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Aug 14, 2007 01:38 PM

Detroit. Coney Island?

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. 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. 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.

      20 Replies
      1. re: patrad

        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

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

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

          1. re: Jim M

            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

              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

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

              2. re: Jim M

                As someone from NY, I find it amusing that people talk about Cinci and Detroit. Coney Island, NY is where a Polish immigrant opened a stand called Nathan's and started selling their dogs back in 1916. As far as I'm concerned, you can't call a hot dog a Coney unless it is a Nathan's dog. And to call a restaurant a Coney Island when they don't sell Nathan's? Ok, it's a snob thing, but, well, he started on CONEY ISLAND! This Michigan phenomenon never made sense to me. Then again, I'd never heard of cider donuts before I moved here.

                Don't even get me started with the salad bar that is the Chicago style hot dog. And let's leave pizza and bagels for another day. =)

                1. re: Smeetoo

                  Yeah, those new places in Detroit have only been open since 1917:-)

              3. re: patrad

                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

                  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

                    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

                      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 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

                        "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 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

                          It's the craving. It's the memory. They were 14ยข 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

                            "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

                              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

                                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

                                  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

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

                                  1. re: oaklandfoody

                                    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. re: Cathy

                              OK- you hooked me (it only took 8 years-Cathy's post from 2007). Just mention White Castle and this transplanted New Yorker, now in Florida with no White Castle restaurants in this entire state... You said it, "It is amazing the things we miss." But the in-law side of the family is all over Detroit, and Detroit has- - - White Castles! Years ago, I spent one visit to our Detroit family in one of the area hospitals after a dog bite, and family visitors spread the word- bring White Castles when you visit him in the hospital. And they did! What family love. Coney dogs in the Motor City I can't comment on. But sliders? MMMMmmm.

                    2. 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. 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.


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ocaladevil

                          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

                            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

                              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. 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.

                          Here's the Wikipedia entry on coney's.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: davebough

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