I was recently in Detroit on business and — as usual, when I head out of town for work — I googled to see which restaurants close to where I was staying have been profiled on any Food Network or Travel Channel shows. Low and behold, Detroit’s two rival coney dog spots were within walking distance of my hotel. Considering my love for coney dogs and the fact that I had the chance at my own personal “Food War” (NOTE: The two restaurants locked horns on Travel Channel’s Food Wars and I had seen the episode), I’m kind of embarrassed at how excited I was to go there.
So, yes, I walked there, braving the Sandy-provided wind and rain mix, for about a mile. I was happy to do it. I’m also happy to report I saw zero murders or muggings on my way. There was one clearly-crazy middle-aged woman screaming about her Jimmy John’s sandwich. I don’t know what she was angry about or if she was directing her yelling at the store or the sandwich, but she was not facing the store. She was instead facing the street. I’d love to be able to tell you I walked directly by her, but I would be lying. I crossed the street and had to later cross it back. So she — or rather, me being a wuss — tacked on two blocks to the hike. Small price to pay, in my view. I was in one piece when arriving on Lafayette Avenue. So by the time I walked into Lafayette Coney Island, I was quite pleased. And the enjoyment did not end there.
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W Lafayette Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226
What I Got: Coney; $2.35.
Here’s what I want out of a coney. I’d like to be able to pick it up for a few bites, but then after a few bites, the amount of chili and onions spilling over the side means I need to reverse course and go to the fork and/or become an utter slob, otherwise the mixture would end up all over me. And if I choose to keep picking it up, it does end up all over me and it’s so good it’s worth it. This one delivered on that front. I got two bites and then the chili/mustard/onion mix was too daunting and started to spill out. After a few fork bites I went back to the pick-up and got chili all over my right hand/wrist. Win.
Initial thoughts: Not mind-blowing by any stretch. Decent flavor to the chili with some spice, but not a ton. The hot dog was quality but not outstanding. One thing that stuck out is it had some serious casing. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a hot dog with such a prominent pop. It may have even made a snapping sound on each bite. A fork cut wouldn’t even break the skin, a knife was needed. No time to sit and think, though …
American Coney Island
114 W. Lafayette Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226
What I Got: Coney and fries; $2.35 + $1.90.
Not shockingly, things were very similar here. The chili was only slightly different. This one had a bit more spicy kick, but the differences were still very mild (see what I did there?). The casing here again was pretty strong with the popping action and I believe it was the exact same number of bites before I had to plate the thing and go to the knife/fork combo to finish the job. This time around I didn’t go back to the well that was trying to get back to picking it up. Not sure why.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes to both, with a caveat…only if I were in the area and a stop was convenient. Considering the price, these are pretty good value options. If I were somehow intoxicated in downtown Detroit — and found a way to live through it — I’d LOVE to get like four coneys from each place. I would not, however, drive far to check these out for a second time or go out of my way to get there. If you’ve never been, I only recommend for purposes of nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed myself and my meal(s). It’s just that I feel like I could come moderately close to recreating these with a jumbo Hebrew National dog and IndianapolisEater’s chili (but not WIBIA’s).
But, really, that’s not why we’re really posting this, right? The real question is, which establishment would I choose? They’ve been profiled on Food Wars and Food Feuds!
First, let’s set the scene. You’ve read about the food, but I’ll delve into atmosphere.
Lafayette is clearly, CLEARLY, the red-headed step child of the two. It lost the Food Wars and Food Feuds episodes. It’s MUCH smaller (in the above picture, American extends another 100 feet or so the right and has more than double the tables). The workers in American have uniforms and the setup appears much more commercial. Lafayette appears a hole in the wall. When you initially walk in Lafayette, two foreign guys toward the front immediately greeted me with “YES PLEASE!” The tone isn’t so much inviting as it is Soup Nazi-ish — like you better order as fast as possible, dude. To borrow a WIBIA phrase, I wasn’t offended by this. I support immigrants coming to the greatest country on Earth and they meant well. I was also armed and ready to order, so they were just fine in my book and got a roughly 50% tip (I left $5 and skated without getting a bill, as they were tied up). So I’m not bashing, just telling the story.
Speaking of stories…at one point, a group of five people walked toward the door at Lafayette. A mildly attractive woman went to reach for the door, but a male (co-worker?) said something to her, she looked up, and the group proceeded to keep walking as she brought her hand back away from the door. Yep, they meant to go to American and the “hot one” of the group almost royally screwed up, evidently. But that’s not the story. The best part about this was that the two workers toward the front of Lafayette started yelling in a foreign language I didn’t understand (NOTE: I don’t understand Spanish or French, per se, but I can understand that’s the language being spoken, if that makes sense. This language was neither). I don’t know if they were screaming obscenities or begging the potential patrons to come in. I do know it couldn’t have been the more perfect illustration of the rivalry and, probably, the “little brother” complex of the rivalry coming out. Basically, picture two 5’5″ dudes screaming at people walking away from the door in disappointment. It was like seeing Purdue basketball fans going nuts about IU.
Anyway, over to American (pictured above). It was more modernized. It had many more workers. It had actual uniforms on the servers. It has a website (Lafayette doesn’t). And on and on and on. Again, this is the Big Brother.
I wanted so bad to choose Lafayette. And I could be intellectually dishonest and say I liked it better, but I’d be lying. Just like with my cars, I choose American.
Still, it was very, very close. If I went back and there was any sort of a line in American, I wouldn’t think twice about diving into Lafayette. They have a fine establishment, too. Also, I had zero wait for my dog in Lafayette. Maybe 45 seconds while the dude dressed it. At American it took all of five minutes. Nitpick at will.
In all honesty — though it would ruin the storyline here — Lafayette would probably be better off moving. Foot traffic is big in downtown of a huge city, and when you constantly lose to your neighbor, moving to where there’s either inferior or very little competition is the right move (pun intended!).
To reiterate in conclusion, though, I very much liked both places and would never tell anyone to avoid either.