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History of the Flint Style Coney: On Hold

April 13, 2015 – We’re a tad frustrated. The Genesee County Historical Society published “Two to Go: A Short History of Flint’s Coney Island Restaurants”. We’ve been working on an updated version of the history of the Flint Coney Island for a year or more and currently have a 92-page draft that’s mostly text. However, at this point it’s been quite some time since we’ve heard back from the Society, and frankly we’re rather confused.

Back on Oct 15, 2014, I’d emailed Society President David White about updating “Two to Go” and he replied as follows: “The Historical Society has talked recently about a reprint with an upgrade in quality. There was not a discussion about enlarging the book but I think if there is additional information and/or pictures available that might be possible … Anything in particular you would like to see added?”

Not to put to fine a point on it, some of the information in “Two to Go” is incorrect, along with being incomplete. For example:

Flint Original Coney is listed in five locations giving different dates:

  • Page 3: Sam “… one of the three Macedonians who opened Flint’s original in 1919 …”
  • Page 8: “Flint had seven shoe shine parlors and one coney restaurant in 1919. This was owned by George Brown who previously owned a sheep ranch in Montana. In 1924, Brown took in partners and changed the name from Country Restaurant to Flint Original Coney Island.”
  • Page 10: “1919 – 1924 George Brown Rest.; 1926 – 1979 Flint Coney Island Rest.”
  • Page 20: “1922 – 1924 George Brown Rest.; 1926 – 1979 Flint Coney Island Rest.”
  • Page 21: “Flint Original Coney Island 1919 – 1979″

Most of these dates can’t be accurate anyway as Brayan lived in Canada until 1921, and hadn’t even considered a thing called a coney until at least that year.

There’s other inaccurate information as well, such as:

  • The founder is listed as Simeon O. Brayan, but was instead Simion Petcieff Brayan.
  • Moffett Food Service on pages 7 and 8 couldn’t be a current supplier as described as they’re no longer operating.
  • The Tastee bakery in Detroit isn’t the current bun supplier as mentioned on page 8, rather it’s Mr. Bread on Davison Rd. (Mlive has a photo.)
  • “Flint’s Original Old Greek Coney Island Sauce” mentioned on page 17 as a current product is no longer available, with the trademark expiring in 1990.
  • The title itself, “Two to Go” is inaccurate as the call was “Two Up!”

The history in the Society’s book stops in 2002. A lot has happened in the past 12 years alone, including Halo Burger adding the Flint Coney to their menus, more happening with Angelo’s own history, their expansions and their currently looking to be sold, pro basketball player Marty Embry releasing his own Flint Coney spice mix before opening his “51 To Go” restaurant in 2013, and Tom Z. finding and using Brayan’s original sign in front of his restaurant.

I emailed again a month later. Peggy Lawrence replied on Nov. 25, 2014: “I appreciate your hard work and enthusiasm. We will begin working on the coney book after the first of the year. We should be more prepared to move forward at that time.”

I tried again in February 2015 and David White replied on the 19th: “The Society would like to be involved but would want a little more prominence on the Title page as our original interviews with the Coney founders seem to have been taken over by a whole new title and authors. The board was impressed with all you have put together and challenged me to make sure what you have written is correct. I must admit I have looked the project over and have found nothing glaringly wrong from what I know but will take some time to reread it. I still have most of the photos from the first book. Keep up the great work, its looking good.”

There’s been nothing since. I’m beginning to wonder if the Society is actually interested.

The current project has been a massive undertaking. There are three chapters. Chapter one brings historical context into the arrival of the three major player, Koegel, Abbott and Brayan, to Flint, including the horrifying reasons Brayan left Greece in the first place and what he was doing in Rochester, New York. Chapter two is the lifeblood of the story, and continues through Brayan’s rather long life. Chapter three then continues the story as the Flint Coney’s restaurants spread to as far away as Minnesota and Florida, along with insights from new interviews with Marty Embry and David Gillie. A recipes chapter goes back to the Macedonian goulash the sauce was based on, and historical context for the fake sauce recipe containing ground hot dogs. Also included is the map at the top of this page, which corrects and combines two maps in “Two to Go”, a complete nationwide restaurant listing, a detailed FAQ, and a detailed bibliography for the work.

The silence is the source of our frustration. The Society has been sent two drafts of the work, but not the current one. Except for what David White is quoted as saying above, there has been no further mention of how the project has been developing or the current content, timeline information, historical references, etc. The book is rather complete now with a short “To Do” list.

But since February, there is once again … Silence.

David White had mentioned that he has the images from the older book. That was the last we heard from them.

Consequently, the project is currently on hold, through no fault of our own. We’re hoping communication picks up again soon.

The Realities of the Current Minimum Wage Issues


A look at our version of the circa-1800s Macedonian Goulash the Flint Coney sauce was developed from. Click the image for our recipe.

Just to be clear, if you want to republish this or any part of it, let me know via comments. We can discuss it.

In their current arguments against current reports of people protesting for a $15/hour minimum wage, opponents make such claims as “Fast food was never meant to provide a ‘living wage'”, “Increasing wages will increase the costs of what I pay for”, and “Those people don’t work as hard as I do/aren’t educated like I am, and don’t deserve it.”

The realities are vastly different than these claims.

As to the first claim, “Fast food was never meant to provide a ‘living wage'”, in 1929 the Flint Chamber of Commerce published a small pamphlet, “Progressive Flint”, which set out specific indicators of what had happened economically in the city since 1910. According to the pamphlet, the population of Flint in 1910 was 38,550 and had grown to 148,800 by 1928, with an estimate of 163,000 by 1930. General Motors had been founded in 1908 and its growth through those years had been rather extreme. The average annual factory wage for Michigan’s eleven largest cities was $1,450, but in Flint that average wage was $1,780.

The small volume didn’t mention restaurants, but there was a detailed paragraph that broke down the more than 1,700 retailers in Flint at the time. The list included 504 grocers and 32 meat markets. Two of those meat markets would have been Koegel’s and Abbott’s Meat. At the time of the pamphlet’s publication there was one coney shop, Flint Coney Island.

From the beginning Flint Coney Island was constantly open, twenty-four hours each day, seven days every week. Grill cooks and waiters worked the same hours as sailors on a ship, twelve hours every day, with no days off. At the time the railroad ran just south of the Flint River, within walking distance of the restaurant, so passengers and railroad workers alike discovered the Flint Coney Island as a quick place for a good meal.

According to “To To Go”, a Flint oney history pamplet published by the Genesee County Historical Society in 2007, the restaurant workers’ meals were paid, their room was taken care of, and they received $21 each week. If one follows the math on the rate of pay, that’s an annual pay of $1,092, or 60% of what the factory workers were making in Flint, and as much as 75% of what other factory workers were making across the state. If you include the room and board, those wages are even better than they first appear. Theirs were rather good wages, far better percentage-wise than the wages of the “fast food” workers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The issue here is that other workers have lobbied for better wages, sometimes violently, and have succeeded … while those workers currently lobbying for a $15/hour minimum wage are instead being oppressed. How ridiculous, how repulsive, is this situation? Why are the protests from other workers alright but not this one? There is no logical, sensible explanation.

