I’m sure many Detroiters would agree: the Coney Island is the unofficial restaurant of Detroit, and the Coney Dog is the unofficial food. Coney Islands, for those who don’t know, are the Detroit version of the East Coast diner in that they are open
24 hours and the food is relatively inexpensive, and a Coney Dog is a hot dog in a bun smothered in loose chili. (Onions and mustard are optional, but highly recommended.)
The Detroit area is dominated by four Coney Island restaurants: American, Lafayette, Leo’s, and National. American and Lafayette are next to one another in Downtown Detroit; Leo’s and National locations are spread throughout the suburbs. Some people are loyal to one brand, but I’m an equal opportunity coney customer. American and Lafayette do, however, date back nearly 100 years, so they do have a certain historic charm.
I’ve noticed Coney Islands are one of the attractions that people who leave the area miss most. Often visiting transplants will post photos of dogs and chili to social media while dining out. Other expats will then add comments lamenting how much they miss and adore the fare. Some of these social media enthusiasts have even resorted to ordering a “coney kit” (hot dogs, buns, heartburn med) online, but admitted their box lunch was inferior to in house coney dining. I find it touching that folks long for a taste of "The D."
So, what’s the appeal of Coney Islands and Coney Dogs? Why does the homegrown contingent think so highly of both? My theory: it’s the experience of delicious low-cost comfort food in an inviting atmosphere. And, really, there's nothing better than that.