I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Great Idea #3: The Restaurant of Hope

Recently in the New York Times sports section an enterprising reporter—interviewing average Detroiters about the Super Bowl, factory closings, et cetera—spoke to a man “coming out of a hot dog shop.” Now, maybe the reporter was new to the region. Maybe he (or she, I cannot recall) was just trying to translate a unique place to a world wary of difference. Either way, I will bet you that the “hot dog shop” in question was none other than a Coney Island.

Yes, a Coney Island. Many an easterner who has visited Michigan has wondered at the area’s fascination with the Big Apple and its entertainment melting pot. Many an easterner has been tragically confused. A Coney Island is a restaurant that, contrary to what you might have been told, does not cater to Detroiters nostalgic for merry go rounds (they have those in Detroit and in nearby Dearborn) and other quaint NYC-type entertainments. No, this is not a Subway sandwich shop! The Coney Island is an institution unto itself.

The Coney Island sells Coney Islands. Simply put, they are hot dogs. However, to put it simply doesn’t do them justice. One could also say that they are natural-casing franks, covered in chili, diced onions and mustard and served on a steamed bun. That, too, is inadequate for they are special franks with special chili, special onions and special (usually French’s yellow) mustard. The bun is that special combination of fresh and stale. They are Detroit’s contribution to the American culinary landscape and they are darn good.

Here is what Dan Keros of American Coney Island says about its history in a recent Life Magazine article. "My grandfather Gust came from Greece and got his first taste of a hot dog in Coney Island. When he moved to Detroit he worked a bunch of jobs--pushing a popcorn cart, shining shoes, cleaning hats. He eventually saved enough to open American Coney Island, basically a hot dog cart with a roof and no wheels. He sold dogs, and he sold chili..." I think you can figure out how the rest of the story goes.

So, why are they Great Idea #3? It’s a religious thing. Do you remember the MASH episode about “Adam’s Ribs”? Hawkeye Pierce from Crabapple Cove, Maine got a hankerin’ for barbeque from a specific restaurant in Chicago Illinois. Maybe he developed his affection while a medical student? I do not recall. The point is, amazing high jinx ensue, Hawkeye gets his ribs and all is right in the world for one perfect evening.

OK…still with me? Adam Tierney-Eliot from Lisbon Falls, Maine loves Coney Islands. This is a love developed while on my parish internship in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, right outside the Motor City. I miss them, too. Sure I can make them at home, but that is not the point. The Coney Island to me—just as the ribs, no doubt, were to Hawk—symbolize so much more. These Hot Dogs represent adventure, freedom, the chance to try something new. They also stand for their city, an exciting place with much more going for it than people often will allow.

Coney Islands are my comfort food, not because grew up with them but because I did not. When life throws me a curve, when there are bumps in the road as there are for all people, I often find myself thinking back to time spend in Coney Island Restaurants, when my wife, son and I were on a great new trip and I was starting out on this new career. We were filled with hope and love for each other and for the world. That, gentle reader, is why it is religious for me. For what are human beings without these two things? Where, friends, would we be without our dreams for the future and the bonds that support us? Well, I’ll tell you, life would certainly be a faith free zone, devoid of joy.

So, anyway, I conclude my missive today with something of a celebration. Like Hawkeye, I have found a way. I have ordered 20 Coney Islands from American Coney Island in downtown Detroit. This is enough to both harden my arteries and see me through to the spring. What joy! What happiness is now mine as I prepare to eat these delectable treats while drinking beer and watching the big game on Sunday! I, for one, will be rooting casually for Pittsburgh and passionately for Detroit. Go Lions! Fire Millen! Fire Ford First! I urge you to join me. Then maybe, for one brief shining moment, all will be right in the world.