What Is It?

A pair of Flint-Style Coneys at Mega Coney Island in Fenton, using Abbott’s sauce and Koegel Coneys.

Some restaurants that serve the Flint-style coney are decidedly more popular than others. Certain restaurants might also have a group of local followers, or might be on an interstate or tourist travel route with visitors from out-of-town viewing it as a “destination”. A given restaurant might also make its own version of Simeon O. Brayan’s original sauce as developed by butcher Edward Abbott, giving it their own twists based on what they like given their own culture, history and taste buds.

What’s interesting is that no matter what changes cooks make to the Flint-style sauce or whether or not they want to call themselves “original”, there are two commercial ingredients that have always defined the Flint-style coney. Anything that’s termed “Flint-style” can somehow be traced back to those two truly original products.

It has to be noted that any recipe calling for beef kidney or ground hot dogs are not representative of Simeon O. Brayan’s original Flint Coney sauce. Neither of these ingredients are used in his product circa 1919. and such claims of any of those recipes being the “original” sauce recipe are patently false. Here’s why …

From the Products page on the Koegel Meats web site:

Item: Abbott’s Coney Sauce … Description: This is ‘Flint Style’ coney sauce base, manufactured by Abbott’s and distributed by Koegel … Ingredients: Beef Hearts, Beef, Water, Textured Vegetable Protein (Soy Flour, Caramel Color), Onions, Spices, Salt, Monosodium Glutamate, Sodium Nitrate, Garlic Powder, Sodium Erythorbate, Dextrose, Sugar, and Sodium Nitrite.

Item: Coneys … Description: This is a blend of pork, beef and our unique spices stuffed into a natural casing and then smoked using natural hardwoods. We change the ingredients just a little from our Viennas so that the product can be held on a grill for an extended period of time … Ingredients: Beef, Pork, Water, Salt, Spices, Sugar, Sodium Citrate, Dextrose, Sodium Diacetate, Nonfat Dry Milk, Sodium Eryhtorbate, Spice Extractives, Sodium Nitrite, Garlic, stuffed into lamb casing.

These two items are what make up a true Flint-style coney.

One thing I’m doing my best to correct, is peoples’ perception of what a Flint Coney really is. Ask anyone who’s been through town, grown up there recently, or seen recent news reports where to get a real Flint Coney and they’ll likely mention Angelo’s or Tom Z’s. In “Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America,” by Brice Kraig, he mentions Tom Z’s as one of the top ten places to get an “unusual” hot dog in the U.S.

But the simple fact is, it’s places that serve Abbott’s Original Coney Island Topping, shown in these pics, that are honestly serving the original Flint Coney. I’m suspecting two of these places are Mega Coney Island in Fenton, and the Palace Coney Island in the upstairs food court at Genesee Valley Shopping Center at Miller and Linden Roads. There are probably quite a few others, but I haven’t been able to check yet.

I’ve even taken to editing the Wikipedia page on the Flint Coney to ensure the information there is accurate. Part of what I’ve written there is this:

“Some assert that in order to be an ‘authentic’ Flint coney, the hot dog must be a Koegel coney and the sauce by Angelo’s, which opened in 1949. However, the sauce was originally developed by a Macedonian in 1919, Simeon O. (Sam) Brayan, for his Flint’s Original Coney Island restaurant. Brayan was the one who contracted with Koegel Meat Company to make the coney they still make today, also contracting with Abbott’s Meat to make the sauce. Abbott’s still makes Brayan’s 1919 sauce available to restaurants through the Koegel Meat Company.”

That original 1919 sauce is what’s shown in these photos. Welcome to the real Flint Coney.

I ordered this bag of Abbott’s Flint Coney sauce a few months back from Victoria Lynch at buykoegels.com. In ʺTwo to Go: A Short History of Flintʹs Coney Island Restaurantsʺ by Florine, Davison & Jaeger (2007, Genesee County Historical Society), Ed Abbott is quoted as saying, “The Abbott product has always been sold uncooked.” That explains the color difference between what’s in the bag in the first photo, and this couple spoonfuls of cooked sauce. Straight out of the bag you can tell the sauce is ground beef heart … that is, if you’ve ever seen ground beef heart before. As per Mr. Abbott in the same book from Genesee County Historical Society, “the only meat ingredient is beef heart, regardless of the stories and rumors of other meat parts being used.”

