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Detroit Coney Dogs Go Hollywood

by Lisa Diggs

It's ten o'clock on a Sunday, and the regular crowd shuffles in.  There's a young man sitting next to me sipping Faygo instead of tonic and gin.  There's no piano man in sight, just plenty of people in Honolulu Blue glued to flatscreen TVs.  That's ten o'clock in the morning, by the way, a frequent start time for watching a Lions game when you live in sunny, southern California. 

They've been drawn together in this place out of a love not just for the Lions, but for Detroit. The magnet that has pulled them in is a tiny diner aptly named, Coney Dog in West Hollywood. It may be a long way from Woodward Ave to the Sunset Strip, but it appears there may be something Detroiters and Angelinos have in common...craving a decadent, Detroit-style, coney hot dog. 

The restaurant's location on Sunset Boulevard is ideal, amidst some infamous neighbors like Whiskey a Go Go, the Viper Room, the Roxy, and many other notorious staples of Hollywood nightlife.  As any Detroit coney owner will likely tell you, being near busy bars and staying open late, will definitely NOT hurt your business. The same is true here, where the owners say the weekday crowd is chiefly composed of native Angelinos with no real connection to Detroit, just a junk food craving. 

On the weekends, when sports are king, it's a different story.  This particular Sunday, it's the Lions that get most of the attention, but not just because they're having a good year.  It's because they ignite one of many fond memories that former Michiganders living in California have of their home state.  People are sharing tables with strangers, and high fiving the entire room when Calvin Johnson makes a spectacular catch.  The most common question isn't "What will you have?" it's "Where are you from?"  From servers to patrons, the answer often sounds familiar: Milford, Bloomfield, Ferndale, and of course Detroit.  There is a real midwestern camaraderie here, something that many say is a rare commodity in the town they now share.

The place is designed to demonstrate pride in Detroit and evoke memories of home.  The walls are adorned with photos taken by Michigan artists, some of whom have made it out there to see their work displayed.  The images feature Detroit teams and iconic sights like the Fox Theater, but at the end of the day, it's really about the food. 

If you've ever spent any time in Los Angeles or watched interviews with Hollywood celebs originally from Detroit, you've undoubtedly heard someone say, "L.A. needs a good coney place."  That was the inspiration for some Detroit ex-pats to launch Coney Dog.

Stand-up comic and transplanted Detroiter, Loni Love, has dropped in for a taste of the D.  She says, "It really is a hometown treat, but it doesn't beat the original."

Still, there is a reason it comes so close.  They are proudly serving products from Michigan.  One of the owners said that authenticity was incredibly important, but admitted it wasn't easy.  They originally wanted Better Made potato chips on the menu, for example, but it was cost prohibitive to ship them out.  Instead you'll find onion rings and fries.  On the other hand, they worked hard to open up new doors of distribution so that National coney chili is served over hot dogs from Winter's Sausage.  You can also get an ice cream sundae topped with Sanders hot fudge. 

Unfortunately their craft beer menu is devoid of Michigan brews, but paying homage to the hometown, Strohs is designated as the house beer.  Vernors (no longer made in Detroit) is also on the menu.  The gentleman next to me even topped his meal with an old fashioned Boston Cooler (incidentally named for a Detroit street, not that other city). Fortunately, there's no shortage of Faygo to wash down your meal. Orange, root beer, rock n' rye, grape, cream soda, and red pop are all in stock.

The prices are a little higher than what you'd find in any of our local coney joints, but patrons don't seem to mind.  It's still a cheaper meal than you'll find in most other establishments on the Sunset Strip, and they all agree, the temporary feeling of being "home" is priceless.


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