“American or Lafayette?” is an age-old question in the city of Detroit. We love our Coney Island restaurants here, and American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island are two of the city’s oldest.
Until last month, I’d never eaten at either American or Lafayette Coney Island. I grew up on National Coney Island, feasting on its loose Coney burger, chili-cheese fries, lemon-rice soup, and Sanders Hot Fudge cream-puff sundae (a revelation!) through my childhood and teen years. But I’d never visited either of the iconic Coney restaurants perched next to each other on Lafayette Boulevard downtown until a Sunday afternoon in mid-August, when some friends and I initiated our own Coney Challenge.
I’m not sure if there are any official/generally agreed-upon rules to the Coney Challenge, the practice of engaging in back-to-back meals at American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island to decide which establishment’s Coney hot dog one prefers. I know this is what me and my friends did: we started our taste-testing at American.
Stepping into American Coney Island on that Sunday afternoon, I took in the dining room crowded with patrons. I immediately dug the aesthetics of the place. American Coney Island’s ambiance is, true to its name, characterized by the patriotic colors of red, white, and blue. There’s a retro feel to the place – not shocking considering American Coney Island is over 100 years old (it’s been in operation since 1917). Still, the black-and-white checkered floor, kitschy swag on the walls, and paper caps worn by the staff definitely harken back to another era, one where diners reigned supreme.
One thing that surprised me at American Coney Island was the size of its menu. Compared with the ample menus of other popular local Coney Island chains such as National and Leo’s Coney Island, American’s menu is pretty abbreviated. There’s the Coney dog plus fries (plain or topped with chili or cheese or both); a loose Coney burger; Greek salad and gyro and spinach pie (Coney Island staples!). There’s soup and a few desserts and a couple of other things, but American Coney Island appears to be sticking with what it sees as the essentials.
I was also surprised to see a bar counter toward the back of the American Coney Island dining room and to find out that it serves beer. I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, as I’ve always known National Coney Island to serve beer and wine – so why shouldn’t alcoholic beverages be a part of American Coney Island’s formula? It was cool to see Michigan-brewed craft beers being served alongside the iconic Coney dog.
Speaking of that Coney dog: it’s time for full disclosure around my part in the Coney Challenge. I didn’t eat a Coney dog at either American or Lafayette Coney Island, because I don’t like hot dogs. So at each place, I ordered instead my childhood-classic alternative to the Coney dog, the loose Coney burger (called Coney Loose Burger at American), which consists of spiced ground beef served in a hot dog bun and topped with chili, diced raw onions, and mustard. It’s essentially a Coney dog with ground beef subbed for the hot dog – and it’s DELICIOUS!
So at American Coney Island, I put in my order for my Coney Loose Burger; my friends put in their orders for their Coney dogs; and we got an order of chili fries to share. The food came out in a matter of minutes, in true Coney Island fashion.
The food was hot and fresh. I enjoyed the Coney Loose Burger with its rich chili, spicy beef, fresh raw onion, and zesty mustard. The fries were especially tasty: crisp on the outside yet soft on the inside, with that chili goodness slathered on them. MMMMM!
In my opinion, the meal at American Coney Island was a success. The ambiance was awesome; the service was fast; the food was delicious; and the bill was cheap (I am ALLLL about those Coney Island prices! Man, is it affordable at both American and Lafayette!).
To find out which restaurant won in my own personal Coney Challenge, look out for my next post, in which I’ll highlight American Coney Island’s neighbor, Lafayette Coney Island – and crown a champion!
114 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226