100. RedHots Coney Island, Highland Park

Richard and Carol Harlan, married 35 years and still working side by side.

12 Victor St.
Highland Park, MI 48203

RedHots Coney Island website

313-868-0766

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.

Eugenia "Jean" Harlan is Richard's mogther and has been coming to RedHots for 72 years. Her sister's in-laws, the Nicholson;s. previously owned the place.

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.

The mustard should be positioned so as not to interfere with that chili.

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.”

The sign says coney islands, but it does not mention the name of the restuarant.

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.

99. Zef’s/Zeff’s riddle solved

John Palusaj tells the story of Zef's at the Bay City location

Zef’s Coney Island
660 Woodward Ave.
Detroit, MI 48226

313-962-2077

When I heard there was a Zef’s Coney Island in Bay City and that it was connected to a Zef’s in downtown Detroit, I was confused.

That's a delivery running out the door at the downtown Zef's.

There is a Zeff’s in Eastern Market and a newer place, with one F, at 660 Woodward Ave., near Campus Martius, the epicenter of Detroit’s coney craze.

How were these three places connected?

I visited the Bay City Zef’s as part of MLive’s search for the best coney dog in Michigan and got the story from John Palusaj, who runs the Bay City Zef’s.

He said that he and his brother Joseph — opened in Eastern Market in 1974 and used the second half of his brother’s name — Zef — to distinguish that restaurant from a Joseph’s coney island up the street. (That coney is likely now the one known as Mike’s Coney Island, also profiled in 100 Coneys in 100 Days.) The Palusaj brothers ran that restaurant until they moved to the Book Building at 1249 Washington Boulevard, downtown.

When they sold their old location, the new owner kept Zef’s as the name until the brothers complained. The solution was an extra “f.”

John Palusaj sets down one of the messiest coney island special you'll ever see. This definitely calls for a knife and fork.

Their restaurant on the ground floor of the Book Building eventually moved out and reopened in Woodward on the first floor of another office building, the First National Building .

So, that explains the name, but it does not explain Bay City.

John Palusaj said that a lot of law-enforcement people, including federal marshals, ate at the downtown Zef’s and one, who had a place near Bay City and who knew the town was bereft of coney islands, suggested he open up there.

And it happened.

So, that is why there are two coney islands with very similar names in Detroit and why you can get an authentic Detroit-style coney dog in Bay City.

The Bay City Zef’s is at 201 Third St.

MLive story about the Bay City Zef’s.

98. Coney Time, Detroit

13240 Gratiot Ave.
Detroit, MI 48205-3408

313-245-1631

Two numbers sum up Coney Time Family Restaurant: 24 hours and 99-cent coneys all the time.

The sign and the name tell customers that they can satisfy their coney cravings at any time of the day or night.

I asked how the coneys could be good if they are always 99 cents. She said they are a loss leader. hey bring people in the door and are subsidized by the other items on the menu.

Those items include breakfast at any hour, a coney taco built on a hot dog bun base and a “coney fish,” which is called a “fish dog” at other places along Gratiot. It is fried fish in a bun.

The other Coney Time locations is 15098 E. Seven Mile Road, Detroit, MI, 313-371-0080.

97. Duly’s Coney Island, Detroit

That's Duly Seit behind the counter in this photo, donated for use in "Coney Detroit" by his daughter, Marion Toptoni.

5458 West Vernor Highway
Detroit, MI 48209

313-554-3076

Duly’s is a classic. There is no other way to put it and no place that can beat it for authenticity.

Founded in 1921 by Duly Seit, it has been serving the people of Southwest Detroit with little fanfare and hardly any changes for more than nine decades. It has been closely held and that has helped it retain its lunch-counter atmosphere.

Seit died in 1963 and family members kept running the place under his name until 2000 when long-time employee Gjoka “Joe” Gojcaj bought it and kept the good thing going.

While the general story for Detroit-area coney islands is that the Greeks came first and were followed generations later by Albanian coney owners, this restaurant shows that Albanian roots run every bit as far back as Greek roots.

Being somewhat removed from downtown, Duly’s does not get the recognition or traffic anymore of Lafayette and American, it has achieved its measure of fame, serving thousands of students from the Holy Redeemer school that stands kitty-coner to it and it once was used in the film, “The Rosary Murders.” If you get a chance to stop by, step into this piece of coney island history.

Duly’s Coney Island is featured in the book “Coney Detroit,” published by Wayne State University Press.

Have you been to The Coney Man? Do you have a favorite place for coney island hot dogs you’d like us to visit? We love your comments.

96. Hercules Family Restaurant, Farmington Hills

Frankie and Theodora Assimacopoulos at Hercules Family Restaurant

33292 W. Twelve Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

248-489-9777

Freelance writer Jenny Cromie insisted that I try her favorite coney, which she called “Hercules Coney Island.”

When I pulled up to the place, the sign clearly said, “Hercules Family Restaurant.”

Was this a mistake? Not at all. I took a seat at the end of the counter and watched the breakfast crowd dissipate and the lunch crowd erupt. Frankie Assimacopoulos was a dervish. He took orders by phone and at the cash register, rang up orders, expedited plates to the customers and led his staff by example. At the height of the rush, the cavalry arrived, Theodora Assimacopoulos.

They do coneys well and this family has worked with some of Detroit’s other major coney dynasties, but they clearly want to prove they are about more than coneys.

As office workers, mothers with children and high school girls on a half-day streamed in to fill the booths or line up for orders, plates of saganaki cheese went up in flames, coneys were shuttled out to customers along with salads, cups and bowls of soup and sandwiches.

Dolmathes, souvlaki, pastitsio and mousaka attested to the owners’ Greek origins.

