Dog And Coney Show
Flint is home to the delectable coney dog — a meat covered hotdog-like local dish you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Perhaps the best way to characterize a Flint-style coney is to start with what it isn't: It's not simply a hotdog. It's not a chilidog.
A Flint-style coney is always made with a Koegel's Vienna sausage, which is produced by a local company that's been around since 1917. What makes this sausage special is its natural casing, also referred to as the "snappy skin," which pops audibly with a delicious burst of flavor when you bite into it. Further, traditional coneys are always grilled, never boiled or steamed. Coney connoisseurs are quick to point out that Flint-style coneys feature a dry meat sauce, reminiscent of chili, but still unlike the inferior wet sauce of the Detroit-style coney. The exact spices that go into that sauce differ in each restaurant and are closely guarded secrets.
Originally brought to Flint by Greek immigrants, the popularity of the iconic 'dog grew in step with Flint's automotive industry: In the Roaring '20s, Flint's Saginaw Street featured seven coney restaurants, oddly known as Coney Island restaurants, in a two-block span, many of which stayed open 24-hours a day to accommodate General Motors' shift workers.
When you're jonesing for a coney (and after that first bite, you will...often), Angelo's Coney Island (www.angelosconeyisland.com) is the first restaurant guidebooks will send you to. It has longevity on its side, having served up coneys since 1949.
The Koegel's Vienna is smothered in a light coney sauce — the ground beef is finely chopped and the resulting sauce smooth and savory. On top of it, a thick squirt of bright yellow mustard peeks through a pile of chopped raw onions. One juicy bite confirms that the Koegel's Vienna is truly a superior dog, especially when smothered in Angelo's richly beefy sauce — to which the mustard tang and fresh onion crunch add unrivaled texture and flavor.
According to owner Neil Helmkay, the 'dogs used in his coneys are special-ordered from Koegel's and are 18 percent larger than those sold in stores. Angelo's makes its own sauce fresh every day and guards the recipe like a dog guards its bone. "Our coney sauce is the best because it's made fresh every four to five hours, is an all meat sauce with no fillers, and because we have a secret way of processing the fresh chopped onions so that they're not too strong."
Tom Z's Flint Original Coney Island (401 W Court St; 810-768-0000) has been owned by Tom Zelevarovski for 16 years. "My coneys are the best because I use the very highest quality of cumin, paprika and chili powder. The rest of the spices are a secret," he says. The sauce here is lighter, a bit drier, more crumbly and chopped less finely than Angelo's, making for a more satisfying mouthful with each bite. The flavor is less like chili and more like juicy beef.
The Capitol Coney Island (G4021 Van Slyke Rd; 810-238-5961), owned by Nick Pirkovic, makes their coneys using a fan favorite, Abbott's Flint-style coney sauce — a Flint fave because it includes beef heart, which, though daunting for some, provides an extra-rich flavor. Then, they doctor it with their own blend of secret spices for a unique chili-like taste with a hint of garlic. And, according to Trisca Barrett, who has been a server for four years, "the reason our coneys are so good is that we let the sauce simmer slowly — for half a day — before serving it."
Which coney is best? It's impossible to say. But with over 20 Coney Island restaurants in the Flint area serving up their own special twists on this local treasure, there's bound to be one to please every palate.
We asked three locals to rate the 'dogs
"It's Tom Z's for me. Just the right mix of meat sauce, mustard and onions — compliments the dog, doesn't overwhelm it."- Bob Mabbitt
"Capitol Coney Island has the best coneys in Flint, hands down. It's the flavor — some secret spice that's hard to identify and hard to forget."- Norman Falconer
"There's nothing better than a dog from Angelo's Coney Island. They've got the best flavor and the best meat sauce, no contest."- Richard Cook