The past century has not been good to minimum wage workers. It’s not their fault. But they’re the ones getting ridiculously punished for it.

Regarding the second claim, “Increasing wages will increase the costs of what I pay for”, you’re being greedy, and so are employers, corporations, and middle-men. That’s all there is to it.

Let’s look at some numbers … in “How to Price your Restaurant Menu“, Lorri Mealey of About.com gives the equation for calculating prices from food costs using the industry standard of 35% markup. But here’s the catch: Labor is not calculated as part of the food cost before the markup. What this means is that labor is stripped right off the profit margin, however low that might be. This is particularly troublesome for dishes where the labor cost might be higher due to more intensive prep work.

In the article “Cheat Sheet: Retail Markup on Common Items” by Kentin Waits on WiseBread we see that the markups for many items are much higher than for foodservice … clothing and shoes at least 100%, furniture and medicines upwards of 200%, eyeglasses better than 800% markup … but grocery is, interestingly enough, far less than that of menu prices at 5% – 25%.

The question arises: Why is food in general treated so differently when it comes to pricing than just about anything else?

In the Wall Street Journal, Sumathi Reddy has written quite an interesting piece on the subject of, “Unwanted New Item on Menu: Higher Prices“. The piece is rathering interesting in the context that the cost of labor isn’t mentioned once. Instead we see statements such as, “Increased food prices have hit the restaurant industry hard, causing some to pass on part of the cost to consumers for the first time since the recession …”, “… the $20 price increase instituted earlier this year [at Per Se] was due to overall increases in costs, ‘food being the most substantial.’ [general manager Anthony Rudolf] said it was the first increase since 2008 …”, and “… the cost of a case of eggplant has more than tripled, to $72 from about $20″.

Increases in labor costs are rarely mentioned, if ever. They’re certainly not accounted for, simply because those increases don’t exist.

Back here I discussed how milk prices have changed so little since 1975. Yup, same problem. It’s still ongoing, and workers at restaurants are suffering the same as farmers and their laborers.

In “Concession stand treats – a license to print money” by Paul Michael on WiseBread, Mr. Michael rants about the prices of concession foods:

“Be it a movie theater, zoo, church event or a local concert, you can expect to pay serious extra cash for a regular item. From the $5 bag of popcorn to the $4 corndog, these are premium prices for very ordinary foods. But you usually let it go, because you’re having a good time …  We’re talking a 97% profit margin on a simple Sno-Kone! … You could even hire someone to man the stand for you, at $8-$10 per hour you’ll easily cover the cost of that person’s salary with the huge markups you’re making from the menu.”

Head back on up to the cheat sheet on markups on common items. It’s on the same web site as Mr. Michael’s piece. Go ahead, I’ll wait … It’s easy to see that a 97% markup isn’t much at all when compared to other items. But less of a markup is expected only because food is involved. Otherwise Mr. Michael, you’d pay it without complaint just like everyone else. And if the markup was more inline with the rest, the food concession worker could then also get a competitive wage, if it were offered.

Again, in this post about the milk prices I’d stated specifically why I felt a gallon of milk should currently be $7.50 – $8, about triple what I’m paying at local grocery stores in SE Michigan/NW Ohio. Frankly, if foodservice workers, grocery floor staff and farmers were to actually make what they’re worth via a competitve wage, food prices across the board, from farmers to distributors, grocers, stand operators and restaurants, should also be at lease triple what they are. Those wages should also go up annually via cost-of-living increases and performance-related raises.

Think for a moment about the price of beef. But don’t think about what you pay for beef at the supermarket. Think about the fact that cattle farmers sell their animals whole, for a single price. A processor then partially breaks that animal down, with butchers completing the work later. The farmer doesn’t see the difference between 73/27 ground hamburger and the best cuts of steak reflected in his or her price. Those are set by other workers and managers later on in the process. So when you pay $2.99 for a one-pound chubb of hamburger, but then pay $7.99 per pound for a Porterhouse, it’s actually likely those came from a single animal for the same price, that price per pound to the farmer that spent time, energy, and money breeding and raising the thing, being less than that for the hamburger.

Meanwhile, you get upset, wanting to boycott the place, or yell and scream at some minimum-wage worker, if the price of your precious dollar menu item goes up by one iota, something they have zero control over, with the increases going into the owner’s or coporation’s wallet, not that of the workers, but you don’t care.

You not caring really is part of the problem. Figure it out.

As to that last claim, “Those people don’t work as hard as I do/aren’t educated like I am, and don’t deserve it”, you have a lot to learn.

Restaurant work is inherently dangerous, with long hours. Many shifts are 10, 12 or even 14 hours long, with workers sometimes being scheduled “open-to-close”, even on holdays and weekends when you’re off work. They have no “TGIF” like you do. If you’re at a family-owned restaurant, that may be the owner in the kitchen the entire time the place is open. Grills, broilers, salamanders, both deep fryers and pressure fryers, even rinse water are all at scalding temperatures that can injure, maim or even kill. Knifes, both flat and rotating, have to be kept as sharp as possible to cut correctly, and those that are rotating are moving extremely fast. Cleaning chemicals are highly toxic, and even basic chemicals such as bleach are used in large amounts. I’ve been cut, burnt and had my eyes clouded over too many times to count. I’ve had 350F fryer oil all over the back of my right hand just in simply adding new shortening into the fryer to top it off. And a friend’s face was disfigured by chemicals used to clean fryers, chemicals that were so hot as to sear him in a very short period of time.

Meanwhile, you want your fast food “fast”. Even in restaurants that don’t generally serve quicker, you want it now. So workers have to be quick. And you tend to forget you aren’t the only one there, so you get very demanding. The workers have numerous tickets in front of them, sometimes in the dozens, but that’s not something you care enough to consider. Well, I’ll tell you what, you need to consider it, especially since if you do this you don’t know what you’re talking about.

As to the worker’s education, what do you know about them? Nothing, that’s what. That kid in front of you may have aced their 11th grade calculus final while you were happy with an ‘A’ in algebra. They may be in their first year in the physics degree program at a nearby university, nailing all their courses, while you’re “only” an amazing self-taught finish carpenter. But still, who’s more educated? That 50-year-old at the register that you smirk about because of their “five-year” pin … How do you know if they were let go from a UAW position in automotive position in the 2008 crisis and can no longer get back into factory work because of age discrimination?

That’s right, you really haven’t a clue.

And as to the side issue of immigrants working in this country … A large part of the problem is that, not only do U.S. citizens consider restaurant and farm labor work to be mundane, below them and of a throw-away status, immigrants are more than ready to take their place. In The Nasty Bits Anthony Bourdain wrote:

The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board. Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable. Illegal labor is the backbone of the service and hospitality industry–Mexican, Salvadoran and Ecuadoran in particular. To contemplate actually doing without is to contemplate mass closings, a general shake-out of individually owned and operated restaurants–and, of course, unthinkably (now) higher prices in the places that manage to survive. Considering that our economy and employment picture is now largely based on us selling hamburgers to each other, the ripple effects would be grave. … I suggest immediately opening up our borders to unrestricted immigration for all Central and South American countries. If the [Culinary Institute of America] grads don’t want to squat in a cellar prep kitchen for the first couple of years of their career, or are too delicate or high-strung or too locked into a self-image that precludes the real work of kitchens and restaurants, then they should just stand back and watch their competition from south of the border take those jobs for good. Everyone will end up getting what they deserve.

