My Old Kentucky Homesite

Whose Famous What?!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/21/2009

OK, all you New Yawkers take a deep breath, because you won’t believe this.

So I was driving in Lexington today, and I passed a restaurant called Detroit’s Famous Coney Island. I was not tempted to stop and try it, though, because I’ve eaten quite a number of times at Coney Island itself, and I can’t see any reason that someone other than a gastroenterologist would want to import that experience.

I might have considered sampling a restaurant called Coney Island’s Famous Detroit, but what would they serve there? Cars in buns? How about Lexington’s Famous Coney Island? Obviously: Horsemeat and kraut.

By Googling, I found out that hot dogs in Michigan are frequently referred to as “coney dogs.” They’re usually served with a meat-laden sauce, which to me seems like gilding the piccalilli. Further research revealed that the custom has not spread across the border to Ontario, so what’s sauce for the Canada Goose is not necessarily sauce for the Michigander, and vice versa.

By extension from “coney dog,” the term “coney island” is any Michigan greasy-spoon joint specializing in franks, burgers, french fries, onion rings, maybe fried fish, and other assorted Prilosec-friendly foods. I found Web sites for George’s Famous Coney Island, Johnny’s Famous Coney Island, and Angelo’s Famous Coney Island, as well as the American Coney Island, which, actually being famous, doesn’t need to include that word in its title. The American’s Internet page lists the names of about twenty celebrities who have eaten there, a fact that would have been more impressive if I had heard of at least ten of them. I’m guessing that the unfamiliar folks are probably sports stars or local politicians. Maybe both.

In any case, to return to Kentucky: I’m going to keep my eyes open for other Lexington restaurants with either “New York” or one of its venues in their names. In my last post, I mentioned Stanley J’s New York Style Deli (the name of which, because of the word “style,” is commendably honest), but there’s also Giacomo’s New York Delicatessen and the Brooklyn Sports Grill & Pizzria (that’s not a typo). I’ll now be on the lookout for eateries with other boroughs or New York City landmarks in their titles, but a quick peek through the phone book portends that I’ll have no luck. We do have a street named Broadway here, so that word wouldn’t count, even if there were a restaurant that used it, which there isn’t.

Of course, not to be too one-sided, I feel compelled to point out that there’s the Lexington Candy Shop in Manhattan, statues of jockeys in front of the 21 Club, and nearly fifty restaurants throughout the city that are called “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

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7 Responses to “Whose Famous What?!”

  1. srsny said

    Have you done any research on the apparent connection between the “coney island” of Michigan and Nathan’s Hot Dogs of Coney Island. I’m guessing the Michgan Hot Dogs got their name in a similar manner to the way we were able to have Band Aids in the Bronx (and everywhere else).

  2. Srsny:

    Nathan’s opened in 1916, around the same time as American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, which were established next-door to one another in Detroit sometime during the 19-teens by competing Greek brothers. Apparently, both joints are still flourishing. Different unreliable sources give varying dates for the openings of the Michigan restaurants, but it’s unlikely that they “stole” their idea directly from Nathan Handwerker.

    However, hot dogs had been sold at Coney Island for decades before any of those places saw the light of day. So the Michigan businesses obviously took their cue from the beachfront popularity of those tasty Vienna sausages on a bun. The treats were jokingly called “hot dogs” by the Brooklyn public because many people were dubious about the origins of the main ingredient.

    But in any case, who ever heard of meat goop being poured onto a Nathan’s hot dog? When you and I were kids, chili dogs were unheard of in the New York City area. In fact, we even had to add our own mustard and sauerkraut. Don’t you remember those long dowel-like shmearing sticks that stood in the gigantic mustard jars? As far as I’m concerned, mustard and kraut are still the only acceptable accompaniments to a frankfurter. Meat sauce is for spaghetti.

    I don’t get your Band-Aid reference. According to Wikipedia — and who knows better? — the Band-Aid was never generic. Nor does it use a specific geographical location in its name. (We don’t call it a New Jersey Band-Aid, do we?)

  3. srsny said

    My Band-Aid reference was meant, just as a Kleenex reference might have been, to allude to a proper noun taking the place of a common noun, and, in some cases, supplanting the original meaning– Band-Aid(plastic strips), Kleenex (tissues), coney Island (frankfurters) — oops Frankfurters did that too, didn’t they?

  4. Srsny:

    “Band-Aid” and “Kleenex” were capitalized brand names that became synonymous with the generic items of which they were specific examples. That happened with “aspirin,” too. In parts of Kentucky, any soft drink with bubbles is referred to as a “Coke,” regardless of its flavor or company of origin.

    Sometimes, those synonyms disappear when the items to which they refer become obsolete: Frigidaire and Victrola spring to mind.

    But Coney Island is capitalized because it’s the name of a place, not a brand of eatery. Its use in Michigan is a toponym, as are “bedlam,” tuxedo,” and “bikini.” I’m assuming that the latter two would be acceptable in a Detroit Coney Island. However, the first in the series would probably be frowned upon.

    You’re right about “frankfurter,” of course. But I’d rather have a hamburger with cheddar and a glass of pilsner. Hold the brussels sprouts, please.

  5. Evie said

    I agree that mustard and kraut are great on hot dogs, but I also love chili dogs (meat sauce, hold the beans, for Pete’s sake) with cheese and onions.

  6. Evie:

    I just don’t get chili dogs at all. The chili doesn’t enhance the hot dog, and the hot dog doesn’t enchance the chili. Why not just add marshmallows and anchovies, too?

  7. Kenny said

    Who are you to judge. You are obviously someone who has nothing better to do buy unjustly judge others. Detroits Coney Island in Lexington ky actually has excellent food. You are probably just use to the rat served in New York. “New Yawker’s” REALLY should be judging others!

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