Coney Island – Downtown
One of the things I love most about food is the regional phenomenons. Growing up near Chicago, I can tell you that there is no more perfect sandwich anywhere in the world than the Italian beef. If you didn’t grow up in Chicago, you probably won’t agree with me on that. You’re going to get behind whatever is unique to the region you grew up in.
When we moved to Michigan seven years ago, I started looking for that regional food. What I found was the Coney Dog. I didn’t really jump on the Coney train because I’ve never liked hot dogs. I don’t remember why, but I have never been able to stomach hot dogs unless they were in corn dogs. Weird, right?
I didn’t really give Coney’s a shot at first, but a couple years ago, I was staying in downtown Detroit not far from Lafayette Coney Island. It was late at night and nothing else was open, so I thought it was time to give the Coney a shot.
Turns out, I actually liked it. It’s still not something I crave, but I did actually enjoy my Coney’s and I’m now no longer afraid of them.
Earlier this week, I was working solo in Kalamazoo and was waiting on instructions for my next assignment. I told my manager that I was going to grab dinner while I was waiting for instructions. My first instinct was to go grab a Jersey Giant Sub from the Portage Road location, but when I got there, they were closed. I then doubled back and thought I’d hit up Ray Ray’s Italian Beef, but they were also closed.
I headed back downtown not really knowing what I was going to do. As I was driving down Michigan Avenue, I realized there was a spot that I have driven past many times, but never really given consideration.
Coney Island has two restaurants in Kalamazoo. The downtown location is on Michigan Avenue near Edwards Street. It’s owned by the same people that own Ouzo’s Pub & European Grill right next door. The second location is in Westwood on West Main right next to Penn Station.
There was no parking on Michigan right in front of the store so I went around to Edwards Street where there is a parking lot. It looks like there is also an entrance to the restaurant from Bates Alley, but I went back around front to enter in the main doors.
The restaurant is set up with the kitchen and order area right up front when you enter. It has the feeling of an old tavern with hardwood floors and low lighting. The order process is kind of cafeteria style with a tray rail along the length of the kitchen area until you get to the cash register. The menu is above the grill area and consists mainly of burgers, hot dogs, and gyros.
I was actually in the mood for a burger, so I ordered Charbroiled Burger meal which comes with fries and a drink. I got the burger with just cheese on it although ordering it “deluxe” is also an option. I still wanted to try a Coney since Coney is actually in the name of the place, so I ordered a Coney Dog as well. The total cost came out to right around $10 before tip.
The guy working the grill said the burger would take about ten minutes, but he grabbed the dog for me right away. I grabbed my Coke and the dog and went to find a seat in the dining room.
I had asked for the Coney without onions, but it still came with onions. I just scraped as many of them as I could off the top and dug in. The more I eat Coney’s, the more I’m finding myself liking them. I’m still not an expert of the subtleties of the sauce, but I love the fine meat and very beefy flavor. The dog had a great snap to it when I bit in and the bun could barely contain everything. I ate that Coney faster than I’ve ever eaten a hot dog in my life. I’m not an expert on the different kinds of dogs or sauces, so it’s hard for me to compare this to anything else. I just know that I enjoyed it.
As I was finishing up the Coney, the cook came out with my burger and fries. I wasn’t expecting much from the burger, it looked pretty simple in the red plastic basket, but turns out, it was insanely delicious. The meat was very heavily seasoned and cooked perfectly with a thick, pink band in the center. The seasoning gave it a slightly salty taste that was actually quite amazing with the crispy burnt edges of the patty. It was served on a soft seeded bun with a slice of melted cheddar covering the whole burger. This is the kind of burger that I can crave. It’s so dang simple, yet so dang delicious.
The fries were just fries. Nothing extraordinary, but delicious with a little bit of extra salt from the salt shaker on the table.
Knowing what I know now, I’m kicking myself for waiting this long to give Coney Island a chance. The food was delicious and I wasn’t expecting that. I was really expecting just some average greasy spoon diner kind of fare, but what I got was pretty far from that.