Americans, especially younger people, are largely unwilling to do the work (with wages possibly being a big factor), and the illegal immigrants are happy to step up to work harder for lower wages. But you scoff at all of them regardless, becuase you’re damn certain you’re better than they are.

You’re not.

Next time you want to complain about anyone else wanting a higher wage, stop thinking only about how that will affect you, and think instead about how to get it for them. Both history and current reality speak for themselves. You’re the arrogant one not thinking it through.

Recipe: Harvest Sautéed Green Beans


A serving of Harvest Sautéed Green Beans served with deer venison tenderloin medallions.

This is one of our go-to side dishes that seems to go with just about everything. It’s particularly good with meats, and game meats seem to suggest it. At that point it also goes very well with the wild rices and other grains that are generally served with game.

This recipe, however, gained some traction a couple weeks ago. On November 12th Flint Journal Entertainment Reporter Scott Atkinson posted that he was looking for a green bean recipe to include with the MLive Group’s statewide set of Thanksgiving recipes for the year. I submitted this recipe even though I’d never written it down … I was in such a hurry I ended up submitting it as follows:

Fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped to 2″ lengths
Toasted almonds
Dried cranberries
Trimmed and chopped green onions
Unsalted butter
Kosher salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
Granulated garlic

Melt the butter in a skillet. Sauté beans, cranberries and green onions 4 minutes, add almonds one more minute. Season to taste. Different amounts give different flavor profiles, experiment at will, for example, using chopped Vidalia onion instead of chopped green onion.

There was some discussion in the comments from other submitters that this wasn’t a green bean casserole. But Scott had never specified that’s what it had to be. By that Friday Scott had selected this recipe and asked me for a more complete version. I threw some guesstimates for measurements into a Word version, fleshed out the procedure a bit more, and sent it off.

The first warm surprise came in the form of the rest of the complete menu from across the state:

  • Apple Cider Brined Turkey, Ann Arbor: Chef Joe Flores of Full Circle Group, Zingerman’s Roadhouse and Frita Batidos
  • Michigan Salad, Detroit: Marilyn Thibodeau
  • Mashed Potatoes, Frankenmuth: Bavarian Inn
  • Sweet Potato Casserole, Kalamazoo: Karen Stowall, made by Chris Kidd, Chef de Cuisine at Rustica
  • Stuffing, Bay City: Vince Stuart, owner of downtown Bay City’s Stock Pot
  • Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins, Jackson: Mat Stedman of Mat’s Cafe and Catering
  • Cranberry Jell-O, Muskegon: Penny Larson
  • Apple Pie, Rockford: Julie Setlock, Julie’s Pies

I was certainly in excellent company here with these folks, some of them rather heavy-hitters. But MLive also included this description in the listing of included recipes:

We know how attached people are to the green bean casserole, and Flint is no exception. But taking the main ingredient out of the casserole and mixing it with less traditional pairings — like almonds and cranberries — added up to a side that could end up being the star of the show.

Wow.

When Scott finally posted the official version of the recipe there were 19 photos, along with a video of the completed dish. He described the completed dish with the sentence “I expected this recipe to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.” That kind of thing is always great to hear, or see.

This recipe works year round, as long as you can get the fresh green beans. If you feel you have to use frozen or canned beans, please … don’t bother.

Enjoy!

Harvest Sautéed Green Beans
Ingredients
1 lb fresh green beans
½ cup green onions
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup slivered almonds
4 garlic cloves
4 tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt
fresh-ground black pepper

Rinse the green beans and break off the ends. Rinse and trim the green onions (leave the white bulb end for flavor) and chop to 1/4 ” length. Mince the garlic and set aside.

In a high-wall skillet or a wok, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is hot, sauté the green beans over medium-high heat about eight minutes. Add the chopped green onions and garlic and sauté one minute. Finally, add the slivered almonds and cranberries, season to taste, and sauté one more minute. Transfer to a glass bowl and serve hot.

Note: Different amounts and other ingredients give different flavor profiles. For example, try using chopped sweet Vidalia onion instead of chopped green onion, use toasted slivered almonds, try golden raisins instead of or with the dried cranberries, replace half the grean beans with 2″ lengths of grilled asparagus, etc. This is one of those recipes where measurements could be a handful of this and a pinch of that.

Recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs”, a Flint Style Coney Sauce

After we’d discussed the conclusions of this test of Gillie’s recipe, Monica Kass Rogers updated her “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs” recipe with a small-batch version that she likes. It’s definitely worth trying.

Most online recipes and recipes in-print are about as far from Abbott’s original sauce as they can possibly get. They involve ground hot dogs, kidney, or maybe haven’t been tested and should never be made.

Still, in scouring the web for variations and specific versions of recipes for Flint-style coney sauce, we’ve stumbled across what appears to be a “diamond in the rough”. This one is seriously as close to the original as we’ve seen so far …

Over on her Lost Recipes Found site, greater-Chicago-area food writer Monica Kass Rogers has posted what she wrote up as the recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs“. Her notes on the recipe included the following statement:

“Gillie’s Coney Island [circa 1985 in Mt. Morris, Michigan] … shared this large-volume recipe for Flint-style Coney Island chili in a Michigan Restaurant Association cookbook more than 20 years ago.”

It turns out that, sometime in the 1980s (data seems to support 1987), the Michigan Restaurant Association did, in fact, publish a spiral-bound cookbook titled “A Taste of Michigan“. The timeframe for this book would support Rogers’ claim that the recipe is printed there. Until we receive a copy of the book we’ll refrain from further conjecture on our part …

It must be noted that Gillie’s Coney Island is currently showing an image of an Abbott’s Meat truck on their web site that indicates that’s where their sauce is coming from. Which sauce they’re actually serving at the moment remains to be seen.

There are a couple things uniquely interesting about the particular recipe Rogers posted on her site that illustrate a high level of authenticity. First of all, there’s the 10 lb of ground beef. This might seem extreme to a home cook. But anyone who walks into a GFS Marketplace store in Michigan, Ohio, or elswhere along the GFS “trail” to Florida, will find that’s the minimum amount of ground beef they can purchase there. This is because that’s the volume most restaurants base their GFS truck purchases on. Gillie’s would certainly specify this same amount.

More interesting, however, is the process for this recipe, i.e.:

  • Over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot.
  • Add onion and saute for 1 minute
  • Add spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes
  • Add 10 lbs of hamburger; reduce heat to very low and cook for one hour

This is extremely interesting because it matches the description regarding the making of the Abbott’s sauce given by none other than Edward Abbott himself to an interviewer from the Flint Journal:

“According to Edward Abbott, who eighty plus years later is still making the ground meat base for Flint’s coney island sauce, the only meat ingredient is beef heart, regardless of the stories and rumors of other meat parts being used. Abbott’s added some seasoning … The sauce is made by boiling commercially prepared beef suet for several hours, then browning finely chopped onions in it and adding the spices and the meat. Taste varied according to the size of the chef’s hand … ‘They still sell the traditional sauce; the meat base … that has all the seasonings – cumin, chili powder, onions and the rest of the spices … The Abbott product has always been sold uncooked …’”

“Two to Go: A Short History of Flint’s Coney Island Restaurants”, 2007 by Florine, Davison & Jaeger (Genesee County Historical Society)

What this means is that someone at Gillie’s either read that same article/interview, or they used to work for Abbott’s or one of Abbott’s direct competitors. They then used the information from Abbott’s to create the recipe that was subsequently published in “A Taste of Michigan” and reposted by Monica Kass Rogers.

