This is a debate that has raged on for 100 years. Which establishment serves the better Coney Dog? First, a little insight....
For some reason, a lot of people think that Lafayette is the "original" Coney Island...but they're wrong. In fact, neither Lafayette nor American can hold that title. Todoroff’s Original Coney Island in Jackson, Michigan dates back to 1914, and from what I can gather was the FIRST EVER Coney Island Restaurant in America.
The following is from the Detroit Historical Society:
In 1917, Gust Keros, a Greek immigrant, opened American Coney Island on West Lafayette Street in downtown Detroit. A few years later, in 1924, he brought his brother Vasili "William" Keros to Detroit to help. Vasili opened Lafayette Coney Island when space opened up next door. The businesses have operated continuously in the same locations ever since.
So there you go. AMERICAN was actually around BEFORE Lafayette.
Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy recently visited both of the legendary Coney Islands in Downtown Detroit, and offered his take:
If you don't feel like watching an 18min video that could have been cut down to about 3min... I'll tell you that he chose American Coney Island as the winner.
A few interesting facts:
- American Coney Island is still owned by the Keros family. Grace Keros, and her brother Chris, are the current owners of American Coney Island... with Lafayette's ownership being transferred to the employees in 1991.
- Many experts say that Vasili Keros's (founder of Lafayette Coney Island) SON George is the one who perfected the chili recipe, and also made sure the hot dogs were perfect by working with an East Side Detroit sausage company in the late 1970's.
- American Coney Island says they still use the original chili recipe, specially seasoned natural casing hot-dogs, and perfected the "steamed bun" for the Coney Dog.
- Leo's and National Coney Island were started by the Keros' cousins! In a Detroit Free Press article from 2019, George's song William stated that they all immigrated to America from Greece, and were actually trained by his father George.
- Lafayette famously lacks a lamb casing in their dogs, which is what gives American (and a slew of other establishments) that famous "snap" when you bite in to the Coney Dog. (The hotdogs used in a Coney are typically 90% beef and 10% pork with a lamb casing)
- Atmosphere makes a difference. American claims they are cleaner than Lafayette (which anyone who has gone to both establishments can attest to) but does that matter? Something about the whole "not giving a F**k" makes Lafayette a little bit more special... no? If you've ever used the bathroom at Lafayette, I think you're immune to most disease including the Coronavirus.
So... which is the better Coney Island? Mark likes American. Chris prefers Lafayette. Some people prefer Leo's... Kirby.... or National. At the end of the day, does it really matter? If you enjoy it, then that's all that matter in the end. Deep down, we all love the rivalry between American and Lafayette, and hopefully both will be around for at least another 100 years so this friendly rivalry will continue.