There is an ongoing debate on who developed the first coney island in Michigan. It’s kind of like asking for your mom’s chili recipe. It’s never the same twice; you get a different answer depending on who you talk to. Nevertheless, we look at this ongoing debate between Detroit, Flint, Jackson, and Kalamazoo styles of Michigan Coney dogs.
The Detroit Coney
Today we take a road trip from the Thumb region to visit our youngest at Western Michigan University. It also gives us a chance to explore a uniquely Michigan experience, the Coney Island Hot Dog. Open just about any foodie magazine or Google about Michigan Coney Islands, and chances are you will stumble onto voluminous articles and posts discussing the back-to-back Detroit standbys of American and Lafayette Coney Islands. Local legend tells that these two hot dog stands emerged out of a disagreement between two partners. However, rather than locating far away from each other, the former partner ended up next door. A rivalry was born
But Are Detroit Coneys All There is?
I’ll admit I’m a big Lafayette and American fan. If we are in Detroit, I’ll stop in. Every food writer in Michigan seems to place these two Detroit stands into the obligatory #1, #2 in best coney dog contests. Despite these perennial rankings, many folks are amazed to learn that there are actually three tasty versions of the Michigan Coney; Detroit, the Flint, and Jackson.
Flint Coney Island
I traveled to northern Michigan and decided to take a small detour and search for the premier coney island in Flint. The Flint style is coney dog is less saucy; it’s a topping made with finely ground beef heart. Most agree that the “authentic” Flint coney, the hot dog itself must be a locally produced Koegel.
Back in 2013, the Flint-style coney island hot dog made the top ten of all hot dog styles in the United States. Flints own Tom Z Original Coney Island made a list featured in USA Today. Needless-to-say it made news in Flint. The landmark restaurant had the original sign that dates back to 1919. However, I was disappointed to learn that this hallmark restaurant was closed.
Want the Original Coney? Leave Detroit and Head West!
It seems universally accepted that the first Michigan Coney was created in Jackson by George Todoroff in 1914. His Jackson, Coney Island restaurant, was located in front of the Jackson Train Station on East Michigan Avenue. It closed when his son, who was running the restaurant, was drafted into World War II. Today the Jackson Coney Island continues the tradition. They have the distinction of being the first coney island in Michigan
The Oldest Coney Island in Michigan
It surprises many folks that the oldest continuously operating Coney Island from the same location in Michigan belongs to Coney Island Kalamazoo. They opened their doors in 1915, and it has been running at the same location ever since. Its location downtown makes for a busy lunch crowd.
The Kalamazoo Coney
The mildly spicy low moisture Jackson style coney “sauce” is more like an open loose burger on top of a natural casing hot dog. The meat spices have obligatory garlic and chili powder but there are also hints of celery salt, turmeric, and even the exotically expensive saffron. I asked one of the cooks about the spice mixture. She said that it comes pre-ground in a small stainless container for each batch and it’s a closely guarded secret. Topped with onions and mustard on a steamed bun. It didn’t last long.
Keep the Coney Rivalry Going
In our post about Unique Michigan Foods, You Have to Try; I did get some hate email about our love for the Western Michigan version of the Coney dog. We stand by our tasty assessment and point out that the Kalamazoo Coney Dog doesn’t follow you around all afternoon, if you know what I mean. I say keep the dogs cooking and try to improve an original. Pass the mustard.