We’ll re-post it again here with Ms. Rogers’ kind permission, also assuming this is how it was published within the now out-of-print “A Taste of Michigan”. Once we find a copy of that book, we’ll ensure what’s listed here is updated to match those pages. And we’d like to thank Monica Kass Rogers for inadvertantly pointing us in the direction of this “diamond in the rough”.

Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs

Makes 10 lbs of chili

Flint-Style Chili Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup fine-diced onion
  • 3 Tbsp each paprika, cumin powder, chile powder
  • 10 lb extra-finely ground hamburger

Hot Dog Assembly Ingredients

  • hot dog buns
  • Koegel Vienna hot dogs
  • mustard
  • ketchup (optional, frowned upon by some)
  • diced sweet white onion
  • Gillie’s Coney Island Chili

Instructions

  • Over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot.
  • Add onion and saute for 1 minute
  • Add spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes
  • Add 10 lbs of hamburger; reduce heat to very low and cook for one hour
  • Assemble hot dogs: Grill hot dogs (preferably a Koegel Vienna dog from Flint, MI)
  • Place dogs in buns and top with Gillie’s chili, mustard, (ketchup optional) and raw diced sweet onion.

To be honest, this is a lot of Gillie’s coney sauce. If you eat coneys as much as we do this might be a worthwhile venture. But to be honest, the amount this makes simply isn’t at all “family friendly”. We’ll adjust these amounts to something that makes more sense for a home kitchen.

Ground beef it now specified in ratios of lean meat to fat. In most foods, especially burgers, we’ll use an 80/20 ground chuck. But for this sauce we’ll use more of a utility beef, a 73/27. Since it’s readily available in 3 lb. chubbs, that’s the amount we’ll adjust the recipe for and divide the other measurements by about a third.

Also, the spices simply specify “paprika”. Most people don’t realize there are numerous kinds of paprika available. If a cook happens to have the Hungarian style in their pantry and use it, the sauce will end up far too sweet. We’ll make sure to specify the more savory Spanish paprika.

But there’s also one other adjustment we want to make. This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup shortening. When this recipe was apparently printed, shortening had different characteristics than it does now, back in the pre-trans fat ban era of the 1980s. Still, shortening is vegetable oil, not an animal fat, and we can certainly do better in the interest of flavor.

We can replace the shortening with lard to get better richness. But remember, lard is made from pig fat. Mr. Abbott specifically mention boiling beef suet for several hours, the result of which is beef tallow. This would certainly give the sauce a more accurate flavor profile. Premium edible beef tallow is readily available in jars from FatWorks. (It’s also available from Amazon at an inflated price, so we’ll go with ordering directly from FatWorks.) What we can do is specify both the lard and the tallow as options, forgoing the shortening completely.

The end result of these adjustments, along with modifying the list of ingredients to match currently-available products (and obviously ditching the ketchup), is below:

Gillie’s Coney Island Sauce (Home Version)

  • 1/2 cup edible beef tallow (available from FatWorks) or lard
  • 1/3 cup fine-diced white onion*
  • 1 Tbsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin seed
  • 1 Tbsp mild chili powder
  • 3 lb 73/27 ground beef
  1. Over medium heat, melt the tallow or lard. Heat until very hot.
  2. Add onion and sauté for 1 minute.
  3. Add the spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the hamburger; reduce heat to very low and simmer for at least one hour to let the flavors develop. Stir regularly to ensure the meat is broken up to be as small as possible.
  5. Assemble hot dogs: Grill hot dogs (preferably a Koegel Vienna dog from Flint, MI.)
  6. Place dogs in steamed buns and top with Gillie’s chili, mustard, and raw diced onion.

* Notes:

  1. For the onions, just cut a couple medium onions about 1/8″ small chop, then set aside 1/3 cup for use in the sauce.

Conclusions

  1. This recipe turned out to be quite bland. During testing, 1/2 tsp Kosher salt was added to kick up the other flavors. Doubling the amounts of the spices would certainly help. But we’re not so sure paprika of any kind is a necessary part of the equation, while garlic powder or granulated garlic would certainly be a nice addition. So the spices should probably be 2 Tbsp ground cumin seed, 2 Tbsp mild chili powder and 1 Tbsp granulated garlic.
  2. The extremely dry and loose but greasy/oily nature of this particular sauce indicates the real need for the textured vegetable protein, i.e. soy flour, in the circa 1907 original Abbott’s sauce package. It’s obviously used there as a binder to give the sauce at least a bit of body. The Bob’s Red Mill version of soy flour is inexpensive, while cacker meal would also work.
  3. What this obviously does for this is to set up the direction for developing a recipe for recreating what’s in the circa 1907 original Abbott’s Flint coney sauce package at home in smaller batches.

Home Dishwashing: A Standard Operating Procedure

“What do you mean … I have to put dinner away when I do dishes? That’s can’t be an ‘implied’ rule, I don’t see that written down anywhere.”

And the pot containing cooked No. 3 spaghetti noodles mixed with sauce sat on the clean stove. The rest of the dishes were washed and air-drying while the former Marine just stood there with a smirk on his face.

Really?? Oh, he ain’t gonna like me …

I’m a rather fair technical writer. I wrote early video editing manuals at DeVry in 1985, then a few extremely detailed NAVAIR calibration procedures while in the Navy before moving on to assisting in the technical editing and some authoring of Microsoft Access and Visual Basic programming books for Wrox Press. So I can write me some techie stuff.

What’s he’d inadvertantly triggered was a Standard Operating Procedure for dishwashing at home. It took a few hours to nail down this morning based on what I’ve bitc … er … complained about in the past. But I do believe it’s all there. If not, there shall be revisions.

