Coney Island: red hot wieners for Oklahoma City since 1924
Hot dog. Is there any other two-word combination in the English language that triggers more memories and food emotions? Probably, but it is hard to deny the importance hot dogs have played in the culinary history and tradition of our country. Unfortunately, Oklahoma City does not have a lot of places to get a good coney, in my opinion. We just lost Dawg House to apparent lack of interest by the Oklahoma City masses, so Coney Island is one of the only predominantly hot dog establishments left in the metro.
Coney Island can be found in downtown as well as on Capitol Hill. According to their signs, they have been serving “red hot wieners since 1924.” I have heard they have been around longer, some say since 1918. Either way, there’s plenty of nostalgia here. Inside, you feel like you have hit a time portal. Coney Island takes you back to a time where there were no credit card readers, where air-conditioning was never set below an almost-comfortable 75 degrees, and where napkins and utensils were apparently a luxury.
You can’t deny that these guys are good stewards of their money. I have seen them take unused napkins off the tables and stuff them back into the dispensers. I’ve also watched them wash their plastic utensils by hand in a big sink (this creeps me out a little, so I just eat mine with my hands). To further their cost-cutting efforts, they frequently turn the lights off on sunny days and get by on natural light alone.
The walls are decorated with big jumbo pieces of paper that have every year’s Oklahoma University football schedule and each game’s results hand written in marker (ruler-lined in pencil so all the lines are nice and straight, of course). These date back to the 1930′s. They serve cafeteria style as you line up and tell them what you want. Be ready please, they are impatient.
When it comes to the food you have very few options. There are hot dogs ($1.25) that can be decorated with mustard, ketchup, onion, chili, and cheese (10 cents extra). Then, there’s the Greek spaghetti ($4.15) in the tradition of the Cincinnati chili fanatics. It’s a bowl of overcooked spaghetti with chili, onions, cheese (20 cents extra), and, in the case of the Coney Island guys, a couple of red hot wieners. There’s also a Frito chili pie ($2.15).
The chili here is really interesting. It’s served the Cincinnati way (allspice, cumin, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and no beans). Calling it “Greek spaghetti” is weird because everything I have ever read is that it was a Macedonian immigrant that brought this chili recipe to Cincinnati, not a Greek immigrant, but I digress.
Anyway, that’s about it on the food options. You can also get a bag of chips, a fountain drink, or a cold beer. If you want more choices, you are out of luck.
So, how does it all taste? Eh … it’s ok. The hot dogs have bright red casings. Again, I think this is a nostalgia thing. Some people think if the casing is dyed red, it tastes better. I don’t get it. In fact, I think it’s weird. Aren’t there enough unnatural ingredients in hot dogs already? Why inject the casing with red #6 and #4? And didn’t we determine in the 70′s that this causes cancer? I have never been a big fan of the flavors of anything here, but it’s not bad, and there’s plenty of nostalgia to go around. It is what it is — a place to get cheap hot dogs.
One of the members of my shady restaurant crew wants to visit Coney Island weekly and always cites times he went as a kid and how it used to be across the street in another building and so on. I think Lance (another shady companion) put it best when he said, “You aren’t going here to eat good food here, you are going to eat memories.” Pretty profound for a shady restaurant guy. I’ve had the spaghetti with hot dogs, and it’s really not bad, but then again I cover it up with cayenne pepper to mask the flavor. It’s messy and you’ll also end up announcing to the world that you just ate it with that inevitable chili stain on your clothing and the horrendous Greek onion chili breath.
The biggest fans I have found of Coney Island, though, are my kids. Kids aren’t picky when it comes to hot dogs, and they remember you taking them to the “hot dog store” as you build memories they can “eat” later in life. It’s worth choking down a few mediocre hot dogs for them, and it’s cheap, too. Just remember your cash, remember your kids, and leave time to stop by the pawn shops and Volkswagen part stores in the area. It’s actually a pretty good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.