Written by Lee Devito — Photography by Alex Hoxie, Michelle Gerard & Chris Gerard
There are really only two types of people in Detroit: there are those who prefer to get their Coneys from American Coney Island, and then there are those who prefer to go next door to Lafayette Coney Island, instead.
If a rivalry exists today between the two restaurants, it’s because it’s part of their DNA. According to local lore, the family-owned American Coney Island got its start in 1917, when the current owner’s grandfather came over from Greece and started a hot dog cart. Things went gangbusters, and he was able to move his operations into the building that American occupies today. In 1924, he invited his brother over to teach him the business. Armed with culinary skills and business acumen, the brother wound up defecting and founding what would become Lafayette just one door over.
As for differences between the two, this writer admits his palate isn’t sophisticated enough to discern a difference. It could be less to do with the recipe (it’s hard to screw up a hot dog, chili, and onions — though in defense of American, they do own a chili-making factory in the city). American Coney Island is outwardly showier, occupying a long, bright red sliver of a building. Lafayette, on the other hand, is smaller, featuring an understated mint green and beige decor — though the Lafayette waiter Faisal is a local hero for his unmatched skill in balancing up to a dozen plates of Coneys.
It seems as if Detroiters are split 50-50 on the issue. Perhaps to escape political catastrophe, national food critic Anthony Bourdain avoided the great debate entirely by hitting up Duly’s Place Coney Island in Southwest Detroit.
5458 Vernor Hwy
American Coney Island / Lafayette Coney Island
114 W Lafayette Blvd / 118 W Lafayette Blvd
Michigan Coney Island
7506 Michigan Ave
Vernor Coney Island
4430 Vernor Hwy
Woodward Coney Island
616 Woodward Ave
The Boulevard Cafe & Coney Island
2808 W Grand Blvd