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Detroit. Coney Island?

o
ocaladevil Aug 14, 2007 01:38 PM

I was in the Detroit area over the weekend. Everywhere I went, there were "Coney Island" restaurants. I went to one place for breakfast it had mostly diner type foods with a Greek focus. Not much of what I would consider "Coney Island" food at all. What's the history of all the Coney joints in Detroit?

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  1. b
    boagman Aug 14, 2007 08:33 PM

    There are a couple of places downtown that are considered holy shrines of the Coney dog to some, Lafayette and American, which are basically right next to each other. Some folks swear by one or the other for these heart-attacks-in-a-bun, but I'm not one of them...I've never cared for any kind of coney.

    That being said, almost all those coney islands you see are basically bottom-of-the-barrel "restaurants" that could just as easily be named "Eat" or "Food." I hope that I don't need to explain that any further.

    1. patrad Aug 14, 2007 08:38 PM

      yeah I spend a lot of time there and never got it. in Wisconsin they would be "Family Restaurants" but I think it's because of the Coney dogs? which are quite revolting to me. I asked a lot of Detroit natives when I was there and no one could really give me an answer.

      17 Replies
      1. re: patrad
        j
        Jim M Aug 14, 2007 09:36 PM

        Yes, they're called coney islands because of the coney dogs. Those are a purely Midwestern thing, and in fact in parts of upstate New York they're called Michigan hot dogs. The Greeks who came to the Detroit area after World War II opened diners and always served the coney dogs, and it seems as though the name stuck; the older places boagman mentions, which exist in different forms in downtown Detroit and in Jackson, were just hot dog restaurants, and the people who started them were Slavs, I think, not Greeks. I wonder where the first coney island in the wider sense described by this visitor was--the Greek diner kind with the lunches and feta cheese omelets, etc.--and avgolemono soup, usually anglicized to "chicken lemon rice." You obviously don't go to a coney island for haute cuisine, but some of them are pretty good places to get a soup-and-sandwich lunch. The coney dog itself is definitely an infarction in an intestine, but it has its charms, including a lingo of its own at the old Detroit places.

        1. re: Jim M
          j
          Jim M Aug 18, 2007 04:57 AM

          BTW, here's an article on the origins of the coney dog in Detroit.

          http://www.fancymag.com/hotdoglove.html

          I was wrong about the ethnicity of the original Detroit owners. The whole story is interesting.

          1. re: Jim M
            d
            dantes Jan 8, 2008 03:15 PM

            Actually the Coney Islands are now owned predominantly by Albanians. That is where John Belushi came up with that skit from SNL where he says, " No Coke, Pepsi." His family who is from Albania, owned a coney island in Chicago.

            1. re: dantes
              j
              Jim M Jan 8, 2008 03:23 PM

              Lot of them in Detroit are Chaldeans, too. If Jesus came to Detroit and felt like speaking a few words in his native language, he'd probably head out for a coney dog.

              1. re: dantes
                g
                georgiebest66 Nov 14, 2012 05:09 PM

                There may be places in Detroit that are similar, but Belushi was talking about the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

            2. re: patrad
              b
              boagman Aug 14, 2007 10:36 PM

              Well, a "family restaurant" would actually be a step above most of the coney islands you'll see in the Detroit area. When I generally think of a coney island, my first response is "I'll never be *that* hungry." When I see one in the city of Detroit, I drive right on by, without giving it the slightest thought. If it's in the 'burbs, it might actually have something to offer, but usually I'm not going to take my chances.

              Honestly: if someone were to buy a bunch of Gordon Food Services products and grill them up on a cheap-o outdoor grill, the quality of that fare would more-than-likely outmatch the quality of food at the standard coney island in the city of Detroit.

              In the pantheon of restaurant choices in the Detroit area, these are pretty much a last resort.

              1. re: boagman
                coney with everything Aug 19, 2007 07:09 AM

                I would disagree with "last resort". Sometimes you want cheap and fast, and coneys fill that need. They invariably serve breakfast all day, have approximately the same menu, and will get you out the door in half an hour for less than $10. And sometimes you just gotta have a coney!

                1. re: coney with everything
                  b
                  boagman Aug 19, 2007 03:49 PM

                  Sorry. I'm sticking to my guns, here. If I'm that desperate for cheap and fast, I'll just go with a typical fast food place and bite the bullet. Perhaps I'll even discover something like McDonald's Asian salad, which is quite nice!

                  But a Coney Island is so often just lousy food, that I just would rather "chance the chain" with what I know I can expect from there. *Yes*, there are some exceptions, and some nice ones, but for the most part, Coney Islands are territory that I'll avoid completely.

                  And I have *never* experienced the "sometimes you just gotta have a coney" jones. Hopefully, I never will.