DISHWASHING STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
last updated June 30, 2014

1. Dishes should be washed each evening. 48 hours from the last washing is an outside time limit to prevent insect infestations, odors, and other issues.
2. Collect all dirty dishes from the living room and bedrooms. Stack dishes to the right of the sink. (If stacking also on the rangetop, first ensure the elements are turned off and cool to touch.)
3. Put the previous meal away, throwing away food as needed (i.e., if the food will not store well, such as cooked pasta without sauce). Ensure there are no open containers in the refrigerator. If there are, fix the problem as needed, asking for recommendations if necessary.
4. Put away the clean dishes from the last washing, stacking largest on the bottom to smallest on top, keeping pieces together, such as lids to travel mugs, grease catcher in the electric griddle, etc. If you don’t know where something goes or how it’s stored, ask.
5. Change the drying cloths, the wash cloth and scrubbing sponge you’ll be using, and any drying towels, putting the older ones in the laundry.
6. Clean the sink bowls with hottest possible water to touch, and dish soap if necessary.
7. Stop the right sink, add hottest possible water to touch till 2″ from the top (deep wash water distributes foodstuffs better), adding 2 tablespoons dishsoap halfway through.
8. Wash the drain rack and its drain surface in the right sink first, along with the counter underneath, rinsing the drain rack and its surface in the left sink under hottest possible running water to touch.
WARNING: WASH KNIVES AND OTHER SHARPS INDIVIDUALLY,
NEVER DROPPING THEM INTO THE WATER
TO BE SEARCHED FOR LATER.
9. Wash dishes individually in the right sink, checking all surfaces, soaking only when necessary.
10. Check the inside of the microwave and wash the glass plate if necessary.
11. Rinse dishes in the left sink under hottest possible running water to touch.
12. Stack rinsed dishes in a safe manner, keeping pieces together, such as lids to travel mugs, grease catcher in the electric griddle, etc.
13. While washing, if more room is needed to continue stacking dishes in a safe manner in the dish drainer and on the drying towel space, towel-dry and put away the clean dishes, stacking largest on the bottom to smallest on top, keeping pieces together, such as lids to travel mugs, grease catcher in the electric griddle, etc. If you don’t know where something goes or how it’s stored, ask.
14. While final dishes are soaking in hot soapy water, clean the inside of the microwave (including the ceiling and carousel), rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap. Reassemble the microwave with the glass plate and carousel and close the door.
15. Clean the rangetop with hot soapy water, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap. This includes lifting the elements (first ensure they’re turned off and cool to touch) and cleaning the drip bowls.
16. Clean all counters and backsplashes with hot soapy water, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap, including under appliances, cutting boards, etc., and corners.
17. Clean the table with hot soapy water, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap.
18. Finish washing, rinsing and stacking any dishes left to soak. NOTE: There should be zero dishes left soaking at this point.
19. Drain both sink bowls, putting rinsed and clean drain stops upside down on the back of the sink top. Clean the sink bowls, faucet and faucet area with hottest possible water to touch, and dish soap if necessary, rinsing with a hot and wet dishcloth that’s been rinsed of dishsoap.
20. Rinse dishcloths and scrubbing sponges in running hottest possible water. Wring out and lay out dishcloths to dry. Wring out scrubbing sponges and place on the back of the sink top next to the clean drain stops.
21. If the Keurig was unplugged, plug it in and turn it on. Ensure water tank is filled to the Fill line, and if it isn’t, fill it and reattach it to the Keurig with the lid on correctly.
22. Take the garbage out (including items next to the trash can, and any trash in the bathroom trash basket). Put a new trash bag in the trash can correctly for use and place the lid correctly.

Me: Well, whadaya think?
Ryan: I’m still reading …
Me: You hate me, don’t you?
Ryan: I’m still reading …

Yeah, they don’t like very much, do they? Meanwhile, Mary and I are still laughing.

The Effects of Scotchgard™ on Wakefulness: A Study


This piece is satire. If you take it another way, that’s your problem, not mine.

A recent study has determined that certain substances commonly used in upholstery for furniture has a tendency to cause a form of sleeping disorder, particularly in the presence of small crowds or large amounts of alcohol.

The conclusive study, funded by the Fulfilled Associates of Naps & Slumbers (FANS), visited more than a dozen residences in north Columbus, Ohio, east of High St. between 5th and Lane.

“It became obvious early-on that the number of individuals in the residences, coupled with the amount of alcohol ingested by the observed individual, combined to create an almost instantaneous reaction similar to a sleeping disorder when that individual came into contact with Scotchgard™ on a piece of upholstered furniture” said Dr. Richard Head, director of FANS. “We don’t know exactly what the Hell happens, but those drunk-ass college students just go comatose.”

The situation is apparently linearly exacerbated in the presence of varying numbers of other individuals. In parties of two or three, individuals can be found hours later lying in heaps on Scotchgard™-treated sofas, loveseats and the aptly-termed easy chairs. With larger numbers, particularly in excess of about three dozen, Scotchgard™-treated couches can be found containing slumped people in large amounts in yards and sidewalks.

“We’re lucky their haven’t been any hospitalizations”, continued Dr. Head. “Some looked like they’d been put out with the trash and could have ended up at the landfill. Maybe some of them should have been. This shit is dangerous.”

Other effects were also observed, some more disturbing than others. Major holidays appear to also cause a shortening of the timeline for the effects of Scotchgard™-treated upholstery to take hold. But not only is REM sleep entered shortly after the mid-day meal, inhibitions seem to be loosened as well. This can be easily seen with a loosening or complete removal of waist belts, an opening of the waistband of pants, and on occasion a lifting of the shirt. It’s soon after these actions that REM sleep takes hold of a subject located on Scotchgard™-treated furniture.

“The size of the subject is obviously included in our calculations”, Dr. Head said. “In these subjects we were able to examine navel lint without touching the subject as it was readily exposed, and conducted a separate survey on brand selection of underarm deodorant, including a certain percentage of non-use. Methane samples were also taken and will be analyzed when they are considered safe by the Health Department.”

According to FANS, however, a mystery exists with data tied to local and cable-based broadcasts of local and national sporting events. When these events are underway, the effects of Scotchgard™-treated furniture on the observed subject exhibited a latency issue. Dr. Head: “It’s as though the adrenaline produced in a given subject during various sporting events inserted a lengthy ‘lag’ into how quickly the Scotchgard™-treated upholstery put the subject down. American football appeared to produce the most lag into the equation while horse-racing and golf introduced the least lag. The amount of food ingested during these sporting events appeared to have effects similar to that of holiday rituals, vis-à-vis a shortening of the necessary time until REM sleep was achieved. But meanwhile, women’s beach volleyball, while not seemingly as adrenaline-producing, had the same lengthy amount of lag as American football, regardless if the subject was male or female. We were like, WTF??”

An opposite effect did have to be noted with a disclaimer, as FANS had some difficulty making mathematical and observational sense of a certain matter. “It’s those damn Comp Sci and Physics brats”, Dr. Head exclaimed. “They don’t drink, they don’t like sports, they don’t eat a whole lot on holidays … but when they do eat a lot on a given day or they’re oversized anyway and wearing flood pants, the food just seems to make them want to do more homework. Assholes. No help at all. Gamers are the same way. Up the whole damn night, Scotchgard™ or not. Threw a wrench into the whole thing. We just wrote them out of it with a footnote, the last one, which nobody will notice anyway. You’re not going to print that, are you?”

Before dropping off for a nap on his couch Dr. Head did have this to say: “We’re definitely going to have to take another look at the Culinary Arts students. It didn’t matter how much Scotchgard™ was involved, they weren’t affected, they were up half the night drinking heavily, and jumping around and screaming at cooking shows on cable the way the rest yelled at football games … as if food is actually important or something …”

Scotchgard™ is a trademark of 3M and is definitely not used with permission for this satire piece.

Opinion: The State of Michigan’s Culinary Tours


Fried Halloumi cheese and dried apricots at the Boulevard Market in Tecumseh, Michigan, in July 2007.

