, despite living only an hour away from Ontario, despite having distant relatives in Canada ... pique my curiosity, finally, at the end of the show!

So, of course, I immediately came home and started doing some research.

I could find nothing about hot dogs with a tomato sauce, but there was information about those topped with tomato-based sauces that are essentially a loose chili.  These specific chili dogs are eaten in New York City, though they're not as popular as the "dirty water dogs" you buy from street vendors (so named because they sit in the water all day ... possibly more than one day?); those are topped with a schmear of mustard and a pile of sauerkraut, maybe some onions.

But in upstate New York - in the Ontario vicinity, of course - the chili dogs are apparently called "Michigans;" and the sauce was created by a man from Jackson, Michigan. In the Detroit area, we top the hot dogs with chili, mustard, and lots of fresh strong onions. But we don't call them "Michigans" - they're "Coneys." Here's the story that helps to explain some of the history and the permutations:

"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.

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."

So, I still don't have all the answers. But at least I ultimately received a history lesson, even if it had nothing to do with the War of 1812!

Anchor Bar
450 West Fort Street
Detroit, MI 48226

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Daniel Saraga said...

Totchos look like the politically correct name from what I've previously known as Irish nachos. It also applies to nachos done with lattice fries (slightly more like an actual nacho chip). I've even seen them topped with a little bit of chili.

Kinda surprised that 1812 is mentioned at all State-side. Isn't that the big fight where Canada (well, technically the British colonies at the time) beat the daylights out of the Americans and then burned down the White House for good measure?

Cranberry Morning said...

Um, the word 'Drunken' in the title may have been a clue, Mary. lol At least there was the redeeming factor of the Totchos. And of course spending the evening with your BFF. :-)

Candace said...

What a fun post! It sounds like you had an evening to remember. I have had chili cheese tots before at Sonic; but never had anything quite like totchos. They sound fantastic though!

Robin said...

You crack me up. I have no doubt that you are the only one who came home and researched the hot dog after a seminar on the war of 1812. That is why you are so awesome:-)

Bibi @ Bibi's Culinary Journey said...

I want some Totchos now, they sounds delicious. Being Canadian I never heard anyone to refer to hot dog wit tomato sauce as Michigan....I need to ask around:)

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