Foodie Tour of the D… Detroit’s Obsession with Coney Islands (that’s Hot Dogs with Chili + Onions)

Wanna make a lunch decision you will instantly regret?

Go on a foodie tour of the coney islands in the D… Detroit loves it’s Coney Dogs!

They don’t call them coney’s in New York… on Coney Island in Brooklyn hot dogs are hot dogs… Nathan’s is probably my favorite though Hebrew National aren’t bad either, even Ballpark is OK. But that’s something I’d have every once in a blue moon, typically at a BBQ on a summer’s day.

Well in Detroit hot dogs with chili are all the rage. I remember seeing stores along Van Dyke for as long as I remember coming up to visit my friends on 26 mile and always wondered what the fuzz was all about… what is this Coney Island? and why are there so many of them…? on this trip to Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park I found out. So come join me on my little foodie adventure that resulted in nothing more than confusion and a stomach ache… I enjoyed it!

I started out on Woodward Avenue near Pontiac because of a side trip to the Fiat Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills while on a hunt for a Fiata sighting, but more about that in another post. My first stop was Athens Coney Island on Woodward in Royal Oak, MI Naively my plan was to pop into three or four different joints, order a coney to go, and sample it while driving to the next one… that plan was STUPID!

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 1 athens

As I soon found out with Athens coney dog in my car, eating it was messy and I soon regretted the decision of doing this! I also ordered french fries with this dog so I don’t puke all over myself having a hot dog for my first meal of the day and they were extremely bland. But I needed a baseline to compare my future coney’s to, so with a small chili stain on my t-shirt I proceeded to the next place which happened to be the most famous one’s depending on whom you ask.

Downtown Detroit is known for it’s turf war between two family owned coney joints… or at least the family was related when the restaurants opened. Now Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island are two competing businesses working side by side selling coney’s to fans of their rivalry.

I went to Lafayette first just because I parked my car nearest to their entrance… The place looked pretty old school, with two old Greeks behind the counter slapping together people’s orders. I figured for this one I’d sit down to avoid getting any more chili sauce all over me. The order was served on a small plate with a fork and a glass of water which the fella behind the counter insist I take, I didn’t want it. Here’s the famous serving:

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 3 lafayette

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 2 lafayette

Despite my best efforts as soon as I picked up the coney to shove it in my mouth the little dices of onion went flying everywhere. The dog was tasty, chili and mustard added good flavor, but raw onion is not something I normally eat knowing how it typically sends my stomach rumbling… so I was a bit apprehensive. All in all, it tasted like a hot dog something I could probably make sans the chili.

Next stop American Coney Island:

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 5 american

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 6 american

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 7 american

Unlike the previous two stops, this place took their hot dog selling business seriously and looked extremely polished and commercialized. Was that good? Sure… I’d say it looked like a chain now though the owner was clearly running around supervising the staff and talking with some of the customers, that was cool. Still retained some of that mom and pop feel like the diners I visited.

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 8 american

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 9 american

I ordered their coney with some fries and found out that if I dip the fries into the chili, I’d save myself from making a mess of it in the end. The dog was good, the chili did taste slightly different and the chunks of onions were much smaller which made them a bit less noticeable in every bite, although clearly the strong taste was still there. I could see why people rant and rave that this place is #1.

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 10 american lafayette

The location also captures a small portrait of Detroit in general. While the downtown looked really nice, a lovely place with nice buildings, stadiums and other entertainment venues. A new M-line rail is in development that I’m sure will revitalize the city bringing people from Midtown and other points closer to Downtown. The Bathtub Bar next door looked in complete state of neglect and disrepair. And that sums it up. No matter how wonderful Detroit is there are aspects of it suffering neglect (including those horrible pot hole lined highways, freeways and avenues, so massive I don’t know how I didn’t suffer a blow-out… I will bitch about in another post) which brings the image of the whole city down. It’s not to say other cities don’t have their eye sores to look at, but in Detroit it’s the first thing that jumps out at you and most people tent to talk about. I really love Detroit and I wish the image changes soon! So I praise places like American Coney Island for doing their part in polishing the city’s image.

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 4 american lafayette

Now after these three pit stops any sane person would call it quits, but I decided to have a go at one more place for scientific purposes of comparison of course… I visited one of the chains in the suburbs called Kerby’s Koney Island on Woodward in Bloomfield Hills, MI ( I was heading back to FCA HQ for another go at the Fiata ).

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 11 kerbys

Their coney’s were just as messy as the rest of them, but instead of ordering fries I went with fried zucchini sticks or zucchini fries.

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 14 kerbys

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 12 kerbys

That was a great decision! The zucchini fries were extremely tasty and I actually managed to notice the different taste of Kerby’s chili. At this place I finally reached for the fork and ate the messy dog as it was probably intended to: in a civilized manner.

detroit foodie tour coney island hot dogs with chili 13 kerbys

So all in all… four different places visited, four different coney’s sampled and I am no closer telling the difference between them now then before I started. They all tasted like hot dogs to me.

A funny moment while I was finishing my meal at Lafayette some kids were talking about doing a coney road trip, sampling the different coneys around the State…  made me chuckle a little. If that’s your thing, go for it and enjoy. Personally I’ll probably leave the chili dog experience to my next BBQ or pic-nick. (or more likely one of the cookouts at the race track somewhere, where burgers and dogs are easiest fare to make). Glad I’ve been there and done that now, so I’m not tempted to do it again next time I come back to Detroit!