In 2009/2010 the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council received a grant they used to found the Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance. All the info regarding that grant can be found at:

http://www.michiganwines.com/culinary-tourism-alliance#sthash.ExbiCbP2.dpbs

The last item on that page is a link to the “Foodie Tour Criteria”:

Michigan Culinary Tour Criteria
Foodie Tours must include Michigan products throughout the tour. Restaurants should be quality places that encourage and use local foods. Places listed MUST have a Web site. Up to 11 places maximum offering a variety of experiences for the visitor.

An ideal foodie tour would include:
1. Three restaurants that feature local foods
2. One Farmers Market
3. One U-pick farm
4. One winery
5. Four others which could include ice cream store, bakery, fish, meat, specialty shop like Cherry Republic, chocolate/fudge (all made in Michigan)
6. One brewery

For each listing you may submit a visual image which should be 182 x 100, 72 dpi. No logos are accepted.

The criteria is, unfortunately, not well thought-out at all. That every place listed “must” have a web site is nonsense, as some of the best places don’t need a web site or even a Facebook page for that matter. Word of mouth is some of the best advertising there is, and in the case of a local, ethnic or cultural venue, is really all that’s necessary. Web sites are more a “first-world” requirement, and should never be demanded.

The stated limit of 11 places for any one tour precludes a considerable amount of detail and any resulting exploration. Even in a place like Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County in general, that’s an extremely low number of places to visit. Go to Grand Rapids or Traverse City and it would be easy to list 35 places that are all excellent suggestions. An expansion of this number is definitely necessary.

“Specialty shop(s) like Cherry Republic, chocolate/fudge”, etc. … These simply don’t exist in any number south of Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint and Port Huron. The Downriver area south of Detroit, nor Monroe or Lenawee Counties, don’t offer a single brewery or brew pub, nor are there three restaurants that serve local foods. But there’s certainly a lot more out there that isn’t listed in the Culinary Alliance’s “criteria”, such as other kinds of specialty markets (jerky in particular), food festivals and food trucks. Still, these areas are precluded from having tours because of the missing “requirements”.

Finally, there’s nothing in the provided criteria to assist in making the concept of a culinary tour exciting in any way. One small photo, “182 x 100, 72 dpi”, would not do justice to any location or venue whatsoever. And what about quality, well-written descriptions or reviews? Those would help at least a little bit to get a visitor’s curiosity up about getting out there and exploring. That’s what it’s really all about anyway.

Now, take a look at the following page on michigan.gov where the state lists all the resulting “culinary tours”:

http://www.michigan.org/foodie-tours/

Go right to the bottom and click on “Indulge in the Cuisines of Southeast Michigan Foodie Tour”:

http://www.michigan.org/road-trips/indulge-in-the-cuisines-of-southeast-michigan-foodie-tour/

That’s where the resulting problem presents itself. There are nine places listed from Detroit to Jackson along the I-94/96 corridor, there’s nothing in the downriver area, Monroe County is completely ignored, and there’s only one drop south for the tenth location, Evans Street Station in Tecumsee, in Lenawee County, which is probably because they couldn’t find anything that qualified along I-94/96. Meanwhile, east-to-west is downtown Detroit to Jackson, a distance of about 80 miles.

So much for the tour being “southeast Michigan” …

A true southeast Michigan culinary tour needs to encompass Lenawee and Monroe Counties. I lived in Lenawee County from 95 – 2003, and Monroe County from 2004 till now. There’s an authentic Mexican community in Adrian along with multiple authentic Mexican restaurants in both counties. Award-winning bakeries are also in both counties, along with Calder Dairy in Carleton still delivering milk in glass bottles to homes, Boulevard Market in Tecumseh making their own cheeses from milk delivered by both beef and goat farmers in the area, and Monroe County having all those amazing muskrat dinners and fish fries during Lent.

For a better solution regarding culinary tours we don’t have far to look. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council itself offers information on a number of “Michigan Wine Trails”:

http://www.michiganwines.com/wine-trails#sthash.IzJ7mhav.dpbs

To Michigan’s north and east is the Canadian province of Ontario. The Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance offers a rather detailed web site for a large number of destinations. To assist in planning they’ve also broken locations down into a number of trails:

https://ontarioculinary.com/culinary-experiences/delicious-destinations/

Besides this resource, the Ontario alliance also offers the “Culinary Explorer”, an detailed interactive map covering the entire province that allows visitors to create their own “trail”:

http://explorer.ontarioculinary.com

The state of Delaware has also developed a culinary trail that includes a “passport”. Restaurants and other locations along the trail provide passport holders with a code for that location. Travelers who prove they have visited five locations in each region can submit their passport in return for the “First State Plates: Iconic Delaware Restaurants and Recipes” cookbook:

http://www.visitdelaware.com/culinary/

Finally, there is apparently a single culinary trail in the state of Michigan. The Petosky Area Convention & Tourist Bureau advertises all the way south to the Ohio state line. Their culinary trail offers a number of interesting locations to visit:

http://www.petoskeyarea.com/culinary-trail-131/

Compared with what others have done, and looking at what’s available within Michigan itself, the current state of Michigan’s Culinary Tours is rudimentary at best. This needs to be taken care of. It is certainly my intent to correct this with the development of a “real” southeast Michigan culinary tour.

It’s too bad that we don’t hear much about the Michigan Culinary Tourism Alliance except that they have an occasional meeting. It’s also too bad that they promote some parts of the state but not others. They certainly need to do a lot better.

My Food Bucket List Suggestion: How Many Have You Had?


Number 49 on the list, handmade Coarse Liverwurst (Liver Sausage) from Kilgus Meats in Toledo, Ohio. I just eat the stuff by itself, no sandwich required.

In December 2006 shortly after starting this blog over at the Monroe News web site, I fell victim to the whole “Foodie Quiz” thing and wrote one myself. Looking back at it now I can see how ridiculous the concept is. The fact is, there’s no way to really define the thing people call a “foodie” because our cultures are different, we were raised in different environments, and to be perfectly blunt, it’s completely unfair to write any kind of “foodie evaluator” that excludes considerations for vegetarians, vegans, Kosher upbringings, or any other nuances in the culture of the person taking your quiz.

A few days ago some online friends posted a link to a so-called “foodie quiz”, one that was supposed to be a test of some “rare foods” the quiz-taker might have had. It was entirely boneheaded, completely ludicrous, including staples such as BBQ ribs, pulled pork, maple syrup … and then threw in “purple ketchup”, which is nothing more than a novelty item from Heinz. The “quiz” set my teeth on edge.

A lot of the “foodie quizes” out there, and sadly my own from seven years ago included, assume the people who score the highest are “better” at enjoying food than people who score lower. That’s simply untrue. A lot of folks who would never touch a lot of things are actually better educated about the foods they do focus on. That should mean something.

So, I decided something had to be done. Someone needed to make a list people might look at and think “Hey, some of these things might be kinda cool. I think I’ll try that.” Or maybe even “Oh yeah, I remember grossing my sister out when I ate that, and it’s real food!”

I decided to develop a list of a hundred items (frankly an arbitrary number), none of which could be called “rare” but possibly located in just few areas. These would be foods I think people should take the time to try at least once, not an actual measure of anything whatsoever.

