Know what a Coney is? It’s a chile dog from the Detroit area. And like all great American colloquial foods it has a great history and a great rivalry to go with it. If you don’t know about this great Northern delicacy, learn more about it here at the Coney Island Wiki. Now, I haven’t been to the original in Jackson, MI. But Jason and I did have a chance to go to the two, most well known, next-door-neighboring joints right in the heart of Detroit, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. Just like Pat’s and Geno’s of the Philly cheesesteak world, ruthless rival neighbors. The Hattfield and Macoy’s of the Downtown Detroit Coney world. Hitting-up American or Lafayette before of after a game has been a longstanding tradition with Tigers fans for nearly 90 years. Jason and I are such big fans of rituals like this and these two places are the stuff meat dreams are made of.
What does a Coney taste like? To the uninitiated, it’s a chile dog. And to be frank, ahem, they don’t stray, ahem, to far from the script. Chile, mustard, onions, a dog with a snap, and a soft white bread bun. This is old-timey food. Simple not great for you, American fare. What I like best about this style, old-timey food? As soon as you fancy it up, a crusty roll perhaps, or a big grilled dog, or homemade grass-feed beef chile. It stops being a coney. New York pizza can be fancied up a bit and still pass as New York pizza. A carne asada burrito can be gussied-up and still be a carne asada burrito. Know what I mean? The Coney is defined by it’s simplicity.
So do I have a favorite? Yes, We stopped at American first. Great service, a semi-classic vibe but most of that history seems to have been covered up in the 70’s or 80’s. The only thing that seemed totally original, was a “Pay Here” sign hanging over the check out. Everything else had been covered over by the same interior decorators that do all the diners in New York and New Jersey. Lafayette is a different story. Everything had the patina of being scrubbed for the last 90 years. A simple, functional space. Point for Lafayette.
The Coney. We sat down at American and each ordered one dog. It was great. Fresh bun, snappy dog, working man’s chile, a slop of mustard applied with a wooden spoon, and chopped white onions. Great no-nonsense service. We loved it. As we walked out of American and opened the door to their neighbor Lafayette’s, one of the Coney cooks pocked his head out of the door and yelled something at us. I’m not sure what it was but it probably was something like “,Enjoy you salmonella!” After the diner vibe of American, I was happy with the Lafayette vibe. It reminded me of my favorite classic Brooklyn joints. We repeated our order, one dog each. Right off the bat, you can tell a difference. Small as it might be. Lafayette’s chile is spicier and there dog is snappier.
So who’s the winner, you can probably tell where this is headed. Lets just say we order another round at Lafayette before we headed back to airport. Go check out both joints and choose for yourself. Here’s the info for American Coney Island and Laffayette Coney Island.
Kick this weekend’s ass everyone!