By Sarah Jane Scott
As long as I can remember, my family has had a love affair with coney dogs. Several Friday nights a year, many of us would gather at Aunt Rita and Uncle Fred's to catch up on each others' lives and eat coney dogs, served with potato chips, Vlasic baby dill pickles, and extra sharp cheddar cheese. The family has expanded quite a bit and members have moved to different states (and even other countries!), but whenever an out-of-towner comes home, we honor our ritual of going to Aunt Rita's to commune with each other over coneys.
Virginia Coney Dog
Jackson County boasts a plethora of restaurants serving Coney dogs; some completely dedicated to the delicacy and some with it tucked into a menu of other great options. For those unfamiliar with the famous Jackson-style Coney, let me explain. This is not a chili-topped hot dog requiring a fork, knife, and spoon to eat because it's so sloppy (aka Detroit-style Coney). The Jackson Coney, debuting in the early 1900s, is in a category of its own: your standard deliciously steamed hot dog in an extra soft bun topped with mouthwatering seasoned ground beef heart, and if one chooses, onions and mustard. That's it. A simple, savory dog. You may need a fork to pick up the loose beef, but that's totally a personal decision. Since it's not a sloppy sauce, you can just as easily use your fingers to clean your plate.
For the longest time, my family exclusively bought from the Jaxon Pizza Factory, which served the best Coney dog in town; but with its closing in 2013, we've had to visit other options. In a brief survey of family and friends, the following came up as the next best options: Jackson Coney Island, Virginia Coney Island, Andy's Pizza, Tommy's hotdog stand, and Todoroff's*. So, with their help, I offer you:
A Jackson Coney Analysis
First stop Jackson Coney Island! JCI has a 100+ year history of serving Coneys in Jackson. Located next to the rail station, its newly renovated building offers an atmosphere of an old-time diner. Plus, they just opened a walk-up window for those late night hotdog cravings! The JCI coney sauce is rich in flavor. Additionally, the onions are relatively mild, so a mid-day Coney won't ruin your afternoon work meetings.
At the end of the block sits JCI's immediate competition: Virginia Coney Island. Virginia also has a long history in Jackson. Virginia's sauce is pretty mild in the flavor department, but what it lacks in sauce flavor it more than makes up for in onions. I'm an onion person, so if I don't have to greet too many people after eating a Coney, I opt for Virginia. Plus, it was voted the best Coney in Jackson and 5th in Michigan, so you really can't go wrong here.
A third contender of Jackson-style Coneys is Andy's Pizza. Like the closed Jaxon Pizza Factory, Andy's specializes in pizza. However, they do offer a pretty killer Coney for those who like a bit of a kick. The onions are nothing special, but the spicier sauce fills in where the onions are lacking. Since Andy's has two locations, one on either side of town (Andy's 2115 E. Michigan Ave and Andy's 1208 W. Ganson St. plus one in Michigan Center Andy's 311 Fifth St.), there has been speculation that one restaurant is better than the other, but I think they're both equally great.
Then, there's Tommy's. I personally wasn't able to get to Tommy's hot dog stand because he's primarily open during the lunch hour and my schedule is unforgiving sometimes. However, several Jackson natives have raved about Tommy's. First, these dogs are lovingly made by a retiree who just wants to sell hot dogs. Second, they are only available at his house at 510 Detroit St. As a friend said, “You CAN'T beat the experience of buying lunch on Detroit Street – literally on the street!”
Finally, if you want to experience a Jackson-style Coney from the comfort of your own home, or if you have a hotdog or bun preference not fulfilled at the other restaurants, you can purchase Todoroff's Coney Island Sauce at Kroger, Polly's Country Market, and Meijer. This is the Coney sauce of Jackson- probably the original, so even if you're passing through, it's worth taking some with you to wow your friends at home. Just be sure to serve it with potato chips, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and Vlasic baby dill pickles.
Click here for a full list of Hot Dog Restaurants in Jackson.
Sarah Scott is a Jackson native working in prevention and community health at Henry Ford Allegiance Health. While she encourages a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and moderation in the junk food department, she justifies her Coney dog palate with the fact that she lives and works within walking distance of three of the best Coney providers in Jackson.