11 September 2015

(Cheese) Coney (Islands)

the cheese coney in its natural habitat
A couple months ago, I used the phrase "cheese coney" to the consternation of those around me. This surprised me; as a Cincinnati native, I know that my people's distinct form of chili is not known everywhere, but where in the world does the chili dog not exist? What I did not realize is that even though the chili dog is ubiquitous across America, the term "cheese coney"-- or, more properly, "Coney Island hot dog"-- is not. From my involved research on the subject (i.e., reading some Wikipedia articles), it is unclear to me if the terms "chili dog" and "Coney Island hot dog" are synonymous, or if the cheese coney represents some kind of subset of chili dog (and if so, what distinguishes it). Obviously, in Cincinnati your cheese coney will have Cincinnati chili on it, but you can have a cheese coney other places with other kinds of chili on it, right?

I sort of forget about all this until I recently came across the following infographic (from The Food Republic):

click to enlarge

The coney is about one-third of the way down, ensconced between the Montreal, the Italian, and the Kansas City. (Is that right? Should their names be preceded by definite articles?) Only upon seeing the coney surrounded by geographically named hot dog variants did it occur to me to ask, after 30 years of eating cheese coneys, What on Earth does a cheese coney have to do with the place of Coney Island? This quickly led to a second question I'd never thought to investigate before, either: Why is there a place in Cincinnati called "Coney Island" which is not on an island, and does it have anything to do with delicious food?

Things I Learned about Cheese Coneys:
Like all foods, no one agrees on who invented the cheese coney or where. Wikipedia claims (I know, but I'm writing this blog entry in 30 minutes, and you're getting what you're paying for):
In 1913 the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce in New York had banned the use of the term "hot dog" on restaurant signs on Coney Island, an action prompted by concerns about visitors taking the term literally and assuming there was dog meat in the sausage. Because of this action by the Chamber of Commerce, immigrants passing through the area didn't know the sausage in a bun by the American moniker "hot dog." Instead, the handheld food would have been known to immigrants as a "coney island." 
But it also says the Coney Island hot dog may have been first served in Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Jackson, Michigan. Not sure why Coney Island itself is not a contender!

the two Coney Islands
courtesy Google Street View
There are also restaurants called Coney Islands, which I did not know. They're primarily in Michigan, I guess. In this case we do know the original: two Greek-American brothers created a restaurant called "Coney Island" in Detroit in 1914, and because they didn't trademark the name, they had many emulators. The best part is that their many emulators included themselves; in 1917, a business dispute led them to split into two separate, adjacent establishments on Lafayette Street: American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. They're still both there!

Things I Learned about Coney Island, the Place in Cincinnati, Not New York:
I don't know when I learned Coney Island was not originally a place in Cincinnati-- for me that's still the primary association. We used to go every summer when I was in Boy Scouts, for the Dan Beard Council Family Jamboree. I don't think I've ever ridden on one of the park's amusement park rides, but I have spent the night many times, and handed out samples of freshly cooked Dutch oven cobbler! (Our specialties in Troop 641 were peach, apple spice, and, best of all, chocolate cherry.) I still remember watching The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and when its cartoon fish protagonist declared he was going to swim to Coney Island, thinking he had an awful long and circuitous route to follow given he was starting in the Atlantic Ocean!*

Coney Island in 1965
The answer to the mystery is relatively pedestrian. An 1870s apple farmer on the Ohio River used to rent out his farm for events, and soon realized he made more money from that than apple farming. He built a bowling alley, a dining hall, and a dancing hall as his popularity grew, and eventually sold it; the new owners dubbed it "Ohio Grove, the Coney Island of the West" in 1886. By 1887 they officially changed the name to just "Coney Island"! A brazen piggybacking on a more popular brand, I guess, but it apparently worked. It was apparently known as "Cincinnati's moral resort," which is totally the kind of thing Cincinnatians would be really into.

I have no clever ending to tie all this information together, but man, I could totally scarf down three Skyline cheese coneys (onions, no mustard) right now.

* I hadn't thought about this film for decades until composing this blog entry. Reading the Wikipedia entry, it sounds absolutely awful.


  1. And all of a sudden I'm feeling hungry! I think I shall blame your post. By the way, I just read your post about the Legion and it was great. You seem to be a bit of an expert in Abnett and Lanning. Anyway, I also wrote about the series in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):


    I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



    1. I do pop over and read your blog occasionally-- but I just formally followed it.

      I actually don't know a whole lot about that era of the Legion. I've read LEGION LOST and just a couple other scattered tales: the #0 issue that introduced the reboot Legion, LEGION OF THE DAMNED, and #3 of the Abnett/Edginton THE LEGION. Hopefully I'll read more someday!

      Right now my current in-single-issues read is the Giffen/Grant/Kitson/Waid/Peyer L.E.G.I.O.N. '89/'90/'91/'92/&c.