Thursday, January 3, 2008

Eating Detroit: A Coney Island faceoff

What a whirlwind it's been. We started with a party the night of the 22nd, where we made cheese fondue, braised three-meat balls (lamb, pork, beef) with fresh horsey sauce, made a beet, orange and fennel salad, plus my caramelized onion dip, wild mushroom pate and more. Ed even mixed up a batch of the famously dangerous Scheff family punch, which comes with the warning/sales pitch: "every year someone throws up in the bushes."

Then we flew to Detroit Rock City to party with Don & Coke (Ed's parents) for Ruby's 1st Christmas. I like Detroit. I like that it's not all Bed Bath & Beyond-ed out; there are scary parts, and I like that there are areas that are much as they were 40 or 50 years ago. But I guess I'm a jerk, because I'm also completely appalled-slash-captivated by the endless squalor that the city has been falling into since the race riots of the '60s.

Driving around the city pretty much all you see is this

and this

and this.

It's sad, chilling and completely preposterous to a person living in Seattle, where the apartment building above would be mucho expensive to live in. And don't get me started on the gorgeous mansions downtown. We drove around the most fantastic neighborhoods where the old, grand auto-industry magnates once lived, oohing and aahing. Then we looked them up when we got home and found out that not one house--not even this 11-bedroom, seven-bath 14 THOUSAND square foot mansion with hand-painted ceilings--is over $1 million.


So yeah, no gentrification going on there. The upside is that the classic food joints still survive, and discovering them is always part of our mission during visits to the city. This year we decided it was time. Time for a Coney Island Faceoff! We headed to downtown Detroit to taste competing Coney Island joints.

I just realized some of you might be wondering what a Coney Island is. It's basically a hot dog on a bun that's smothered in chili and topped with yellow mustard and chopped white onions. Now, back to the previously scheduled taste test.

First off: American Coney Island, opened in 1917 a block or so from the downtown core (find out more about the history on their website).

We were actually on our way to Lafayette Coney Island (which I'd read was the best before the taste-test), but these fools

yelled at and berated me until I caved. So we went in, sat down and ate. Abuse plus crap food: It was like being in NYC all over again.

And so it arrived. Truth be told, I didn't quite "get it" after digging in. The chili was eh, there was waaay too much mustard, and it was just a giant pile of stuff on a tiny, wimpy hot dog. What's the big deal?

So we headed to Lafayette Coney Island, conveniently located directly next to American. And unlike American, this place was packed to the rafters with people crowding onto bar stools in thick winter coats, passing fries, ketchup, talking smack. It was loud and fun.

And we have a winner! The Coney was great. Waaaay less chili, mustard and onion made for a pretty fantastic hot dog. Plus, I could taste the hot dog, which tasted good and hot doggy.

On our way out I snapped this photo of the cooks.

These guys move a mile a minute for hours on end. Amazing.

[where: 48226]


rdeaver said...

Ah, reminds me of home! I moved from the Detroit area to Seattle almost 2 years ago. Every time I go back to the "D", one of my stops has to be Lafayette. "2 on 1 heavy + fries." That is, 2 coneys, 1 plate, heavy onions and a side of fries. No chili dog anywhere else compares to it. American is just a lazy rip-off of the real thing: Lafayette. Next time you go to the "D" I can provide other great food (hint, try Roma Cafe for Italian at the north end of Eastern Market).

Ali Scheff said...

Thanks for the suggestion! Wish we'd had it before the last trip. And I wish I'd known the short-hand ordering. They did look at us like we were insane when we said no fries, but a girl can only eat so many hot dogs with piles of chili. (Oh, who am I kidding?)