Friday, February 7, 2014

Lafayette vs. American Coney Island: A Detroit Debate

A coney is a hot dog covered in chili with mustard and onions. There is no ketchup. Don't even ask for it.

The Detroit Coney Dog is an institution around here. Every other corner has a coney island, and everyone has a favorite. But that is nothing compared to the debate between American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. These two battling restaurants sit side by side, and are owned by the same family; however a rift caused their restaurant to split, from one to two.

Since then, Detroiters and visitors alike either come down on one side or another: The American or The Lafayette.

On Super Bowl Sunday, after Billy and I walked around Belle Isle, we decided that it was OUR time to make a choice. This decision was going to be hard for me as a vegetarian, so I deferred completely to Billy's taste buds.

We went to Lafayette first. Walking in, you are greeted with stainless steel counters that run half the length of the narrow restaurant,  with a few tables at the other end. It had an old school diner feel, and was virtually empty due to the Super Bowl.

We took a seat at the counter, and Billy ordered one coney dog minus the onions, and then made a fatal mistake: he asked if they could make me a grilled cheese. The man behind the counter seemed a veritable giant as he stared down hard at me. "No," he barked out, and put the small menu in front of me to make sure I knew that a grilled cheese was blasphemy in his restaurant. Billy and I looked at each other. I told him to go ahead and eat, it was fine. I would just have a Diet Coke. The man offered me french fries with just cheese, and I accepted.

I had no idea that we were dealing with Detroit's equivalent to the Soup Nazi.

Our food arrived within seconds, steaming hot, on small white plates that have had to be around since the 1950s. I was reminded of when my mom and I used to go to Sanders, another Detroit staple but one that is no longer around. My fries were crunchy, with a glob of cheese right in the center of the pile. As I reached for my fork and dug in, Billy tried a bite of his coney.

And proclaimed it delicious. He said the hot dog had a crunchy casing, which was perfect for a snap under the mounds of chili. The chili had a good tang, but he wished the bun would have been toasted. Billy also wished he would have not had said no onions. As for my fries, they had a good crunch as well, but they weren't anything exciting.

We ambled next door to American Coney Island, and walked into a whole different atmosphere. It is obvious American caters more to a family friendly experience. It is all bright colors, a bigger place, and they have more options on their menu, including Greek salad. We were told to grab a table by a young man in a paper hat, and our waitress came to the table to take our order. She was also young, a teenager or early twenties. Actually, looking around, the whole staff was young, while at Lafayette the staff was older. There were a couple of older gentleman at a counter that looked like it was maybe for staff only; everyone there was playing on their phones.

Look ketchup!

Billy again ordered coney dogs, this time two, with onions. He again asked about a grilled cheese for me. The girl said that they do have a version of a grilled cheese they could make for me, and I happily ordered it. I also ordered cheese fries again, just as a comparison, since I couldn't compare anything else.

The food again came quickly, thanks to the restaurant being empty except for us.

These coney dogs were mammoth, spilling over the sides of the small plates that were identical to Lafayette's. The fries were exactly the same as well, made with shredded cheese. The only difference between these fries and the fries next door were that these fries had way more cheese. This wasn't necessarily good, as it made the fries soggy. The grilled cheese was shredded cheese melted on a folded pita, which was grilled. It wasn't bad! It was way more than I could eat, considering I had just eaten fries, but I made sure I tried them both. 

Billy took his first bite. He ate them both, but he said that the coney dog at Lafayette was better than these powerhouses. He missed the crunch of the coney he had at Lafayette, and he said that the chili was better there as well. 

Our final decisions:

Billy: Bite for bite, coney against coney, the Lafayette Coney is the winner! It had a better texture and taste. 

Erin: My opinion is based on the fries - and it is a tie. 

The Breakdown:

Lafayette: The better coney. The overall experience left a little to be desired in my opinion, but you can't hold tradition against them. They do what they know, and they are good at it. I understood their reluctance to make something off menu, but I felt a little judged.

American: I appreciated their willingness to make a grilled cheese for me, and their more expansive menu. Billy did not like their coneys as much, so based solely on that, the Lafayette is the winner. The place is more family friendly. 

Overall Verdict:

If the coney is what matters most, the Lafayette is your restaurant. If you are looking for more of a restaurant, then choose the American.  

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