Sunday, November 9, 2008

Greatest Detroit Hit: Coney Island Restaurants

There's tons of great products made in Detroit, but nothing tops the straight-up DEEETROIT category quite as much as Coney Island restaurants.

Many Detroiters consider themselves coney connoisseurs...Between Kerby's, Leo's, National and hundreds of other great family-owned joints -- Detroit-area Coney Island restaurants all are so similar and amazingly cheap. I like to jokingly blame my Greek roots for my weekend cravings, but I really think it's just me feeling incestuous about my love for Michigan-made products.

The typical Detroit-area Coney Island provides the perfect menu for all to nosh on: classic coney islands, Greek salads, spinach pie, Gyros, baklava and my personal fave non-traditional classic - chicken hanis. Besides the variety of menu choices, I'd have to say my favorite part of my coney visits is that although you may go to different places, the food always gets to you super fast and it generally tastes the same. It's a beautiful thing.

As all Greek families have, my great-grandpa once had a restaurant in Detroit at the intersection of Woodward and Peterboro. I would give my eye teeth to see that place in action nowadays. I'm not really sure why it ever went out of business, but I'm surely glad that at least the iconic Detroit anchors American and Layfayette Coney Islands have survived in the D for so long.

The history of the coney in Detroit is quite fascinating... American Coney Island came first -- established by immigrant Gust Keros in 1917. The restaurant was first started by Keros and his brother, who got into an argument soon after and split their restaurant into two parts -- the present day American and Lafayette Coney Islands which are next door to each other, and who to this day jokingly argue about which is the "original."

So, I guess you could say once again my Greek roots pushed me to experiment -- which one really is better? A few colleagues and I decided to take a rainy Friday to challenge ourselves to determine which takes the prize for being the top Coney Island in the city.

We started at American. After being beckoned inside by an older waiter with a thick Greek accent, we were seated and quickly received exactly what we all wanted -- an original coney with all the fixing's. We were impressed. A snappy Dearborn Sausage dog with chili with a slight kick tasted pretty good going down.

The owner, who called himself "Dan-Dan the hot dog man," told us a bit about the history of the two restaurants and claimed American was the best because it was the Detroit original. Before leaving, we got a pic with him (of course, he's the guy with the American flag-inspired hat!).

From there, we walked next door to Layfayette and were greeted by classic 50s mint green tile walls and another older Greek gentleman waiter. The coney, of course, arrived quickly. The Winters Sausage hot dog was a little softer than American's and the chili had a bit more of a kick -- possibly from extra spices used in the recipe.

As mentioned above, most Coney Islands generally have the same fare with the same taste. But, we unanimously decided that American's dog was our favorite. The snappy casing on the hot dog, the passionate owner and the good old fashioned Americana theme was what sold us.
But really, in the end, both were extremely similar. Some picky points: both could have used more mustard (or at least had it on the table) and both gave me a mild case of heartburn.

Go out and take the coney challenge yourself. And be sure to frequent your local coney joint. It's a Detroit classic not to be missed!


EstrellaBella10 said...

Yesss you finally posted about the coney challege!!! What a fun idea..and I'm glad I finally pulled myself away from work long enough to taste test some dogs! And I don't care what anyone says...American wins!

Zanter said...

Coney Rules!!

Ritated said...

I had an argument with a guy at the bar last weekend. He said Lafayette was better and I had to disagree.

Oh well. He did buy all of my drinks that night.

Bella Casa said...

I love coneys! Should take the family this weekend to get some, haven't done that in...forever!

When I worked downtown, when the dinosaurs roamed...there was a place on Woodward across from what is now Chase Bank (NBD when I worked there)...this place had theeee best coneys, they were always jammed packed with customers. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it was next to a fancy Irish restaurant, don't know if that is still there either?

The next time I get downtown, probaly after hibernation season, I will have to try out those American coneys..thanks for the recommendation!

Great blog post, I love Detroit!