                  1. re: boagman
                    c
                    Cathy Aug 19, 2007 07:55 PM

                    Ah, when you grew up in Detroit, live in San Diego and only can get a real loose hamburger or skin-on hot dog with chili that has no beans in it twice a year...you crave it, want it and *need* it.

                    Same thing with getting a freshly made White Castle burger...

                    It is amazing the things we miss.

                    1. re: Cathy
                      b
                      boagman Aug 19, 2007 08:06 PM

                      "Ah, when you grew up in Detroit, live in San Diego and only can get a real loose hamburger or skin-on hot dog with chili that has no beans in it twice a year...you crave it, want it and *need* it."

                      Fair enough, I guess.

                      "Same thing with getting a freshly made White Castle burger..."

                      WOW! Um, have you ever tried eating a *good* slider? I mean, talk about setting the bar low...yike. ;)

                      1. re: boagman
                        c
                        Cathy Aug 19, 2007 08:48 PM

                        It's the craving. It's the memory. They were 14¢ each when I was in High School. For some reason I associate their joy with chlroine. We would go out to one of the public pools in Detroit City and on the way home stop for a bag of burgers and devour them in the car.

                        I have had the "fancy" sliders. You can get three for $7 as an appetizer at restaurants out here.

                        Not the same.

                        ...and the frozen White Castle burgers are not the same as fresh.

                        ...and a Coney dog or loose hamburger must have only chili, mustard and onions. No cheese. No fries.

                        and I am a chowhound... :)

                        1. re: Cathy
                          b
                          boagman Aug 20, 2007 05:12 PM

                          "I have had the "fancy" sliders. You can get three for $7 as an appetizer at restaurants out here.

                          Not the same."

                          No. Stinking. Kidding.

                          The *real* sliders I refer to are the ones available elsewhere in the Detroit area, at the small little hamburger joints that still exist to this day. My personal favorite are Green's in Farmington Hills at 10 Mile and Orchard Lake Road.

                          I *would not pay* $7 for 3 sliders unless I was at gunpoint or something.

                          1. re: boagman
                            c
                            Cathy Aug 20, 2007 05:16 PM

                            Oh- Telway and Bray's. Yes, they are/were good. White Castle, I guess, because when I drive to Detroit, hit the First WC in St. Louis.

                            Grew up in Detroit-Detroit...could ride my bike down Michigan Ave, park outside, pay $2 for bleacher seats, come out after the game and my bike would still be there...

                            I am not yet 50 years old. <I feel the need to say this.>

                            1. re: boagman
                              c
                              Cathy Aug 21, 2007 09:05 AM

                              and, actually- Marcus is still my overall favorite. Too large to be considered a slider, not loose so can't be considered a coney, but oh so good.

                              1. re: Cathy
                                x
                                xman887 Aug 21, 2007 09:58 AM

                                i grew up eating marcus and, yes, they are great. we would typically carry out from the original at mcnichols/mt. elliott and take them back to my grandparents house who lived nearby. on occasion, i drop into the 14 mile store where they are still very good, but you lose a little something without the nostalgia/ambiance of the original place.

                              2. re: boagman
                                o
                                oaklandfoody Jan 9, 2008 08:19 PM

                                boagman go to hunterhouse and sliders will be 3 for at least $7

                                1. re: oaklandfoody
                                  b
                                  boagman Jan 9, 2008 10:28 PM

                                  And that's...terrible. First: Hunter House sliders are pretty crappy. Not inedible, but crappy. That they're approximately $2.50 a piece is just insane; Green's are about half that price, and are the best slider I've had.

                                  Hunter House is another one of those places that benefits *solely* from its location and the nostalgia that surrounds the old Woodard hangouts. However, Hunter House is no Susie Q, or Totem, or anything like that. It's just lousy.

                2. c
                  Cathy Aug 15, 2007 09:07 AM

                  Waaay back, when it was called Briggs Stadium, then Tiger Stadium (you know, at Michigan and Trumbull) Coney Islands lined Michigan Avenue, one every block for the most part ( I grew up near the Senate Theater, which was next to Senate Sweet Shop which was next to Senate Coney Island which was a block away from George's Coney Island, which was across the street from.... ) You could take a bus or (trolley car) to the stadium and then back home and where ever you stopped, you could get a meal. T
                  The Coney places were open late, served coffee to go in small glass bottles (topped with milk caps), never had fries, nor cheese. Chili, Mustard and Onions were your only topping choices. Other items you could get were bowls of chili...