When it came right down to it, it became what I’d like to consider to be my own suggestion for a “Food Bucket List”, a list of foods I think people should try before … well … you know …

In letting those online folks who knew about the purple ketchup fiasco know about what I was doing, I did take some suggestions from them. They’re either fellow tech writers or fellow food enthusiasts whose opinions I value. Some of their suggestions did make it into the list.

After releasing the Food Bucket List on November 7th I got a nice surprise. My own score on the list, also the number of items on the list that I’ve tried (the items that are bolded), is currently 54%. However, my son Adam who’s now a U.S. Marine ended up with the current high score of 57%. Part of that is not only my insistence that my kids try everything at least once, but also that since his orders have taken him to Japan and Korea, when he was in Okinawa he’s actually had a meal of real Kobe beef that was stuffed with foie gras. And then … ummm … drizzled with chocolate. He picked that over shallot butter. Go figure … But regardless of that, he specifically ordered a food that I may never be able to enjoy since it’s only available there. That makes me proud of what I’ve taught him about food.

On the other end of the spectrum is one of the tech writing leads (says she’s a “Manager” … supposedly that’s a better title …) at Symantec Corp. She’s a vegetarian and scored 9%. I might give her a hard time about that (and I do!) but the honest truth is that she does seriously enjoy food her way, and her own Food Bucket List is going to look completely different from mine. And that’s fine with me. Just don’t tell her I said that.

There are no right or wrong answers in this one. But remember, if you don’t try something just because you’re squeamish, there are people around the world who likely eat that particular item on a regular basis because either that’s their culture and heritage, or they’re simply so poor that that’s all that’s available to them. Think about it before dissing something completely.

So check out my Food Bucket List and use the comment section below to let us know how you did. And maybe why you scored a certain way. Because when it comes right down to it, that’s really the interesting part.

Food Safety vs. The Shutdown: A Country of Food Safety Wimps


A loaf of Farmhouse Bread from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they make this and other breads from scratch.

A couple days ago on Huffington Post, staff writer for food and culture Joe Satran posted an article that made me think a little deeper about how things used to be. In his article, “FDA Confirms All Routine Food Safety Inspections Suspended During The Shutdown“, Mr. Satran gives the numbers:

8,733 food safety inspections that the FDA had commissioned states to perform in fiscal year 2014 … are being delayed until funding resumes. That works out to about 167 delayed inspections per week … the furloughing of 976 of the FDA’s 1,602 inspectors will prevent another 200 inspections from being conducted each week of the shutdown.

Mr. Satran also lists what these inspections generally cover:

The FDA oversees the safety of 80 percent of the American food system, including dairy, juice, raw eggs, farmed seafood and so-called manufactured foods, such as Cheerios, peanut butter, M&Ms, hummus, canned soup and frozen ravioli.

At the same time though, USDA inspectors will continue inspecting meat, poultry and egg facilities on a daily basis since they “cannot be furloughed by law”. That should make people feel better about the safety of what they’re eating …

Well, shouldn’t it?

It should, but it probably won’t.

Part of the basic issue is that people are no longer able to trust the safety of the food they eat. They see numerous reports of food recalls from bacterias and foriegn objects and other items in their foods, they hear of e.Coli and other food poisoning outbreaks, they read of spinach fields being on the receiving end of runoff from pig farms, they drive past mega-farms and see  hundreds of cattle wallowing in mud containing Lord-knows-what from all the animals in there …

Facing the reality sucks. Food is an industry. And when it comes to far too much of where our food comes from, caring about the quality by the people who should be responsible for said quality DOES.NOT.EXIST.

This has zero to do with the government shutdown. It’s a simple fact that people in the United States today generally have no clue how to ensure their own food is safe. There’s really no widespread practical training in this area, which is thanks to the demise of youngsters no longer being taught how to cook by their parents or other relatives, via the old-school “home economics” classes, or the like.

It also has a lot to do with corporate greed. Money ends up being ahead of food safety, regardless of what the corporate “spokesmen” or “legal counsel” say via their filtered/redacted/glossed-over press releases. The lack of real honesty in this area is ridiculous, irresponsible, appalling, whatever you want to call it.

This is easy to prove. Head to your local butcher shop, a farmer’s market or roadside stand, a local bakery or artisnal bread-maker’s shop. You likely won’t see any inspections going on except for maybe an annual county health inspection. What you will see, however, is quality foods made by a small company that actually cares about what they do … and not a single recall in sight.

Go to a “farm-to-table” restaurant, such as Salt Of The Earth in Fennville, Michigan, or Chef Alan Merhar’s Evans Street Station in Tecumseh where they actually care about the ingredients they use. Get yourself connected to Farmer Lee Jones and his Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, where they not only provide fresh vegetables to more than 1,200 chefs worldwide, but are also leaders in food safety because Farmer Jones actually cares about his products. Then head to his Home Delivery page and try some of that wondeful stuff for yourself.

And then … go to a chain resturant. Or a large chain grocery store. Look at the meats, the vegetables, the so-called breads. Where did they come from? Who was involved? What’s in there? Is the place clean? Did the employees wash their hands or wear gloves? Was the meat and dairy kept at the right temperature at all times?

Frankly, if people were taught about actual food safety prior to working in these places and practiced it, these questions would not be necessary. Why? Because the employees along the way would know better than to let things go. And, not to put to fine a point on it, the FDA and USDA inspectors people seem to be so concerned about right now wouldn’t be necessary either.

Meanwhile, people are enjoying Chicken Sashimi in Japan, something that would never be allowed here in the United States. We are also largely not allowed to buy or sell raw milk, we are not allowed to have the classic Scottish dish Haggis because it includes sheep’s lung, and foie gras is being banned because the process to create it is being misrepresented on-purpose.

Here’s my bottom line on this:

We’re a country of food safety wimps, unwilling to learn what the realities of real food safety are, being led like sheep by our dependence on the internet and popular news media for information we are unwilling to learn by actually taking the time to investigate these things before making an educated decision, and passing that information on to the next generations.

There ya’ go. Deal with it.

Re-Creating a Coney Island-Style Greek Breakfast Skillet


The Greek Breakfast Skillet at the Cozy Corner Coney Island in Monroe, MI, in August 2013; Sliced Gyro loaf, onion, tomato, feta cheese and home fries under two over-easy eggs, served with toast.

Unless you live in a place like Michigan, the area north of Fort Wayne, Indiana, or northwest Ohio, you may not understand what a Coney Island restaurant is. Coney Island restaurants number in the hundreds, possibly even the low thousands, in these particular areas and in smaller numbers in some other regions across the United States.

The story goes that immigrants from the Mediterranean region first happened upon the Coney Island area off Brooklyn, New York. The Greeks started emigrating from Greece in about 1890 not only because of the promise of making good money here, but also because of the Ottoman rule there. The term “Coney Island” isn’t a Greek or Macedonian term whatsoever. The name of the Coney Island area off Brooklyn in New York is derived from the name Conyne Eylandt,, translated as “rabbit island”, the Dutch name for that area as found on a map by Johannes Vingboon in 1639. Maps as early as 1733 used the name Coney Island after the term had been used verbally for quite some time.

