Recently I was in downtown Detroit checking out side-by-side rival hot dog stands Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island and knew I couldn't leave without making the drive north to sample Flint's unique version of the Coney—often overlooked, and proclaimed by some to be the superior, "original" Michigan hot dog. I was also surprised to find this bizarre version served on a hard taco shell.
Back in the late teens and early 1920s the streets of Flint were lined with Coney Islands—small, predominantly Greek-owned restaurants serving fast and cheap diner fare and hot dogs (aka Coneys) buried in meat sauce made with secret ingredients like beef hearts and ground up hot dogs. There are still plenty of Coney Islands in the area cranking out dogs, almost exclusively serving locally made Koegel's franks and Abbott's coney sauce.
Angelo's is a 24-hour diner that opened in 1949, setting themselves apart by serving their own Coney sauce rather than Abbott's. The hand-painted signs, comfortable booth seating and truck stop atmosphere was right up my alley. The dogs are Koegel's natural casing beef and pork Viennas, lightly grilled on a flat top griddle.
Conceptually the hard shell Coney really brings the whole "Greek-owned, Coney Island / Texas chili themed hot dog restaurant" gimmick full circle. The Koegel's dogs fit perfectly in the shell, the snap of the natural casing combined with the crunch of the taco creating an awesome texture. Along with the sauce and plenty of freshly diced onions, it makes sense in a taco-night comfort food sort of way.
What really sets Flint apart from other Coney-themed hot dog places in Detroit and across the country is the sauce. Detroit Coney sauce is wet, pouring off the sides of the dog and soaking into the bun; while Flint sauce is much dryer, more like a flavored loose meat, similar in texture to the Michigan Sauce served in Plattsburgh, New York.
Recipes in Flint are closely guarded secrets, with various establishments claiming to be in possession of the "original" recipe. Both Detroit and Flint sauce are made with varying quantities of beef hearts, imparting a deep, rich flavor with a hint of offal. Angelo's sauce is also rumored to contain ground up hot dogs. It's fairly mild, with none of the allspice and cinnamon flavors you find in Cincinnati chili and similar Greek hot dog sauces.
The hard shell Coney is an interesting take on the Flint Coney, but don't leave without trying the classic on a soft, warm bun. Everything is cheap here, no reason not to try it all, including their awesome smashed diner-style burger that's actually still pink in the middle.
Angelo's Coney Island
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/.