Tuesday, February 17, 2015

American v. Lafayette: Battle of the Detroit Coney Islands

January was full-on Detroit month for Brad and me. We spent at least three consecutive Saturdays in the motor city, partly because of the car show, partly because we wanted to see some new sites, and very much because we enjoy food. And what is the most Detroit-y food you can think of? That's right (I'll go ahead and answer for you)--coneys.

So, there's this "battle of the coneys" going on in Detroit, and it's been happening since the early 1900s. Rumor (history) has it that two restaurants have been competing for nearly 100 years, and everyone and their mothers seem to have a favorite. So, who's right? I had to put my investigative skills to work.

American Coney Island

Wading In Big Shoes - Battle of the Coney Islands: American v. Lafayette
The first. The original. Numero uno. Opened in 1917 by Greek immigrant Constantine "Gust" Keros, this coney is one of the oldest businesses in Detroit and the first coney island in the city. A couple years ago, the restaurant expanded to include a Las Vegas location, but that hasn't stopped the original from remaining true to its roots. The ever-popular, natural-casing hot dog with secret recipe chili, mustard, and onions is a Detroit staple that continues to attract locals and visitors to this day.

What's it like to actually visit American Coney Island? Not too shabby, actually. Walking into the building, Brad and I found ourselves inside a roomy, red-white-and-blue piece of Americana. There were plenty of places to sit on that early Saturday afternoon, and while we waited a few minutes for someone to come by, our waitress was super friendly and our food came out quickly. Best part--the coneys and french fries were simple, but really, really good. If you know me, you know I don't usually like hot dogs that "snap"...but I think this Detroit-style dog is starting to grow on me.

Lafayette Coney Island

Wading In Big Shoes - Battle of the Coney Islands: American v. Lafayette
To be impartial, we of course had to follow up with American's next door neighbor, Lafayette Coney Island (opened shortly after American Coney Island by Gust Keros' brother). We got our chance after the car show the following weekend, and despite the tiny, crowded restaurant, I was hopeful that we were in for a treat. After all, isn't that a point of a dive/hole-in-the-wall/sketchy-looking-place that stays in business for years? It's usually because the food is really, really good.

So, we walk in, claim a table (tiny table, tiny space...I get that, it's cool). I look on the table for a menu, see a plastic display thingy that I think is the menu, then realize it's just an ad. Which is good, because there are lots of fingerprints and other things caked on the plastic frame, and I am very happy to not touch it if I don't have to. A few minutes later, our waiter comes over with two glasses of water, his hands on the part of the glass we're supposed to drink out of. His hands are very hairy. I know right away I will be asking for a straw as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

When Brad tells our waiter we haven't been here before and we don't know what's on the menu, the waiter flips around the ad thing I'm afraid to touch, and behold!--there's the menu after all. Good thing I can read from across the table.

After we order, I take in my surroundings. There are crumpled napkins and food on the floor by my feet. The ketchup bottle is caked in dried ketchup and grease. Meanwhile, a woman asks where the restroom is, and she and her child disappear somewhere behind the kitchen. At this point, I'm starting to wonder how health inspections work.

I will say, however--the camaraderie that this place fosters is pretty impressive. There's a large table near the back packed with people, and they're Skyping with someone and laughing and seem to be having a really good time. And the waiters--some are rough around the edges, while others are quick with a smile. But all are quick to serve and obviously very work-oriented. Thumbs up for this.

The food comes, and yay! Coneys and fries. I take a bite.

In my opinion, the coney honestly doesn't taste much different than the ones served up at American Coney Island. The Lafayette version, however, almost tastes like it's boiled . . . plumper and not as crispy as the coneys at American.

Suddenly, the unthinkable happens. Almost in slow motion, Brad knocks over the ketchup bottle . . . right onto my french fries.


Let's see if I can find the right emoticon for this situation. I think this will suffice:    D-'X   (That's me weeping.)

Brad, who is probably more grossed out than I am, responds with the grand gesture of offering his unmarred fries to me. Maybe I'm caught up in how hilarious the whole situation is, but I just throw away the fries in the line of attack and eat the ones on my plate that (I hope) are untouched. It's possible that I now have a case of the Lafayette Ketchup Cooties, but after a few weeks, I'm still able to function fairly well . . . so we'll consider this decision a success.

Conclusion: The Better Coney

Okay, so my decision is probably pretty obvious. If you didn't pick American Coney Island, please scroll back to the top of this post and read it again. Article skimmer.

Verdict: for flavor, atmosphere, friendly service, and a claim that you tried Detroit's oldest coney establishment, I recommend visiting American Coney Island. If you like a grittier atmosphere that feels more exclusive (mostly based on limited space), feel free to check out Lafayette Coney Island. It wasn't my favorite, but so many Detroiters refuse to eat coneys anywhere else.

