Johnstown Coney Island is the next stop on our Pennsylvania hot dog mini-tour, one that I almost left out after a 10-hour drive in the pouring rain. But driving out of the mountains in the fog and walking into this frozen-in-time, David Lynch-esque neon green and orange dining room I was glad I didn't miss it. Exactly what you would expect from an old-school "Coney" joint: a good dose of small town history mixed with a bit of weirdness and some terrific food.
Johnstown's Coney Island Lunch has been around since 1916, plastered with signs announcing the "Best Hot Dogs and Hamburgers in USA." The huge dining room was practically empty when we were there, but there was still a good amount of dogs grilling in the front window.
I had to try a cup of "Most Delicious Coffee" which was perfect with this type of Greek-chili hot dog that you might imagine eating with a newspaper and a cigarette at two o'clock in the morning to complete the rust belt atmosphere.
Johnstown Coney uses Berks brand beef and pork franks, lightly smoked and milder than most but pretty damn good for Pennsylvania and better than many we had on this trip. Topped with their signature smooth, mild coney sauce with a faint hint of Greek spices—not dry but not soupy either, so it rests neatly on top of the dog—along with mustard and onions chopped so fine they look like shaved ice.
With this type of seemingly simple dog, the onions can make or break the hot dog. Fresh and finely chopped, it's the perfect garnish, while big clumsy chunks of old onions can render a hot dog inedible. Onion quality is often good measure of how much care the cooks and owners put into what they're doing.
Also "famous" here is the Sundowner, a flat-grilled cheeseburger topped with tons of Coney sauce, mustard, a fried egg, and more of those shaved-ice onions on a light and fresh white bun. Pretty awesome and maybe the real reason to check this place out.
Along with the "Most Delicious Coffee," Johnstown features local dairy milk and iced teas as we've seen is the custom at many Pennslvania hot dog joints. Another bonus for this place is that everything is dirt cheap. Dogs are $1.75, the Sundowner is $2.50. And they are open until 4 a.m.
Only curious thing about Johnstown? No fries! Especially odd for an area where gravy fries are practically a mandatory hot dog accompaniment. Only side dishes are homemade baked beans and cole slaw.
Coney Island Lunch
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/.