In August 2012 while driving through Genesee County on our way home from Traverse City, Mary and I stopped in at Mega Coney Island in Fenton, Michigan, just off I-75 at Owen Rd. I specifically ordered a couple of their Flint Coneys, shot the first photo on this page of the coneys on the table at the restaurant, and asked our server where the kitchen got the sauce. She told me the sauce came in on a truck from Koegel’s. Looking at that photo, and the ones posted here of Abbott’s original sauce, it’s easy to see they’re the same thing, the same texture of ground beef heart cooked almost exactly the same way. Mega is one of our regular stops when traveling I-75 through Genesee County, and will continue to be one of our faves, if only because I don’t then have to cook the Flint Coneys myself to enjoy them.

As it’s based off an organ meat, the sauce by itself has a bit of a livery flavor to it, mixed with the flavor of a nice sirloin. It can be a bit off-putting to people who don’t care for beef heart and other offal. Mary did try the cooked sauce off a teaspoon and elected not to have any of the sauce on her hot dogs. As I’ve written below, it stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. I’ve been enjoying Flint Coneys since I was seven or eight, also having head cheese and other things people might see as “novel” or “bizarre”. I feel it’s a shame some of these flavors are falling out of favor, and really like hearing of places who are putting more “real food” out there for folks to enjoy.

After enjoying these two coneys I had to have Ryan make me a third. I’d missed that ridiculously-good flavor that much. I only cooked up two of the four pounds of sauce in the bag, putting the rest back in the freezer for later. But between John (a former Marine), Ryan (a high-school swimmer), myself and a twelve-pound Pomeranian named Samwise Gamgee (his dad’s name was Frodo), we finished off that two pounds of sauce on about 12 Viennas.

A Word About Food Favorites

Arguing about regional, or even personal, food favorites of any kind is quite honestly a complete waste of time and energy. It stands to reason that you will like the foods you grew up with. Regional, cultural, religious and family-specific preferences will always be a factor in what kind of foods you will enjoy or even prefer. In early 2012 journalists from MLive put together what they called the Michigan Coney Dog Project, resulting in what they determined to be Michigan’s Top 10 Coney Dogs. That they put the Flint Style Coney further down on the list (at position #4) than the Detroit Style Coney (at positions #1 and #2) is not at all surprising since only one of their members is from Flint. That “Coney Detroit” co-author Joe Grimm was along for the ride is even more telling as a partial reason for those results. And a brief look at the more-than 75 comments below that article will show proof of liking what you grew up with.

The arguments in those comments regarding who was first in coney development is interesting. The Jackson Style was supposedly in 1914, the Detroit Style was somewhere between 1914 and 1917, and the Flint Style was in 1919. Whether or not those people even knew what the others were doing or how they were doing it will never be known, making any argument relatively pointless. The simple fact that these developments occured within 100 miles of each other is what matters, as it puts the development of the Coney itself squarely in southeastern Michigan. That’s something to be proud of.

There are also too many other hot dog styles to count. Wikipedia’s page on hot dog variations lists probably close to 100 variations across the U.S. and around the world. We know from a quick glance that’s not a complete list: Nothing is listed for Hawaii, where the Puka Dog is a popular favorite on Kauai. But the Puka Dog, it appears, is also strikingly similar to the “párek v rohlíku” in the Czech Republic.

If you’re from Detroit, you might like American or Lafayette Detroit Style coneys, while thinking a friend who likes Flint and Jackson styles is crazy. A person standing by from Chicago will tell them they’re both nuts, while the Hawaiian resident and the West Virginian will be arguing Puka vs. Sam’s Hot Dog for an hour. Similarly though, a person from the deep south will avoid Zehnder’s fried chicken like the plague since it “will never be like my mama’s”, Chesapeake Bay crab lovers will always be at odds with those who love Bering Sea ophelia, and a new Chinese visitor to the U.S. will always have a difficult time figuring out why a so-called Chinese restaurant serves that incredibly popular General Tso’s thing he’s never heard of.

Being an adventurous eater means not only being more accepting of flavors and textures outside your comfort zone, and being willing to try them, but also acknowledging our differences in food likes and dislikes, celebrating those differences even though we may not agree for whatever reason. Saying a town “Doesn’t know how to do a hot dog” isn’t true. They don’t do your hot dog. They do theirs just fine. When you’re in their town, you’re actually the one who’s nuts. So try theirs. And remember to keep your mind and your taste buds open.