We found a local delicacy in Las Vegas – a Detroit food delicacy – the coney dog. There is a hotel/casino in downtown Las Vegas that has a lot of connection to Detroit – The D. The D was previously known as Fitzgerald's which was owned by a Detroiter named Don Barden. Don was a Detroit entrepreneur who got in on the ground floor of cable television. At one time the cable system in our Detroit suburb was Barden Cablevision. He then won the cable franchise to wire the entire city of Detroit. Don then got the casino bug and was awarded one of the franchises to build casinos in Gary, Indiana. When Detroit was authorized to award three casino franchises for the city, Don was the highest profile bidder in the process, but wasn’t awarded one of the franchises. Later Don came up with a very highly publicized plan to build a billion dollar Detroit casino and theme park in partnership with Michael Jackson, if only if a fourth Detroit casino license would be issued. That proposal that was rejected despite its huge hype. In 2001 he bought Fitzgerald’s and became the first black casino owner in Las Vegas.
Two brothers and Detroit area industrialists bought Fitzgerald’s from Don Barden’s estate. They remodeled it and renamed it The D. The “D” is believed to stand for some combination of downtown, Detroit, and the nickname of one of the owners.
Now, back to the coney dogs. They are not a Coney Island, New York creation. They are a creation of Greek immigrants to Michigan. This version of the hot dog is one that employs a hot dog or mild sausage in a natural casing for a bit of a crunch when you bite into it. It is topped with a slightly spicy beanless chili and then further topped with chopped raw sweet onions and mustard and served in a steamed warm bun. It has been a local delicacy of Detroit since the early 1900s when a Greek immigrant started selling them on the city streets of Detroit. He then opened a restaurant, American Coney Island. He helped his brother immigrate into the US and his brother then opened a Coney Island right next door, Lafayette Coney Island, which used a different hot dog and chili. Ever since there has been the ongoing battle among Detroiters as to which coney dog is the best. And it has been the subject of many a TV food show as well. It is to Detroit what the cheese steak wars of Gino’s and Pat’s are to Philadelphia.
Well, the Detroit-area owners of The D in Las Vegas wanted a true taste of Detroit in their casino. They invited American Coney Island to open in their casino. The restaurant opens right on to Fremont street our the front of The D. You don’t have to pass into the casino to enter the restaurant. Of course there is an entryway from the restaurant into the casino. The Las Vegas store now sells more conies a day than the original in Detroit. Shown below is the storefront in Las Vegas and our order of two coney dogs and a side of chili fries – a wonderful taste of Detroit in Las Vegas.
Now I am more than a bit of an aficionado of coney dogs. My first job at the age of 15 was as a server in a coney island restaurant. So which coney is the best – American or Lafayette? NEITHER, it has to be Senate Coney Island the place where I worked. They have the best no-bean chili for a coney dog I have ever eaten. And they have multiple locations about the Detroit area.