A Coney Island Hot Dog (or Coney Dog or Coney) is a hot dog in a bun topped with a savory meat sauce and sometimes other toppings. Virtually all Coney Island variations were developed, apparently independently, by Greek or Macedonian immigrants in the early 1900s, many fleeing the Balkan wars, who entered the US through Ellis Island in New York City.
Still confused on how a Coney Island dog ended up in Detroit, I did a little bit of research. Apparently, a Coney Island Hot Dog has really no ties to New York’s Coney Island, except that’s where immigrants came from.
There is constant debate about when and where the Coney Island hot dog was first served. The earliest known year is 1914, with both Ft. Wayne’s Famous Coney Island Wiener Stand in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Todoroff’s Original Coney Island in Jackson, Michigan, opening that year.
The Coney Island developed in Michigan is a natural-casing beef or beef and pork European-style Wiener Würstchen (Vienna sausage) of German origin, topped with a beef heart-based sauce, one or two stripes of yellow mustard and diced or chopped onions. The variety is a fixture in Flint,Detroit, Jackson, Kalamazoo, and southeastern Michigan.
The style originated in the early 20th century, with competing claims from American and Lafayette Coney Islands (1917)in Detroit, and Todoroff’s Original Coney Island (1914) in Jackson. The longest continuously operated Coney Island (in the same location) is in Kalamazoo (1915).
Two of Detroit’s competing restaurants who boast they have the “best” Coney Island Hot Dog are literally next door to each other: Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. It’s like going to Philadelphia and compare a cheesesteak from Pat or Geno’s.
After a long day of sightseeing, and a very heavy breakfast, we were not really that hungry for a heavy dinner. Trying one of Detroit’s famous “Coney Island” hot dog seemed appropriate, so I chose American over Lafayette because they were able to accommodate my group. We were surprised that the place was virtually empty. Perhaps it was mid week? Or it was just too freezing cold for even the locals?
The menu has more than Lafayette, which just offers Coney Island hot dogs. The American also offers gyros, chicken, and beer. They also offer an “American Special” which is a Coney Island hot dog topped with ground beef.
Stephen ordered the Coney Island hot dog and the American Special, while I had the Special and fries. The fries were just ok, and actually cold. The hot dog has a nice “snap” to each bite, and I probably could have easily eaten 2 but we saved room so we could go next door to the Lafayette, and took one to go.
Both Coney Island dogs were good, but we liked the American just a little more. The Lafayette used a thicker casing, so even though there was a “snap” it was a chewier snap. Either way, if I had to eat at either place, it would be fine. Cheap eats, and dinner for 7 people came less than $42 with tax and tip. That’s cheap eats!