It truly amazes me how some Americans view this country, a group of states built from immigrants over and over across the centuries, and yet these cultural critics never appreciate nor understand. Now with Donald as their mouthpiece, some outrageous delusions appear on my newsfeed, leaving me speechless but definitely hungry. Take the Coney Island Hot Dog experience. Sausages bubble and spit in Homer’s Odyssey, and as for the “hot dog,” well Frankfurters or “little dog” sausages originate in Frankfurt, Germany in 1487. Notice all this history well before “America” even exists. The US appears on the sausage radar with a German immigrant in 1871 in New York as Charles Feltman, a German baker opened up the first Coney Island hot dog stand selling 3,684 dachshund sausages in a milk roll during his first year in business. Did this change, add to, rearrange American culture? It sure did, especially when you understand this little dog as “fast food.” That’s right, a German immigrant brought us fast-food. Do you think Donald will stop eating “McDs?” No, no I don’t think so, but wait, there’s more. Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant, started selling hot dogs on the NYC subway near the Coney Island stop. Coney Islands spread across the eastern United States thanks to Greek and Macedonian immigrants. All this and more can be digested in The Origin of the Coney Island from the Smithsonian. Which brings us to Lafayette Coney Island on Lafayette Blvd., a hot dog institution in Detroit, Michigan since 1924, and yes, founded by William Keros from the Greek city of Daras, part of Greek immigration between 1909 and 1919 amounting to 343,000 new citizens for America. Is Donald going to send them back? I don’t think so. Now, let’s get down to eating this wonderful gift of immigration and a hallowed food of these United States.
Along with American Coney Island, right next door and the original “dog” place on the block, Lafayette centers a hot dog culture of chili, onions and a bun in the Motor City like Fluky’s on Maxwell Street in Chicago created the “Chicago-style” beef hot dogs with mustard, pickles, tomatoes and more. So what’s going on with this “Coney Island” experience? The entrance let’s you see all you need to know–dogs slowly spinning on the roller grill. Walk in, sit down and look at the menu.
I order the Lafayette Special which promises the best of a hot dog and a loose hamburger with fries, of course. I’m eating Coneys with my daughter’s mother-in-law Deb Wisotsky and my son Nicholas. Our orders arrive on the waiter’s arm and off we go into a crisp-snapped world of hot dog casings, spicy chili, and crunchy fries.
Oh the mixed pork/beef dog submerged under ground beef, chili seasoning, diced onions and yellow, yellow mustard. Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!
Besides the wonders of Lafayette Coney, I also dine at National Coney Island in Roseville, founded by James Giftos whose family immigrated to the United States from Kyparrissia, Greece in 1946.
I order two Coney Specials, bright and snappy, the chili seasoning has a robustness the Lafayette doesn’t, though the Lafayette dog features a deeper, darker ground beef chili sauce. Both go down quickly, then I wipe my mouth and I’m off. At this point, you observe Greek immigrants started both coney island restaurants in Metropolitan, Detroit, so you may be interested in the the History of Greek Americans in Detroit. Based on German wieners, the Greek Coney experience never disappoints. Again, yum. After my visit with family in Michigan, I move onto Memphis, Tennessee to see my friends Chris Brunt and Chanelle Benz, along with their magnificent little boy Julian. I dine on a bit Memphis BBQ, which I’ll post on later, but digest not a dog, though I do glimpse the mythical Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.
Ah Oscar Mayer, how you featured in my childhood. Here’s an ad that ran two years after my birth. I’m sure this shaped me in many subliminal ways.
Overtly, I’m sure Ball Park Franks had even more affect upon me as they became the preferred hot dog sold at Tiger Stadium, where my father and I would attend Detroit Tigers games in the early and mid-seventies. Such a classic combination in American mythology, baseball and a hot dog. Eating at the ballpark has a beer in one hand, hot dog in the other, including other staples such as peanuts and popcorn, while the call of the Hot Dog vendor at Tiger stadium sweetens the game like an opera singer at the Met.
After returning home from my travels, the taste of hot dogs remains in my mouth and mind, and I decide to cook the “little dachshunds.”
This night’s meal features a mixing of a New York-style, offering sauerkraut, and a Chicago-style, contributing the pickle, both calling for mustard.
The following night I kick-up the Chicago-style, also known as “dragging through a garden,” keeping the sauerkraut and adding a Ratatouille with a side avocado salad.
The next night I add Corn on the Cobb to the above with cilantro and a side cucumber salad.
Twenty-four hours later, I reverse the whole process and move forward with ketchup and bacon along with an avocado and heirloom tomato salad.
Why not a hot dog and sausage with peppers, black bean sauce and a pickle? Delicious and very meaty. Then time to pile on the love.
Fried egg, sauerkraut, tomatoes, potatoes, cole slaw, pickle, mustard, parmesan, fried bread, and of course, the dog–a full, outrageous meal that a simple street food encourages. Working with variations on a Coney Island, so many regional variations, so many international variations (including from Japan with hot dogs sliced to look like an octopus) and then free-styling with everything in your frig, grants an appreciation of the versatility of this little sandwich and an understanding how its an example of Cosmopolitan cuisine, a food welcoming immigrants and loves to emigrate. I can’t wait to sample the fabled Swedish hot dog featuring mashed potatoes and shrimp salad.
Not Trumpism, not Brexit, not any of the anti-immigrant parties stretching from Finland to Italy, the Coney Dog celebrates crossing borders while honoring national cuisines. The best of all worlds. Bon Appétit!