The biggest feud in Detroit isn’t over competing muscle cars, Motown legends or sports teams.
The dispute that cuts deepest from some Detroiters boils down to the coney dog, an all-beef hot dog topped with beanless chili, white onions and yellow mustard. You’re either going to get your famous Detroit Coney dog at American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island. And the tiny stretch of sidewalk between the two landmark restaurants is hardly middle ground for Detroiters.
Detroit’s Coney culture runs deep, though the feud is, in all actuality, mostly friendly — more driven by locals’ allegiances than the restaurants themselves. And completing the Coney Challenge (trying both and choosing your favorite) is so delicious you might just have to repeat it once. Or twice. To be absolutely sure of your decision, of course.
The Origin of the Coney Dog
The Coney dog — or the Coney Island hot dog, if you want to get formal — would presumably be a staple of Coney Island, New York. Though the Big Apple is the birthplace of the hot dog, we have Michigan to thank for the toppings that render it a true Coney dog.
The definitive, specific birthplace of the Coney dog within Michigan is somewhat disputed, with three locations all claiming at one point to be the original: the ever-popular American and Lafayette, and the lesser-known Todoroff’s Original Coney Island in Jackson.
But maybe what matters most isn’t which was first, but rather which is best.
American Coney Island
American Coney Island is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017, with Constantine “Gust” Keros having opened the doors in 1917 after coming to the city from Greece at the turn of the century (and passing through Ellis Island on the way). The Keros family runs the restaurant to this day and gets the title of “Detroit’s Original Coney.”
American says the key to its longstanding success is in the high-quality, specially-seasoned, natural skin casing hot dogs from Dearborn Sausage and the secret family recipe for its chili sauce.
Lafayette Coney Island
Just a few years later — and just one door down on Lafayette Boulevard — Keros’ brother, Bill, opened up competing Lafayette Coney Island after coming over from Greece. It quickly gained traction, using different hot dogs and different chili. This cash-only hot dog diner offers a no-frills menu and an old-school atmosphere.
The Coney Challenge
At some point, every Detroiter must decide where his or her allegiance falls. Completing the Coney Challenge is a rite of passage — and an easy one, so long as you bring an appetite. Try one at American, and then try one at Lafayette.
Visitors to the city can’t leave without trying at least one, and you don’t even have to travel to do it. American now delivers Coney Kits by mail, each containing 12 hot dogs, buns, a sweet onion, the famous chili sauce, instructions and even a hat to make you feel official.