                  (I am not yet 50 years old, BTW)

                  1. o
                    ocaladevil Aug 16, 2007 06:20 AM

                    Thanks for your responses. Just for your info, the "Coney" place we went to was called The Senate Coney Island Restaurant in Northville. They took the restaurant space at a local golf course. Obviously, there are no chow revelations here, but the place was very clean, friendly, and the food was good. The owner obviously takes a lot of pride here. I had over easy eggs with gyro meat and a side of pancakes. (First time having gyro meat with breakfast. It was pretty good.) I can't speak for the rest of the menu, but I wouldn't hesitate to go back. Golf courses are notorious for lousy food, they should all be at least this good. Oh yes, full bar too.

                    http://www.senateconeyislandrestauran...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ocaladevil
                      m
                      mrnyc Aug 16, 2007 09:39 AM

                      don't let'em kid you up in michigan!

                      coney dogs were invented by greek immigrants in cincinnati diners. they are an out-take of cincinnati chili and use that style of meat topping on the dog. also note there is a "coney island amusement park" in cinci, which is still open, where they were popular and named for (no relation to the brooklyn ci except by name).

                      you can find the little coney dog or coney island diners all over ohio, although its true when they made their way up to detroit they got very popular there too. since detroit is genrally speaking in a state of suspended animation, to their credit more of them are still around there and havent been so lost to redevelopments and chains.

                      1. re: mrnyc
                        o
                        ocaladevil Aug 16, 2007 09:57 AM

                        I grew up in Dayton, so I've eaten my share of Cincinnati chili. I can still find frozen blocks of Skyline here in FLA., but haven't been able to duplicate the same fluffy cheese you can get at Skyline or Goldstar. But being around Ohio for so long, I don't recall seeing any "Coney Island" restaurants. At least not in the name. Thanks for the info. Now, how to deal with this craving for a 5-way, chili dog, and a Hudepohl 14-K!

                        1. re: ocaladevil
                          m
                          mrnyc Aug 16, 2007 04:45 PM

                          there arent any in dayton to my knowledge, but they are all over the rest of the state. then again you have the cinci chili in dayton and their coney dogs...same thing.

                    2. d
                      davebough Aug 16, 2007 11:52 AM

                      American Coney Island was founded on LaFayette Street in downtown Detroit by Greek immigrant brothers in 1917. A few years later they had an argument and one of the brothers rented the store next door and opened LaFayette Coney Island. They are both still in business, American still owned by the same family. Coney Islands have a natural casing frank smothered by a loose meat sauce that has a secret recipe and is usually served with mustard and onions. Detroit coneys are wet and best eaten with a fork. People who have a connection to Detroit usually favor either American or LaFayette and never eat the other. They are many other Coney restaurants in southeat Michigan, at least two founded by members of the original family, but none approach the popularity of American or LaFayette. The primary provider for the other coney restaurants for both sauce and dog is Koegle's of Flint. They market a wet Detroit coney sauce. Flint Coney Islands market a dryer sauce. I can't go to Detroit without going into LaFayette for two coney dogs with onions and a Vernor's.
                      dave

                      Here's the Wikipedia entry on coney's.
                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coney_Is...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: davebough
                        b
                        brendastarlet Aug 16, 2007 11:54 AM

                        And then, there are people here who never touch them.

                      2. c
                        ConeyDetroit Aug 18, 2007 07:16 PM

                        Detroit is fiercely proud of its Coney Islands. We do not claim to have invented the Coney Island hot dog or the Coney Island restaurant, but we have taken Coneys to the nth degree. A search of area restaurant databases shows that there are HUNDREDS of Coney Islands in Detroit and environs.

                        There are extreme loyalties (ask a downtowner whether American or the adjacent Lafayette is better), variations in chili sauce (Flint, Jackson, Detroit) and a number of ex-pats cannot wait to get to a Coney once they hit home. A number of people say they love Coneys; a number say they hate them. We're OK with that kind of passion.

                        I'll link to this discussion from www.coneydetroit.com and invite you to come over there and learn more.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ConeyDetroit
                          j
                          Jim M Aug 19, 2007 06:30 PM

                          Hey ConeyDetroit, love the site! FWIW, I went to the blog of the Malay woman who posted the coney sauce recipe. I'm learning to speak Indonesian, a close relative of Malay, and mutually intelligible. So for the hell of it, I posted in the comments in that language, asking, "do a lot of people in Malaysia eat coney dogs?" And her answer (I think) means, "Yes, a lot of Malay people eat coney dogs here. If you're feeling a little adventurous, you'll like them!"

                          Coney dogs in Malaysia . . . who knew?

