Hot Dog of the Week: Alligator Coney, Northern Kentucky
"I was surprised to like the Cincinnati Coney so much without the chili."
My quest for hot dogs recently brought me to the Cincinnati area where, walking off the plane, I was greeted by a ten-foot high photo of a Cheese Coney on the wall of a Gold Star franchise. Not wanting hastily-cranked-out airport food to ruin my first impression of the city's signature dog, I held out and wandered around northern Kentucky, finding a Hawaiian shave ice stand (closed), several gun shops, and finally a Dixie Chili.
Quiet country music filled the sleepy cafeteria-style dining room, in a weird region that's sort of a twilight zone between the South and Midwest. Maybe a little bit strange that my first real Cincinnati Coney was in Kentucky, but it was worth it to find this crazy Alligator hot dog.
The standard Cincinnati Coney is about four inches, only slightly bigger than the Troy NY Mini-Dogs but smaller than a Southern ten-per-pound hot dog, and covered with heavily spiced Cincinnati Chili. The Alligator ($1.59) starts with the same small pink hot dog, but it's covered in a massive pile of shredded neon yellow cheese, and instead of chili, a crisp pickle spear and plenty of mayonnaise. Sound weird? It was great.
One thing to get straight—if you've never been to Cincinnati, or read my previous posts on the city's hot dogs—a Coney here is absolutely nothing like the delicious natural casing dogs you find in Detroit and Michigan, or anything you would have ever eaten at Coney Island in Brooklyn. The actual hot dogs used for Cincinnati Coney's might be the blandest, most tasteless things I've ever eaten in my life. Blander than Southern hot dogs. Blander than the pale, cheap, useless hot dogs that fill every Philadelphia grocery store.
Really, in Cincinnati, the dogs are nothing more than a vehicle for that delicious, amazing chili. So I was surprised to like it so much without it. The crispy pickle spear made up for the lack of snap from the skinless hot dog. Add the mayonnaise and super soft bun and it was sort of like a really satisfying mayo-loaded cheap deli sandwich, with a hot dog on it. Some grill man's riff on a Chicago Dog that actually works.
Several days and many Coneys later, Dixie was still one of my favorites. They have three locations all in Northern Kentucky, and the company actually goes back to the 1930s, when founder Nicholas Sarakatsannis worked for legendary Cincy Chili parlor Empress before developing his own recipe and opening his own stand, spreading the Cincinnati-style down South.
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.