Hamburgers and hot dogs, despite having their origins in German cuisine, are as American as apple pie (which, ironically, is also not uniquely American). But America is the champion of hot dogs! Every region has its own variation. For example, in upstate New York, they eat “Michigans”, but in Michigan they eat “Coneys”. To make matters worse, they don’t eat “Coneys” in Coney Island. It’s like every hot dog is trying to be something else (except for Chicago Dogs, which are eaten in Chicago).
Once upon a time, I was led to believe that a Coney Dog was a generic chilli cheese dog. In actuality, there is no cheese involved at all. A Coney Dog is a natural casing all-beef hot dog topped with a beanless chilli, diced onions, and mustard. There is Flint-style, and Detroit-style, the latter using more of a saucy chilli and the former using more of a ground beef topping. These are the hot dogs of Michigan.
The Detroit-Windsor tunnel bus is only $4 and is a great way to travel back and forth between these two unlikely cities. It’s usually a breeze going through customs, unless you have a very large backpack and an incredulous border guard. I expected Detroit to be kinda scary, but it wasn’t really. The downtown is actually quite pleasant, with Tigers Stadium, the Fillmore, and the RiverFront all within walking distance. We only saw one person get knocked unconscious in a bar scuffle that afternoon, as we quested for authentic Coney Hot Dogs.
Apparently if you live in Detroit, you are a patron of Lafayette, OR you are a patron of American. These two Coney Dog vendors are quite literally next door to one another (they share a wall) and they essentially serve the same product. But they are as different as night and day! Lafayette has this white walled greasy spoon diner thing going on. The service is gruff and to the point. But when you walk into American, you are greeted with a smile and a clean set-up of red, white and blue. Each restaurant caters to a different sort of personality, so your choice of venue will depend on what kind of hot dog experience you want to have. We enjoyed the experience at Lafayette because it seemed more “big gritty city”, or “Detroit”, to us.
If pressed for which hot dog we liked better, we agreed it was also the Lafayette Coney Dog – by a fraction of a point, and perhaps due to the law of diminishing marginal utility (the first hot dog always tastes best). Or perhaps atmosphere and experience is inseparable from the taste of a hot dog. Either way, I encourage the random food tourist, hungry person, or hot dog enthusiast to try both locations. After all, you just have to walk next door!
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W Lafayette Blvd.
American Coney Island
114 W Lafayette Blvd.