Highland Park, MI 48203
RedHots Coney Island website
This is it. We have taken you to 100 coney islands in 100 weekdays. On some days, in fact, we took you to more than one because there are just so darn many coney islands in the Detroit area.
We have saved this gem for last — and ate here only today. We were directed here by Jason Carr of Channel 2, painter Louis Morand III and others. They and others swear this is the best coney island in Detroit. It makes a credible claim to being the oldest.RedHots, also called Victor or Victor’s, after the street, is just east off Woodard Avenue and boasts some of the best coney dog chili you will ever find.
Owner Richard Harlan is very fussy about his chili. This is the very item that distinguishes most coneys from the others. We visited many, many coneys that start with someone else’s sauce and then fix it up with their secret mix of spices. Harlan makes his from scratch.
He begins with ground chuck and real onions and garlic. He does not use powdered ingredients and he does not use the ground beef heart you will find in other chili sauces.He starts his sauce at 6 a.m., an hour before weekday openings times, and it simmers till 2 or 3 p.m. Then, he puts it away for the following day or the day after, letting the flavors meld. What spices does he use? If you find out, tell us.
He buys his hot dogs from Dearborn Sausage and he buys the smaller ones that go 10 to the pound rather than the larger and more standard 8:1. He is not saving money. He is doing this to make more room int he coney for his chili. “We’re not here for the hot dog,” he said, “we’re here for the chili.”
With the chili in mind, he puts the mustard underneath it, rather than on top, which he says people do because it looks better.
“Your first bite is to taste the chili, and the mustard just messes you up,” he said. “You want the top of your mouth to hit the chili.”
He uses standard yellow salad mustard, like a lot of places, but is negotiating to get back a zippier old Detroit favorite, Red Pelican mustard., which has been revived.
He finely dices Colossal Spanish onions. “I throw them out if they’re not right.”RedHots and Victor Bakery are surrounded by the neglect and demolition that have practically erased what once was here when Mr. Ford’s motor car company was turning out thousands of Model Ts and thousands of hungry workers who would all but storm the tiny RedHots, grabbing a couple wrapped coneys and dropping their money in an honor box. Harlan says some people still prefer the coneys wrapped, so much so that they will ask to have them wrapped and then eat them at one of the booths, tables or stools.
Richard and Carol Harlan, married 35 years.
Eugenia “Jean” Harlan, Richard’s motherm, is in her 80s and has been hanging around this place for 72 years. It was owned by her sister’s in-laws.
Started by Nick Nicholson, a Greek immigrant who came through New York City and, as Richard tells it, saw hot dogs at Coney Island.