I was born and bred in Chicago with a mom from Detroit. I’m so spoiled on what is a good chili dog and hot dog in general, I only get hotdogs from one place where I live now. So, when I was staying across the street from what has been a major food war for decades, including Travel Channels Food Wars, I just had to get in the fray! Detroit calls all their chili dogs “Coney Islands”.
American Coney Island — in business for 92 years — is the traditional media sweetheart. It’s been on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Lafayette (expanded) for a few decades, ostentatiously decked out in red,white and blue bunting. It looks like the old Farrell’s ice cream parlors. It won Travel Channel’s Food Wars between itself and Lafayette Coney Island, a rival business started next door by one of the original owner’s brothers (see below). Michael Symon picked it as “Best Coney Island”. It’s been patronized by Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Thomas Jane, Eminem, Bill Cosby, Diana Ross, Danny DeVito, Penney Marshall, Mike Ilitch, U.S. Representative John Conyers, Tim Allen, and Jeff Daniels. They’ll mail Coney Island kits anywhere you like.
La-di-Da, is what I say. They do use a fancier, natural casing hotdog, I’ll give them that. But when ordering it with everything, they put “loose meat” on top (that you can also order separately). Some people claim on the ‘net that it’s beef heart, with their own spices. I don’t know . . . I enjoy beef heart at Peruvian restos and I didn’t get that flavor. They also use a different chopped onion. IMO, this is a mistake. More money doesn’t necessarily buy flavor . . . I feel like sweet onions are being used too often now in cooking. I have relatives who make this mistake; there’s not enough sharpness for a good tangy bite.
They also boast things like “homemade” spinach pie, but when I tried it, it sure seemed like soggy, nuked spanikopita from a frozen national restaurant supplier.
I’m Team Lafayette Coney Island all the way, baby! They reputedly use Spanish onions, claimed to be “sweeter” than their rivals’, but they’re not really sweeter and I’m glad. Their chili has a bit of cinnamon in it, like a Cincinnati 3 way. That gives it a good, Greek flavor. The contrasts are sharper — you get more bang for the buck. The place is a simple, Greek diner and totally reminds me of the John Belushi “chee burger, chee burger” skit on SNL. All kinds of celebs love Lafayette Coney Island, including the Detroit Red Wings. That’s great . . . but the quiet, non-flashy tastiness is what won me over.