If I smell coneys, spring is coming

Sign in front of yellow hot dog stand says "Opens Feb.1."

Feb. 1 is the traditional start of the coney season at this place. Photo by Bobby Alcott for the book “Coney Detroit”

Despite Detroit’s snowiest January on record and temperatures that are stuck below freezing, sprint is coming.

How do we know? The robins?

No. Bill’s Drive-In in Ypsilanti customarily re-opens and starts serving coneys on Feb. 1.

That day, I will be joining a bunch of Michigan State alumni at an MSU basketball and coney party at Atwater in the Park in Grosse Pointe Park.

Go Green! Go Coneys!

Hollywood’s Coney Dog restaurant closes

The coney dog restaurant in Los Angeles has been sold and turned into a Lebanese restaurant, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Restaurant writer Sylvia Rector reports that the Coney Dog’s celebrity owners lost “a lot” of money with their Detroit-themed restaurant, which opened in 2011. Investor Mike Binder is quoted as saying that the restaurant was popular with Detroit ex-pats and generated buzz, but couldn’t generate enough money. It featured coney ingredients and a bun steamer from Detroit as well as Faygo, Stroh’s and Better Made chips.

Rector quoted Binder as saying, ““In fairness to them, you can only eat like that so much. … And the people in L.A. said, ‘It’s just a chili dog.’ … It quickly became obvious that there weren’t enough people who wanted that kind of food in Los Angeles.””

And this is why we live in Detroit.

WDET, Mackinac Island and American Coney Island

Politics and hot dogs have a long association. Check out any recent election. What would a political party be without hot dogs?

So, WDET’s Craig Fahle is polling voters about their top agenda items — not their favorite toppings — for the Mackinac Policy Conference coming up May 29-31.

If you can’t get up to Mackinac Island but love American Coney Island, plan on joining Fahle’s Coney Caucus in Detroit 6-8 p.m. May 21.

CBC crosses the river for a bite of Coney Detroit

I had a great time talking coneys — and eating them — with Jonathon Pinto, Canadian journalist for CBC Radio.

One of our great disappointments in researching the book “Coney Detroit” was that although we included coney islands near and far, we couldn’t find any such restaurants in Windsor. Fortunately, Detroit has a couple great ones close to the tunnel — and others near the bridge.

Meet 6 top chefs in Detroit Harmonie coney contest

Meet the chefs who are taking the Detroit coney dog to new dimensions in Detroit Harmonie’s $10,000 International Experience on March 23.

These are the six finalists from a field of 20 and what they prepared for the semi-finals. We expect to see them tweaking and fine-tuning their coneys for the finals. As a co-author of “Coney Detroit,” I was asked to judge the semifinals and will be judging the finals.

These chefs made it to the finals with a variety of ethnically inspired dogs. Five are French or Asian inspired and one has a South American flavor.

They are:

* Lynne Savino
* Will Branch
* Andy Hollyday
* Derik Watson
* Jesse Knott
* Kate Williams

Come on down to the Virgil Carr Center at 311 E. Grand River Ave. Doors open at 9 p.m. You can get all the information and register on Detroit Harmonie’s Facebook page.

Here, on Coney Detroit, you can meet the finalists, the coneys they concocted to make it to the finals and a little bit about them.

Come on out, taste their variations on Detroit’s signature food, support the city and meet some amazing people.

You can also see all 20 semi-finalists and their coney creations.

—Joe Grimm

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Lynne Savino

For the semifinals in the Detroit Harmonie International Experience, Savino served up a French/Vietnamese influenced Bahn MI Coney Dog.

Savino said she has worked in the food and wine industry for 20 years, starting out as a dishwasher and moving on to waitperson, selling specialty foods and wine to the top markets and restaurants in the Detroit area, catering and teaching cooking classed. Since 2011, she has been working with a partner to open a wine bar in Midtown, Vicolo Vino. They hope to open in fall, 2013.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Will Branch

For the Detroit Harmonie semifinals, Branch offered a Vietnamese-inspired Bahn MI Coney Dog.

Branch and Zachary Klein founded Detroit’s Corridor Sausage Co. in 2009 to bring handcrafted and artisan meats to the Detroit market. Branch says they are committed to using all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free proteins as well as only fresh herbs and spices, never any dry or pre-made mixes. They blend old world cooking technique with their own unique twists.

In June of 2012, the pair completed their move from a rental kitchen to full-time production space in Detroit’s Eastern Market.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Andy Hollyday

Hollyday’s French-inspired L’Haute Duck was ducky, not haughty.

Hollyday said he started cooking in a small family run restaurant in his hometown of Toledo. He pursued training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and after graduation took a job working under Chef Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute in Farmington Hills. Hollyday wrote that he has cooked from coast to coast in the United States and spent a summer cooking in France. He is executive chef at Michael Symon’s Roast in the Book-Cadillac Hotel downtown.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Derik Watson

Watson cooked a Japanese/Southeast Asian fusion dog for Detroit Harmonie’s International Experience semifinals.

A native of Franklin, Mich., Watson discovered his passion for food early. By 13, Watson was working at a local grocery store where he was inspired by the possibilities that surrounded him. Watson worked in area restaurants throughout high school, finally settling on culinary school at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. After only a year of courses, Watson joined the line with award-winning Chef Peter Boulukos. Watson intended to keep his focus in the kitchen, and at 19 was a sous chef at the eclectic Himmarshee Bar and Grill.

Watson also served as tournant in two of Boulukos’ nearby restaurants. Working long hours six to seven days a week, Watson’s experience varied from high-volume to fine-dining.

In 2002, Watson returned to his home state to work at the Rugby Grill in Birmingham alongside Chef Colin Brown. From there he moved to Tribute in Farmington Hills, where he served as tournant under Executive Chef Takashi Yagihashi and later as sous chef under Executive Chef Don Yamauchi. Watson’s experience includes executive chef of Peabody’s in Birmingham, a tenure at David Burke’s Modern American Restaurant at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and Yagihashi’s Chicago namesake Takashi and most recently back home in Michigan as Chef de Cuisine at Iridescence of Motor City Casino.

Watson, a Berkley, Mich. resident, uses French techniques to craft modern American inspired dishes.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Jesse Knott

For the International Experience semifinals, Knott offered an Incan/Peruvian Machu Picchu coney dog.

A 2008 graduate of Schoolcraft College’s culinary school, Knott cooked at the American Harvest restaurant during the ’07-’08 school year. He was a catering chef on various film sets ’09-’10 and was a chef at downtown’s Mudgie’s in 2010 and 2011.

He has been doing pop-up style dinners for the past year — as well as blowing glass.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book