By Megan Ake

It all starts with a hot dog.

Savory and spicy beef-based chili tops it off, overflowing a steamed bun onto the waiting plate below. A thin layer of zesty mustard cuts through the chili, and finally the entire masterpiece receives a sprinkling of finely diced onions.

The coney dog: a gooey, indulgent classic that has been tantalizing taste buds in southeast Michigan for nearly a century.  While the construction of the treat seems simple enough, and the ability to find one comes with relative ease, the debate over which dog tastes best has long plagued metro Detroit.

Though many imitations exist, American Coney Island, located at 114 W. Lafayette in downtown Detroit, takes the top prize.

The family-owned restaurant, which opened in 1917, uses only Dearborn Sausage hot dogs in their coney.  The natural skin casing of the Dearborn dog adds a nice crunch against the warm bun.  When topped off with the Keros family chili sauce, the coney provides a spicy, but pleasant kick to the taste buds.  Add a side of chili cheese fries to the order, and a true Detroit-style meal can be had for under $6.

And if coneys aren’t your thing, American offers a variety of other diner-type meals including Greek pitas, taco salads, and tuna salad sandwiches.  For dessert, fresh donuts or crunchy, flaky baklava make for sweet complements to the savory coneys.

American Coney Island also deserves high honors for its prime downtown location.  Tucked in to the plaza at the intersection of Lafayette and Shelby streets, American boasts a roomy, red-and-white decked dining room within walking distance of the Hard Rock café, Campus Martius park, and the Compuware building.

Not into going downtown for a coney dog?  A plethora of suburban coney islands exist as well, and though they may not have as long or as rich a history as American Coney Island, the battle between them is just as hot.

Yet, much like yellow mustard stands out on top of the chili, Leo’s Coney Island stands out amid the rest of the suburban pack.  The coneys here arrive on the same steamed bun, and the chili is thick and hearty.  And with 39 locations, tracking down a coney in your neck of the woods can be quick and convenient.

Leo’s, which also began as a family-owned business, has been serving up food since 1972.  Much like American, the Leo’s menu originally centered around coneys and expanded and evolved from there.  Today, Leo’s customers can warm up with lemon rice soup, snack on a crunchy Greek salad, or stop in for a breakfast of eggs and bacon.  The menu’s variety covers a range of tastes, so any meal here will surely satisfy the appetite.

Though Detroit is responsible for giving the world the automobile and housing the Tigers and Red Wings, one must not forget the importance of its contributions to the world of coney dogs.  To truly experience a southeast Michigan classic, head downtown for a spicy bite not soon to be forgotten.


Downtown Detroit coneys are hard to beat