                        2. d
                          Docsknotinn Jan 10, 2008 03:50 AM

                          I'm going to dissagree with a lot of what has been posted here. No doubt that "coney Island" has become some weird sort of slang for lousy restaurants in the greater Detroit area. Still, I wouldn't take my primary cue on the topic from some one who by their own admission doesn't like coneys. Can you imagine asking some one who doesn't drink for a sugestion on a nice pinot noir? Lafayayette and American are both Detroit Icons. Both on Lafayette Ave.
                          I prefer Lafayette but I wouldn't pass up an American dog. National Coney Island has a number of locations now and they are all pretty decent for quick cheap eats in the burbs but not nearly as good as the two Godfathers of dogs downtown. Another variation is Tony Packos of Mash fame in Toledo. True dog lovers could debate this Vs the Detroit variation.

                          http://www.tonypackos.com

                          http://www.americanconeyisland.com/hi...

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Docsknotinn
                            b
                            boagman Jan 10, 2008 09:39 AM

                            Well, in fairness to me, I completely separate the fact that I don't personally care for coney dogs from the fact that most Coney Island restaurants are pretty lousy places to eat. Just because I don't care for the main draw of a place doesn't mean that I immediately cast it into the fire, so to speak.

                            I'm the first to admit that Lafayette and American are local institutions, and I'm not above enjoying the heck out of places like these: Green's Hamburgers in Farmington Hills is a sacred cow to me...a sacred cow wherein I can *eat* sacred cows. ;)

                            So, when I say that the vast majority of Coney Islands in the Detroit area are pretty lousy places to eat in general, it's not as though I haven't tried them. When I go, however, you're right: I don't order coney dogs.

                            1. re: boagman
                              d
                              Docsknotinn Jan 10, 2008 11:31 AM

                              I will quickly conceed that 99% of the "Coney Islands" we have now are just swill. Sad really. But now that you've mentioned Greene's I'm thinking about a sack full of Bates Bombs. This really messes with my day. I was already debating Pizzapopolis Vs Mon jin lau for dinner and now we have a big bag of artery clogging sliders in the mix....hmmmmmmmmm

                              1. re: Docsknotinn
                                b
                                boagman Jan 10, 2008 01:24 PM

                                Oh, you total, total day-ruiner. I actually have my monthly locksmith meeting tonight at the UAW hall directly next door to Mon Jin Lau, and now I'm thinking that I'll have to stop by afterward and give them a try. It's odd: I've heard nothing but good things about that place, and yet, because it's on the pricey side for Asian, I shy away from it. I suppose that's contradictory on my part, and I should just get over it.

                                Any suggestions from Mon Jin Lau?

                                1. re: boagman
                                  x
                                  xman887 Jan 10, 2008 04:40 PM

                                  chile pepper squid appetizer and sizzling rice soup

                                  1. re: xman887
                                    b
                                    boagman Jan 10, 2008 06:20 PM

                                    I'll keep this in mind for the future, xman. I had to leave for the meeting tonight by 7PM, so I couldn't get this recommendation until just now. In fact, I'll probably just use it next time I'm around that area, since I didn't stop in tonight after all, as the meeting actually ended *early* for once, if you can believe it.

                                    Thanks again.

                                    1. re: boagman
                                      d
                                      Docsknotinn Jan 11, 2008 03:17 AM

                                      The prices at Mon Jin Lau are slightly above the norm but overall the quality is higher. It can still be inconsistant at times. We like the Gyoza (steamed dumplings) app, spring rolls, Tuna sushi, Spicy Tuna roll and Pine Nut chicken. I can't think of any thing I've had here I don't like. The only other place I've tried this good was in Flat Rock but that was over 12 years ago and I can't remember the name of the place.
                                      We wound up going to Pizzapapalis last night on Northwestern. Very good but the crust was a little dry. Buddy's pizza was rockin. I couldn't even believe how many cars were there.

                                      1. re: Docsknotinn
                                        b
                                        boagman Jan 11, 2008 09:19 AM

                                        I'll be trying Mon Jin Lau. Too many good things have been said.

                                        Wow...Pizzapapalis over Buddy's? Just because of a long wait? You really must have been hungry. While Buddy's isn't as good as Loui's in Hazel Park, Buddy's is still a good also-ran. However, last time I tried Buddy's less than a month ago (the Warren location at Van Dyke and Chicago), I was less than impressed with the pie. They really seemed to skimp on the ingredients, and it took away from the experience a bit. That's not been the norm when I've been at Buddy's, though, and I didn't say anything at the time. If it happens on consecutive occasions, though, I'll speak up.

                                        Never have liked Chicago-style pizza as well as the Loui's/Buddy's/Shield's style, but that's just me. There's nothing *wrong* with Pizzapapalis...I just prefer the former.

                                        1. re: boagman
                                          d
                                          Docsknotinn Jan 11, 2008 02:55 PM

                                          I've been here 17 years and I honestly don't think I've ever been to buddies. Pizzapapolis is a weird sort of crossover chicago style. It's not stuffed or deep dish with the crust going all the way up the side. Not as good as Chicago for me but then it's a lot easier to get to.

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