Lafayette Coney Island
Right after I crammed some 30 White Castle sliders into my greedy gob and got offered a job at a strip joint on Eight Mile, my pal Stephanie carted me off to Lafayette Coney Island for a Coney Dog or three. It is a matter of citywide pride that Detroit “does Coney Island better than Coney Island.” To a left-coaster such as myself, these words fall upon deaf ears, since I wasn’t even sure what exactly the dining draw to Coney Island was before this trip.
Loose hamburger and Coney dogs
Apparently it’s all about the dogs, and something called “loose hamburger” too. Not a day in the week since I’ve been home from Detroit goes by that I do not think of the phrase “loose hamburger” and wonder how I am going to describe it to you, and lo! Here is my moment. I mean, a girl like me receives a diction gem like “loose hamburger” and she’s just supposed to give it to you at literal face value? I think not! So what’ll it be, shall we go to the bedroom, the gutter, or the toilet with this one?
In an effort to be as magnanimous with my description of loose hamburgers as possible, I’ve decided to eviscerate this original recipe for said item Mad Libs style and make a haiku for you. I’ve selectively chosen words in chronological order out of the recipe to put together this little ditty which could very well overtake William Carlos Williams’ Red Wheelbarrow as the most beloved poem in all of history:
Loose love, loose burgers
French undiluted hot buns
Brown chunks, fine salt sauce
You adore it, don’t you? I didn’t even need to go all potty humor on you, and now you are feeling the loose hamburger love, I can tell! It turns out that Coney Island restaurants are Greek in origin. You coulda fooled me- I wouldn’t order a gyro in a place like this. In downtown Detroit there are two of the oldest (arguably the original) Coney Island restaurants right next to each other- one is called American Coney Island and the other Lafayette Coney Island. Word on the street goes that two brothers used to own one Coney restaurant and they got into a fight and separated into two. They both argued to the death over which was the “original” joint, and while I can’t answer that, I can say that most seasoned Detroiters view American Coney Island as a bit of a sham and instead invest all their crack rocks in the tinier, funkier Lafayette Coney Island instead.
I had a loose hamburger and a classic Coney dog (remember, this is after all that White Castle- I do all of this for you because, again, I am a giver- eatin’ for my peeps). I washed them down with Vernor’s Ginger Ale which is maddeningly common in Detroit. I learned after I had eaten my weight in weiners that the Coney chili that smothers the meat is made from beef hearts. No wonder I felt so badass afterward, not to mention had a decidedly un-anemic monthly visit from Aunt Flo.
After all that Coney-cavorting I needed a bit of a workout, so Stephanie carted me off to the Cadieux Café- home to America’s only feather bowling lanes. What? You’ve never heard of feather bowling? You’re not alone, trust me. The game originated in Belgium and it involves rolling pucks that look like cheese wheels down a slightly-beveled dirt lane at a feather sticking up at the other end. The team closest to the feather wins the points for that round, much like shuffleboard.
Feather bowling lane
If you’ve never seen grown men huck cheese wheels at a feather, you’d better buy a plane ticket to Detroit right now, because let me tell you, it is a sight to behold. They take it very seriously; there must be some law of inverse intensity when it comes to games- the frillier the purpose the more ruthlessly-intent the players. I plan to have feather bowling lanes in my mansion one day, but everyone who plays will be required to wear Elizabethan neck ruffs and nothing else. I will be the court photographer and I’m sure I’ll make millions from the sale of those images.
Detroit is experiencing an urban-agriculture movement like no other right now, and I had the pleasure of reaping some of the produce rewards of that at the Detroit Eastern Farmer’s Market. The grittiest market I’ve been to proved to be one of the most interesting.
Juxtaposed between Brussels sprouts and black walnuts were uber-local treasures like Mountain Dew Jelly (yes, made from Mountain Dew- I bought some, but I’m holding out for the Four Loco version), sassafras root, and whipped maple syrup the consistency of butter.
I saw roughly 20 pig heads- they seem to love pig heads in Detroit. I so wanted to toss a pig head in my suitcase along with my Louboutins so that I could sous vide it in the Mountain Dew Jelly for a Detroit-meets-SaltySeattle treat, but I resisted the urge. A kind market vendor was only too happy to saw off the more manageable pigs’ ears for me instead. I plan to use the sassafras root in my smoker, so expect sassafras bacon to crop up in these parts sometime soon.
We made a final food fandango in Detroit’s Polish ‘hood, Hamtramck. Actually, Hamtramck is a city within the greater city of Detroit- they have their own zipcode to prove it. Stephanie likens it to Vatican City in Rome, but that may be over-reaching a tad, although come to think of it, isn’t the Pope Polish? Anyway, we went to a very cleverly-named establishment called Polonia, well, us and Anthony Bourdain.
He filmed an episode of No Reservations there a while back which I learned because a framed plaque of him is on the front door. They are quite proud of their connection to Sir Bourdain (what? He’s been knighted by the food community, at least!). I feel they use it to rest on their laurels in terms of non-existent service, but hey, when Tony B graces your joint with a feature, you can spit pubic hairs from your girlfriend’s muff in the pierogies all you want and people will still eat them in droves, lapping up the grease on the floor with their tongues.
We started our Polish meal with a kiss. That’s right, there is a sign on the menu that states, “Ask me for a kiss,” and that kiss entitles you to a shot of cherry brandy for the steep price of $1.50.
Contemplating "the kiss"
I generally despise liquor and yet I found it oddly soothing. I would have had two had my dining companions not been so hungover and judgmental.
Reacting to "the kiss"
I ate something called Duck Soup which tastes like hot and sour soup gone terribly wrong. Then I followed it up with Beef Goulash and Potato Noodles.
The potato noodles turned out to be gnocchi-like but starchier and could very well have been made from some amalgam of potato flakes, water, and those pubic hairs I mentioned earlier. Stephanie had the City Chicken which was the sleeper hit of the meal. Care to hazard a guess as to what City Chicken is? Hint- it’s NOT chicken. It’s actually pork, sort of like a chicken-fried steak kind of a thing. It was really good, but then, beaten, battered and fried pork is pretty hard to fuck up, no?
After two days straight of eating everything in sight, I’d finally had my fill of Detroit dives, but I have every intention of returning to explore in greater depth the urban agriculture movement in the summer. I fell hard for Detroit; she’s kind of like one of those wallflowers you just know is pretty under her glasses, frizzy hair and freckles. In the past I’ve orchestrated makeover parties for girls like that- inviting five people over with the hidden intention of getting the one little pearl to come out of her oyster shell. I don’t know if I have enough lipstick and Whitestrips for the entire city of Detroit, but it sure would be fun trying. Motown needs another day on roller-skates swaying to the music while the disco lights of the entire country illuminate her hot ass as she shoots the duck with laughing abandon.