Michigan has two famous dogs. Detroit is home of the Detroit Coney Dog, and the northern suburb of Rochester is the home of Leader Dogs for the Blind.
The Detroit Coney Dog is a hot dog with heart. Literally. It’s the beef heart that makes the difference. That’s the secret ingredient in the pasty chili sauce that crowns the wiener. Leader Dogs is also a heart-warmer. They raise and train hundreds of guide dogs for the blind every year. I have raised five puppies for them and given them their initial training.
The Detroit Coney Dog was created by a Greek sheepherder, Constantine “Gust” Keros in 1917. Soon after clearing Ellis Island he went to Coney Island and tasted a hot dog. Then he went to Detroit to seek his fortune on the auto assembly line. He didn’t speak English, so he swept floors until he could afford a popcorn cart, and eventually he opened American Coney Island where he served hot dogs like the one he tasted on Coney Island.
Legend has it that one day a customer asked him to ladle some of his homemade chili onto the hot dog, and the rest is history.
The prototypic Detroit Coney Dog is a pork and beef frank with natural casing, often made by Koegel, top loaded with mustard, then a chili made mostly from beef hearts, and crowned with chopped onions. No beans in the chili. It is served all around the state in restaurants called Coney Islands. No ketchup, and never any cheese. You want that, get a Cincinatti Coney.
If you are in Detroit, check out the original American Coney Island founded by Gust and Lafayette Coney Island founded by his brother, both in downtown Detroit, right next door to each other. If you stand out front looking like you’re trying to make up your mind, the staff of one or the other may come out and drag you in. When you order, to get the real deal, make like a Buddhist monk and ask for “one with everything”.
My favorite Coney Island is Walt’s, founded in 1936 in Pontiac and now located in nearby Waterford, about midway between Detroit and Flint. The coneys are good, but the atmosphere is great. They have a drive-thru, but you really should go inside. It really is an island of hot doggery, a small building in a big parking lot with great kitchy decorations and mighty fine malted milks, crinkle fries, and of course, sloppy Coneys. The photos here are taken at Walt’s.
It is interesting that, with hundreds of Coney Islands in Michigan, there are only two manufacturers that I know of selling frozen Coney Chili, ready to use. Most Coney Islands have their own recipe. Since Gust and many other Coney owners were Greek or Macedonian, theirs has an unmistakable Old World flair to the recipes, with things like cinnamon and oregano.
The Flint Coney. There are two sub-styles of Michigan Coney Chili, Detroit and Flint, the main difference being that the original Detroit style, created by Gust, has a lot of ground beef heart and is pasty in texture while the Flint style is not as wet and occasionally has has ground hot dogs in there. That’s right, ground hot dogs!
Here’s a recipe for a classic Detroit Coney Dog that I call The Leader Dog in honor of the amazing other dog place in Michigan, just a few miles away. They train guide dogs for the blind, a service I know well since I have raised several puppies for them. Click the link to learn more.
Serve with: Vernor's Ginger Soda.
Published On: 6/23/2015 Last Modified: 3/26/2021