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A Coney dog is a beef frankfurter in natural casing, nestled in a soft, steamed bun. Its topping of an all meat, beanless chili, diced white onions, and yellow mustard distinguishes it from the ordinary hot dog. It’s a misconception that the Coney dog, also called the Coney Island hot dog, originated at Coney Island, New York where Nathan’s popularized the basic frank in a bun. As one story goes, Greek immigrants passing through New York and its famed Coney Island, appropriated the Coney Island name for their Coney dog version.
While no one place can definitively claim to be the birthplace of the Coney dog, Michigan, by sheer volume and duration of its Coney restaurants, makes a strong bid. Detroit’s famous Coney dog restaurants, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, followed Todoroff’s Original Coney Island in Jackson, Michigan, which dates its beginning to 1914.
In 1917, Gust Keros, a Greek immigrant, opened American Coney Island on West Lafayette Street in downtown Detroit. A few years later, in 1924, he brought his brother William to Detroit to help. Keros’s brother opened Lafayette Coney Island when space opened up next door. The businesses have operated continuously in the same locations ever since.
Both of these Detroit Coney Islands are incredibly popular to this day, where there is an on-going argument over which establishment serves the best Coney dog. A true Coney uses made-in-Michigan products such as Dearborn Sausage wieners. The chili recipes, key to the Coney dog, differ: American makes it own chili which is said to be spicier than the beefier chili of Lafayette, made from a family recipe. The dispute has been featured on several food television shows, including Food Wars and Man v. Food.
American Coney Island continues to be owned by the third-generation Keros family, but Lafayette is no longer family-held. There are hundreds of Coney Island restaurants in Michigan, some of the larger Detroit area chains are Leo’s and National. A Coney dog in Vermont and parts of New York is called a “Michigan.”