Those immigrants likely visited Coney Island, eating at Feltman’s. Charles Feltman had immigrated from Germany and started as a pie wagon pusher. It was about 1867 when he put a franfurter on a roll so his diners didn’t need silverware, inadvertantly creating the popular sandwich we know today. He opened his first stand on Coney Island in 1871, and stories indicate he may have sold over 3,600 of these sandwiches in his first year in business. Business ended up being so good, Feltman expanded his Coney Island locations to include a hotel, restaurants, amusements and other concessions. He passed away in 1910, but Feltman’s stayed upen until 1952. It was one of Feltman’s own employees, Nathan Handwerker, who opened a nearby stand in 1916, undercutting Feltman’s 10-cent sandwich by offering a 5-center and founding the hugely-popular Nathan’s Famous.


Some of the better commercial beef and lamb Gryro meat that’s available in southeastern Michigan. Made by Wolverine Packing in Detroit, this brand is what most Greek/Macedonian/Albanian and Coney Island restaurants in the area use if they’re not making their own.

The term “Coney Island Restaurant” has a bit of a baffling history. No one seems to really know why Greeks, Macedonians or Albanians headed for Michigan would name their restaurants after a Dutch term while offering a German sandwich as their lead menu item. My own thinking is that, as the term “hot dog” wasn’t coined until 1916, it’s quite possibly they refered to Feltman’s sandwich as a “coney island” in reference to where they had it. Frankfurters were developed in Frankfurt, in upstate New York places offer a Michigan Dog patterned after the coney from Todoroff’s in Jackson, Michigan, Parmesan cheese comes from Parma, Italy, Roquefort cheese has to be aged in the caverns under Roquefort, France … It stands to reason immigrants were telling each other they wanted to go to Feltman’s to eat some Coney Islands. It’s not that the restaurants are named after Coney Island itself. Instead, when these immigrants started their restaurants, it was a restaurant where they could offer their own Coney Islands similar to Feltman’s frankfurter on a roll, making their business a Coney Island restaurant.

In developing their restaurant menus, the Greeks, Macedonians and Albanians followed the concepts of a lot of diners and cafés in the areas they settled into, to include large breakfasts, hamburgers, beef, chicken, pasta, local fish, desserts featuring foods from local harvests … but then also added specialties from their own cultures. A compiled version of a “standardized” menu for a Coney Island Restaurant looks like this:

My family first took notice of the Greek-owned restaurants in Michigan in the late 1970s. It became a kind of game, searching out these wonderful family diners with their massive portions of good honest food, the kind of food truckers would also seek out on a regular basis. We became friends with many of these owners in the Flint area and frequented their establishments on our normal Friday evening shopping trips.

I remember a Greek-owned restaurant on the King’s Highway just west of Toronto. We were staying at the Candy Haven Tourist Home in 1982 and ate at that restaurant across the street each morning. And each morning, the owner & cook would come out himself to take our order. There were six of us traveling that trip, but the man never wrote our orders down, nor did he write down orders he took almost at the same time from other guests. He cooked them up, along with anything anyone else had ordered, remembered everything perfectly, and knew afterward which plate went to which customer.

I have my own story about working working with an excellent Greek cook. Except for cooking at home, and at a YMCA camp in the summer of 1979, I didn’t enter an actual restaurant kitchen until April of 1983. Frisch’s Big Boy on the western edge of Columbus just west of the freeway somehow decided I was the right person to open their first breakfast bar and operate it five days each week. Manager Gus Pappas was the first cook I knew who taught me real skills. A tall, skinny Vincent Price-looking Greek at least 50 years old, he taught me to steam whole eggs instead of hard-boiling them to make them easy to peel. He was the first to show me halfway-decent knifing skills, how to prep a whole pineapple to make it a snackable food, and how to really taste a dish, and then make adjustments to it.

We tested everything for longevity in a steam table on wheels. Grits didn’t hold out too well, nor did pancakes, nor did the fruit pie filling we set out as toppings. Of course, scrambled eggs, sausages, freshly-grilled shredded potatoes, and other decent things survived the hours on that table over the steam bins.

When Gus was forced out of the management of that Big Boy in late 1984 in favor of young MBA types, the real skills in that kitchen also went away. The Greek way is about a passion for real food, the way Gus taught us at Frisch’s, combined with a serious appreciation for how that food makes the diner feel. That’s what makes customers happy in foodservice, and being able to do that is very satisfying indeed. It’s what really drove Gus, and why he made us work the way he did. At the end of the day, you knew in your heart you’d done nice work.


The filling for the Greek Breakfast Skillet, just before plating, and topping with two over-easy eggs.

Having always been interested in what Greeks and other Mediterraneans offer in their restaurants, particularly in Coney Island restaurants, I’ve recently become even more interested in re-creating some of their dishes. Outside the work I’ve done in creating and re-creating different versions of the Flint-style Coney Island sauce, this is really the first dish I’ve focused on re-creating to be as close as possible to what I’ve enjoyed in a restaurant. In this case, it’s the Greek Breakfast Skillet I had at the Cozy Corner Coney Island in Monroe, Michigan, in August 2013. The old man in the kitchen, also the owner, is from Greece and is also a former resident of the Greektown area in downtown Detroit. He always seems extremely proud of his work, and it’s definitely justifiable.

I’d hoped to find a suitable Gyro meat to use in the dish, and when I found the package pictured above and mentioned what I was doing to the girl at the foodservice supply store in Monroe, it became obvious it’s exactly what they use at Cozy Corner. Later, one taste of the Gyro meat slices from that package confirmed it.

One of the things that I realized about this dish is how easy it would be to prep for a large number of servings. The onions and potatoes need to be prepped ahead of time and sautéed. These can then be held at a low temperature until the skillet is ordered. At that point combine the tomatoes with the Gyro meat, toss it into the skillet or on a flattop, heat it through while cooking the eggs, put the filling in the plate or serving skillet, top with the crumbled feta and the eggs … Just a couple minutes from ordering to serving. Absolutely simple, filling, quite tasty, and very satisfying.


The completed re-creation of the Greek Breakfast Skillet. Dang it, forgot the feta …

Coney Island-Style Greek Breakfast Skillet
Serves 2

Ingredients
1 small onion
3 small tomatoes
3 small potatoes
12 slices 1″x5″x1/8″ gyro loaf
crumbled feta cheese
4 large eggs
olive oil
salt & pepper

Boil the potatoes whole for just a few minutes until they’re almost fork-tender but not quite. Remove the potatoes from the heat and let them cool. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and slice the onion, cut the Gyro meat slices into thirds and set them all aside separately.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and then slice them into 1/8″ slices.

Heat a couple tablespoons olive oil in a high-wall skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and potato slices, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Sauté until the potatoes are starting to brown, adding a touch more olive oil if necessary. When the potatoes are starting to brown, add the Gyro meat and chopped tomatoes, and continue to sauté.

Heat an egg pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Crack two of the eggs into it and cook until over-easy. Divide the completed filling into two serving dishes, and top one with some of the feta cheese and the over-easy eggs. Wipe the egg pan and cook the other two eggs, along with any toast for the dishes. Top the second dish with its own feta cheese and the second batch of eggs.