Jackson Coney Island

As big as us Michiganders are on our coney dogs, few us actually know where the coney dog was invented. Oh sure, most would probably guess Detroit if asked, or – more specifically – American Coney Island, but then they’d be terribly wrong. Every real mustard-stained coney aficionado knows that Jackson, Michigan, was the true birthplace of the coney, and that Greek immigrant George Todoroff was the One Man, the Father, the Almighty Maker of chili and steamed buns.

There's only one way.Life in Jackson is simple.

Legend has it Todoroff created his now famous coney sauce in 1914, when he first opened Jackson Coney Island. At the time, Jackson was booming as a parts supplier for the emerging auto industry, a veritable perfect storm of low-brow tastes and money. Jackson’s factory workers wanted quick, affordable food, and coney dogs fit the bill perfectly. Overnight, an institution was born.

What else can you say? It's THE Coney Island.Jackson Coney Island.

Indeed, in just a few short years, Coney Islands dotted Michigan like greasy pimples on a hormonal teenager, from Monroe and Kalamazoo to all points north. But no other city made ’em quite like Jackson. Detroit’s diners opted for a saucier chili, while Flint’s restaurateurs insisted on fancy all-natural casings that snap when bitten into. How pretentious.

Jackson’s take remained a little more primitive, befitting its status as the faithful originator. In Jackson, the hot dogs are more mystery meat than natural-casing beef dogs. The chili is dry, drier even than on a Flint-style coney, like a pile of ground beef. And the onions – my God, the onions! My eyes about popped out of my head when I first saw the mountain of finely chopped onions on top of the coneys at Jackson Coney Island. These guys don’t mess around! Some real tears must go into onions diced like this in such quantities – combined with the sweat from the brows of the overworked cooks and the residual traces of blood in the meat, you basically have the perfect trifecta of true dedication.

jackson9Bon appétit! Two Jackson-style coneys from Virginia Coney Island.

It’s hard to mess up a coney, and Jackson Coney Island’s coneys are predictably good. The hot dog itself is admittedly average, but the chili has a heartiness to it, a satisfying potpourri of beef heart and fat with a touch of savory spices. And yes, sometimes the onions are a bit overpowering, but the expertly applied mustard underneath generally helps offset the sharpness. While I wouldn’t call the Jackson-style coney my favorite, it at least makes for a venerable entry into the pantheon of hallowed Michigan coney recipes.

Interestingly enough, Jackson Coney Island has a competitor a few doors down called Virginia Coney Island, but to tell you the truth, I can’t taste the difference between the two.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped the locals from the UAW Local and Jackson State Prison from debating which is better. The Jackson Patriot even had an impassioned vote on it, with Virginia Coney Island finishing first.

Ol' pals hammin' it up.Inside Jackson Coney Island.

In Jackson – a classic industrial Michigan town – Coney Islands are the de facto gathering places. Which one you patronize regularly is a big deal. After all, how often are you really going to visit places like the Jackson Symphony Orchestra Performing Arts Center with your buddies, to listen politely as converted car mufflers belch out impassioned renditions of Mozart sonatas?

No, a Coney Island suites the majority of life’s moments just fine. And at such establishment it’s the intangibles that add up, like a waiter that never gets your order wrong and tops off your coffee without being asked, or a seat that fits your ass just right. And history, too. That’s what’s important.

Now, if I only I could still use that last notch on my belt….

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18 thoughts on “Jackson Coney Island

  1. I definitely rank Jackson 3rd out of the Michigan Big 3 of coneys. It’s nice that they have a different approach, but it doesn’t quite click. I later learned that fried onions are popular substitute for the incredible piles of raw onion – I’ll have to investigate later.

  2. The coney dog in Jackson is the best! Todoroff’s recipe is very unique and I don’t know if they even do it the original way anymore. Yes for heart but also other organ meat along with the ground beef. Lots of coriander and cumin! Raw onion is the best but everyone needs to try them with “cooked” not fried onions. Delicious. I want one now but live too far away.

  3. JACKSON by far has the best CONEY DOGS, our GRANDPARENTS, PARENTS, OUR FAMILY and now my CHILDREN and their FAMILY head to JACKSON for CONEY DOGS along with our FRIENDS and with our FAMILY and their FRIENDS… It’s like no other CONEY we have travel thru out MICHIGAN to check out so called the best… SORRY no other stands up to JACKSON MI CONEY DOGS…. STOP BY PICK UP A TAKEOUT ORDER ENJOY TIME WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS AT THE PARK . . . MAKE MEMORIES AS WE HAVE…….

  4. In my humble opinion the best Jackson coney place was not mentioned and you will find fierce loyalty in Jackson for them. Tommys on Detroit St in the summer.

  5. Every Year, I have to send Todoroff Coney sauce out to my relatives in Idaho, because you just can’t get anything that good ANYWHERE ELSE.. Todoroff is number one in my book… Even though the restaurant has closed, Polly’s still sells the sauce.

  6. Yep, I definitely need to head back to Jackson to sample more coneys.

    Also, I’m curious as to where people are finding this page from. It gets a lot of traffic and I have no idea why!

  7. There also used to be New York Coney Island across the street from Jackson and Virginia Coney Island. The Coney Island at Jackson Crossing makes them the same way, and Jackson Pizza factory made them the same. My relatives in Toledo Ohio visit Virginia Coney every time they come to Jackson. I once took a box of Coneys down to Toledo to a birthday party, and they hid them and wouldn’t share them with their own family members. Sounds like a drug.

  8. Andy’s restaurant in Jackson also has great Coney’s. We always get some when back in town, and buy a container to go.

  9. Just a couple blocks away is Tommy’s Coneys at 510 Detroit Street. Open May through October. Google some of the websites and you’ll see they’re great hotdogs. The family is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. Staying in business for 100 years says a whole lot.

  10. I was back in Jackson for a reunion, it was at my aunt’s place at Crispell Lake. Aunt Bobbie had a big spread with KFC that was okay, but when my uncle Frederick (her brother) announced that he didn’t drive all the way from Columbus, OH for chicken he could buy at home and he was going for “coneys, ” who wanted to go with him, he was buying. About 30 people took over Andy’s Pizza that used to be on Wisner behind Shoppers Fair

  11. Rumor is the new Owners Dave & Jason are shooting for an August Opening. It can’t come too soon, Jackson needs it’s Coney Island competition…hopefully they’ll win the Prize next Year!!! Go Dave!!!

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