A man could
wander into Lafayette Coney Island and think, “ugh.” He could order a Coney Dog
or two and find himself underwhelmed by the traditional bun, uninteresting
frank and the brown chili that drapes it. Hell, he could stick his nose under
every last beige, steel, and seafoam green inch of the place and find nothing
of note. Indeed, a man could do such a thing. But let us all hope we are not
Picture C/O Foodspotting
They say Detroit is dying.
And not a clean, dignified death. A death that sips – not gulps – its life away. The city like a family member so far gone to disease that its residents are forced to love it through memories while trying not to hate what it has become.
But that is not true.
The people who lament its death don’t understand that a city cannot die. That death is reserved for us alone. That a city lives in the minds of the people and not in the buildings themselves. That no matter how much it crumbles, no matter how abandoned its skyscrapers or overgrown its lots, that the real city – the Detroit that’s visible only to those who love it – is still as vibrant as El Dorado.
A man could look at Detroit and think, “so sad. A failed city.”
Lafayette Coney Island is not a place for such a man. Detroit is not a place for such a man.
In Lafayette Coney Island’s unwieldy name, in its dingy bathroom, in its frill-less food preparation, in its yellowed tile and aging ownership, there is something essentially human. A need to cling to tradition and to the past. An “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality applied to a situation that probably broke long ago.
But if it were you, would it be any different?
Picture C/O Hollyeats.com
How difficult must it be to own a landmark in a former metropolis? To see the city you loved change, and that for the worse? To see the very landscape around you weather an economic upheaval that has blown, war-like, through building and home alike? And ask yourself: what sort of man sees change like that – destructive, malicious change – and thinks, “well I should change too.”
Our perception, historians and physicists agree, defines reality. If we see a ball as green, it is a green ball. The ball has no say in the matter. If our perception told us the ball was red, not green, we would say the ball is red. The ball couldn’t speak up and protest its intrinsic “green-ness”. If we see it as green, it is green. If we see it as red, it is red. Which means, as our perception changes, so do the very objects we perceive. Allow me to explain.
Lafayette Coney Island was born in a time when fast food was a blessing. Plates piled shoulder-high, the cooks slathered Coney dogs with signature chili and mustard, sprankled them with onions and slung ‘em down the counter to laborers and families alike. In 1914, or thereabouts, nobody thought of carbs or gluten or processed foods or ambience or poly-unsaturated fats.
Picture C/O Automobilemag
Lafayette Coney Island contained clean plates and fresh food for minimal price. What more needed to be sold? The perception of the place was that it was wholesome, traditional and cheap. And that was the reality of the place.
And while nothing has changed at Lafayette Coney Island, everything else has. And so reality has changed with it.
What was perceived as “fast service” is now “low quality.” What was perceived as “diner ambience” seems haphazard and cramped. What was perceived as a “Traditional Coney Dog” is now a once-in-a-blue moon sodium-fest that any halfway health-conscious American will eat with a pang of involuntary guilt. All this could seem sad. But it’s not sad, it simply is.
Picture C/O Roadfood
People still love their Coney Dogs, despite what they now represent. People still love the ambience despite its hard-nosed adherence to the past. People still love the name, despite the fact that nobody outside of Michigan even knows what a Coney Island is.
As our perception changes, so does reality itself. Whether we decide to like the resulting reality is up to us.
And really, what is not to love about that dog. A warm bun surrounding a sizzling, all-American frank. The key ingredient, of course, being the chili that blankets the whole deal. Lafayette’s brand of chili being more meat than veg, and providing a low-level heat whose piquancy is supported and accentuated by the mustard and onions. It is not an ambitious combination, but then again, most great things rarely are. It is the height of simplicity, a taste spectrum distilled into 5-6, equal bites. It practically eats itself.
Picture C/O Theeatenpath
They say Detroit is dying.
But they can’t realize that death is simply another form of change. Certainly, Detroit may be crushed by a debt that has forced people out like mice from a burning barn. But that’s simply one version of Detroit.
Did you know Henry Ford started two, failed motor companies?
The first, the Detroit Automobile Company: went under after two years. The second, The Henry Ford Company, he quit after only a year. His third, the Ford Motor Company, you know that one.
Could this Detroit be a first try? A city from whose ashes a stronger Detroit will spring? Or is it a failed, last chance, forced into the same breath as Pompeii and Ephesus? Regardless of what Detroit is now, we know that time will bring change.
And when the city changes – because there’s no way it can’t – will it be a single person who takes it upon themselves to mold the future Detroit, like Henry Ford did for cars and America itself? Or will the people leave Detroit, spreading like spores and germinating facets of Detroit in cities across America? Or will the people of Michigan simply weather the worst economic storm ever to make landfall in an American city, and, once it’s over, shrug it off like only a Michigander could?
History repeats itself. It is a platitude and therefore, like all the oldest clichés, it is deeply true. Detroit rose from nothing and perhaps will sink back into that selfsame dirt. But it will not disappear. It was and therefore it can never not have been. And at some point, be it tomorrow, the day after or in a time none of us will ever see, I believe it will return. It will return thanks to song and story and dreams embedded, dormant, in the minds of people who could not forget.
They say Detroit is dying.
But they are not Detroit!
And in that future, Lafayette Coney Island will stand unmoved, an anchor to the past. Uncompromising in its fare, its attitude, and its very existence in a city where existence is a privilege rather than a right.
A man could wander into Lafayette Coney Island and see just another outdated diner, trapped in the pitiable midst of an expiring giant. But I am not that man. And neither are you.
Coney. Dogs. If you like ‘em, 5 stars. If you don’t like ‘em, 1.
Out of Pocket
After a night out, you can find yourself paying for an entire meal what you just paid for a single drink.
Formica, steel and tile. It was built to last and last it has.
You get your dogs fast and with flair. Somehow, the spectacle of a man with like 8 platefuls of processed meat piled up to his shoulder never gets old.
EAT OR SKIP:
A landmark that shows its age in the best possible ways. Uncompromising. Unpretentious. Unmissable.