Have you visited one or both of Detroit's most famous coney island restaurants? Which is your favorite? Let me know why in the comments!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

House Update: IKEA Hacks And My Inability To Let Go Of Christmas

Wading In Big Shoes-House Update
Around here, we're tearing up the house to make it our own. Okay, Brad is doing most of the cool stuff (building things, cutting holes into walls), but I assist where I can . . . like telling him when picture frames are crooked or level . . . or slapping paint samples onto the wall. Okay, that photo above was actually taken a couple of months ago, but to be fair--we are horrible at choosing paint colors and are still trying to decide between two very similar shades of turquoise. Teal. Green. Whatever that color is. Either way, I'm about to draw a paint chip out of hat because I've resolved to get rid of that hideous pink-tan color once and for all this weekend.

In other news, does anyone else still have their Christmas tree up? Because we got ours late in the season and were traveling during part of that time, I put a ban on throwing it out just yet. It might sound crazy, but the tree adds so much coziness to the living room when we're sitting around, drinking tea that tastes like Big Red gum and watching Downton Abbey on Sunday nights. Oh, did I tell you I'm drinking tea now? Not really, but I did on Sunday because I really just wanted to feel like Lady Rose.
Wading In Big Shoes-House Update
Our tree, still hanging out in the living room.
Got this ornament from my grandparents as a reminder that WE HAVE A HOUSE!Wading In Big Shoes-House Update
Some slightly more permanent decor is going up, too . . . slowly, but surely. Check out this awesome Detroit skyline print Brad got me for Christmas! I've had my eye on it for a couple of years, and now it's hanging on a wall in our sitting room. The colors are perfect, because they basically go with anything in the world. That's great for us, because I tend to think in individual (read: mismatched) pieces, not entire rooms (I'm aware that I need to work on that).Wading In Big Shoes-House Update
Another project that's in the works is a sweet set of "built-in" bookcases that Brad's putting together. It's an IKEA hack that should turn out to be pretty impressive-looking . . . and it won't require the ridiculous price tag that's typical of most built-ins. The photo above shows what the shelves look like right now. A lot still has to happen between now and the finished product, but I will be back with more updates. And no, that eagle is not staying there (unless you like the eagle, then let me know in the comments).

Another project on the agenda: we're collecting coffee sleeves from Michigan coffee shops to display in our kitchen. So far, we have one from MadCap Coffee (Grand Rapids) and a couple from Roasting Plant (Detroit). Next, I'm hoping to make a trip to Great Lakes Coffee. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

MIA: Holiday Highlights Edition

Hey, there! Long time, no see. As usual, early winter breaks into a bit of a chaos around here with the holiday season and readjusting to real life once the celebrations are over. Here are some highlights of our cold-weather season (hopefully it won't last half a year again!) so far:

We Prepped For Christmas At The Eastern Market
Until this Christmas, I'd never had a real evergreen wreath to hang on my front door. Hearing nothing but good things about the Eastern Market's Holiday Market, I figured that a locally-made wreath would be the best place to start. And guess what? I love it (duh). It's still hanging on my front door, and somehow, the continual frigidness of the past few weeks has sustained its color.

We Figured Out Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
Sanders--have you heard of this stuff? Sanders chocolate is all the rage in southeastern Michigan (and probably the rest of the world by now). Detroiters can't eat an ice cream sundae without this brand's iconic hot fudge. Well, I visited the source (factory) directly and I've gotta say . . . the fans are not crazy. Read more about my take on the candy company by clicking here.

We Hosted Our First House Party(!!!!!)
Thirty-five people in one house? Bring it! Turns out, the best way to host your first real party is to just jump in and invite the whole neighborhood (or in this case, the whole youth group). Brad put together some snazzy decorations, while I cranked out about 57 billion pounds of taco fixings. Throw in some fun games (courtesy of our fellow youth leaders), and it turned out awesome. Plus, Brad and I now get to eat leftover tacos for approximately the rest of our lives.

We Enjoyed Good Food and Entertainment at the Eagle Tavern Holiday Nights Dinner
Holiday Nights is my absolute favorite event at Greenfield Village--but before this year, I'd never visited the Eagle Tavern Dinner! Of course, I had to remedy that mistake this year (You can read more about the event here).

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Celebrating Christmas with family is always the highlight of winter for me. If I had to change one thing though, it would be to not enter the holiday season already exhausted. This was an eye-opener for me and a lesson to keep my eyes on what's most important during the Christmas season (hint: it's not making sure you've completed your shopping list before Christmas Eve!).

Currently: It's Cold Again!
Deja vu, guys. The winter boots are out, and I've started carrying extra shoes (indoor/outdoor) with me to work every day. In reality, it feels like winter never really left last year . . . instead, it took a little break to help us get a hold on things (and maybe to get some fresh air and sunshine before we all went completely mad).

Anyway, I've been using this "opportunity" to preoccupy myself with lots of indoor activities: Writing for the Awesome Mitten, visiting Pewabic Pottery (new post arriving tomorrow on www.awesomemitten.com!), buying cool stuff on Etsy, and watching Brad tear up lots of things in our house to make them look even better (pictures to come). Long story short: we're really re-establishing our lifelong relationship with IKEA these days.

So . . . what have you guys been up to? And what would you like to see me write about next? Tell me in the comments below!
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