Oh, and as I was leaving, I checked the sign at the west end of the shopping center parking lot where this place is located. It said, “Hercules Coney.”

95. The Coney Man, Detroit

3031 W. Grand Blvd., # 230
Detroit, MI 48202

313-874-0225

A lot of people profess to be coney fans, but few can claim to be “The COney Man: and back it up.

One who can is Mike Demerjian, who runs a place that looks like a hot dog stand but sports a high-rent address in Detroit’s New Center One on Grand Boulevard.

We did not profile The Coney Man in “Coney Detroit” for its posh surrounding in a skyscraper built during General Motors’ salad days. We chose it because Demerjian uses his coney creativity to assuage the consciences of office workers who feel they should be eating a salad but really have to have coneys.

Demerjian offers a coney lite — a turkey dog on a whole-wheat bun, in addition to more traditional coney dogs. He opened in the New Center Building as American Coney Classics in 1993, but everyone called him The Coney Man and the name stuck.

The Coney Man is featured in the book “Coney Detroit,” published by Wayne State University Press. This photo is from one of the 125 color photos in the book.

Have you been to The Coney Man? Do you have a favorite place for coney island hot dogs you’d like us to visit? We love your comments.

94. Davison Coney Island, Oak Park

Davison Coney Island brought a street name from its original neighborhood with it when it moved to Oak Park in 1991.

13631 W 9 Mile Road
Oak Park, MI 48237

248-548-4768

This place will surprise you, but it is as comfortable as home to some of its regulars.

It anchors the east end of a short string of stores and that makes it look like many other little coney islands, but For one thing, it is one of the Detroit area’s oldest.

Davison Coney Island was established 1945 at Davison and Linwood by Stavros “Steve” Lampos. He was Greek, like most other coney owners at the time, and his restaurant was in the city near a cluster of Jewish synagogues.

After Detroit’s civil disturbance in 1967, a lot of that neighborhood moved out and, in 1971, Davison Coney Island left its original location but brought the street’s name with it.

Continue reading

93. Mykonos Coney Island & Restaurant, Taylor

The mural at Mykonos celebrate the island and are justone of several touches that make the restaurant a treat for the eyes.

22905 Van Born Road
Taylor, Michigan 48180

313-342-9844

Mykonos Coney Island & Restaurant website

Yianni Pefkaros, who opened Mykonos on Dec. 6, 1999, sweats the details.

He offers ambitious daily specials and carries a range of international dishes. The coneys are, well, you just have to have them if you’re serious about running a restaurant in the Detroit area.

The restaurant has colorful murals throughout of Mykonos, a Greek island of fewer than 10,000 people that is known as a tourist spot and, according to one of the diners, “a party island.”

The flowers in front of the restaurant and bottles inside add to the color.

Pefkaros was on his way out to an appointment when I arrived, so Mike Donohue, who was sitting at the counter, proclaimed himself a shareholder by virtue of the fact that he eats there almost every day at noon and again at 7 p.m. He told the story.

Pefkaros, who sometimes goes by “John,” worked about seven years each at Opa! Opa! and in Detroit’s Greektown, before opening Mykonos.

Donohue, of nearby Allen Park, declares Mykonos as “the Greektiown of the West.” That’s west-side Detroit, Greektown being downtown.

Donohue has some credibility, having crown up with Chuck Keros, a principal figure in the coney Detroit story. Donohue says they were alter boys together at St. Cecilia in Detroit. Donohue was just completing his 80th year.

92. Isis Coney Island Restaurant, Taylor

The wait staff assured me that Isis was the goddess of beauty.

26866 Eureka Road
Taylor, MI 48180

734-229-0093

I asked the waitresses at Isis Coney Island what the restaurant is named after and one said it was the Greek goddess of beauty. Another corrected her. “No, it’s the Egyptian goddess of beauty.”

Both the Greeks and, before them, the Egyptians recognized Isis, but for motherhood, not beauty.

Don’t tell the waitresses.

This is a Greek-style shopping center coney with an all-day menu and your standard lineup of coney, coney special, loose burger and a coney taco made on a hot dog bun.

A house specialty is the Isis Greek Taco Pita — with the flavors of many nations.

91. Sami’s Coney Island, Taylor

Sami's Coney Island, just days before its hoped-for opening in June, 2012.

24444 Eureka Road
Taylor, Mich.

734-947-2034
One of the points of bringing you 100 coneys in 100 weekdays has been to show you that Metro Detroit has a LOT of coney islands. Our actual count will exceed 100 because we sometimes have brought you a few Petes or a couple Zefs in one day.

Adding the coney chains’ individual stores — we usually just gave each chain one day — quickly takes us past 200 and, from writing “Coney Detroit” and continuing our search for coneys, we seem to find them on almost every corner. Three hundred feels like an easy reach, 400 or 500 more like the actual number.

It is hard to pin down, because the number changes daily.

Take Sami’s. I was driving along Eureka Road today, looking for Isis Coney Island, when I spotted the sign for Sami’s Coney Island.

I made a panic turn to check it out. As I pulled in, it looked closed, with three cars and a couple trucks in the parking lot, parked at odd angles.

I parked, tried the door and stepped in.

There were people working, but they were dressed for consturction, not cooking, and some chairs were up on tables.

Hussein Farhat explained. He said he and one of his partners, Hussein Hamadi, go by “Sami.” They and the third partner, Moe Hamadi, were preparing for final inspections. They hope to be open Detroit’s newest coney by the weekend.

All three learned the coney business working in Leo’s Coney Islands and have decided to start their own place. Having worked for Leo and Pete Stassinopolous, they can trace a direct line back to the Keros Family, which has spawned so many coneys in the Detroit area over nearly a century.