By now, if you haven’t heard about Detroit’s Coney dogs, you must live under a rock. Or, at least – much worse – you don’t get cable. Why, Adam Richman, Anthony Bourdain, Camille Ford, Bobby Flay, and Mason Pettit have all sung the praises of Michigan’s venerable chili slop dog. And even Detroit’s trademark square pizza gets major national love. Topped with marinara sauce, the crust cooked to a caramelized crisp, Detroit’s deep-dish delight is a favorite button popping indulgence for out-of-town foodies.
But you know, we’re more than coneys and pizza. How come celebrities don’t wax rhapsodic about the Dinty Moore, a ‘roid raging triple-decker Rueben sandwich unique to Metro Detroit’s Irish taverns? And who’da thunk that almond boneless chicken wasn’t passed down from ancient Ming Dynasty cookbooks, but is in fact a regional specialty virtually unheard of in coastal Chinatowns?
Put simply, Detroit’s food scene has more quirks than every one Marilyn Manson’s girlfriends put together, minus the accompanying grab bag of venereal diseases and questionable tattoos. It’s like a perfect win-win proposition.
One of my favorite local culinary concoctions is the Boston cooler, an all-Detroit drink that actually has no connection whatsoever to Beantown. A lethal combination of ice cream and Vernors pop – pop, not soda – no one really knows why it’s named after Boston, but we can say with confidence that it’s fucking delicious. And that’s what matters.
Like most good things in life, a Boston cooler is simple. Throw a couple scoops of Stroh’s vanilla ice cream into a malt cup, fill it up the rest of the way with Vernors ginger ale, and stir, shaking if necessary. That’s it. Pour the result in a glass and enjoy, as Detroiters have since the 1880s. You’ll quickly come to realize that the smooth sweetness of vanilla ice cream was specifically designed by God to offset the crisp carbonation and sharp ginger profile of Detroit’s Vernors. It’s a milkshake with some serious recoil.
In the ol’ days, you could buy a Boston cooler at the historic Vernors plant at the foot of the Detroit’s main avenue, Woodward, right on the Detroit River. Sanders, a soda shop and ice cream parlor also on Woodward, was another famous spot to slurp up Boston coolers, and company founder Fred Sanders even claimed to be the drink’s inventor. Iron balustrades, marble counters, and bronze light fixtures added an inconceivable air of glamour to ordering a milkshake that was both economically impractical and the stuff of kids’ dreams.
Today, getting a Boston cooler in Detroit proper takes a lil’ more dedication. You never know what random Coney Island it is that still sells it – Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island sure don’t. But two new hipster joints do, at least – Woodbridge Pub and Mercury Bar. The former serves up a bevy of vegetarian and gluten free food alongside mahimahi burgers and Angus beef. The latter cooks everything with lard and prides itself on pushing the fat content meter.
Both, however, have ultra-hip locations and are more than willing to load your Boston cooler with licit hooch. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to ruminate on urban decay and the rusted grandeur of Detroit. Mercury Bar’s view of the ominous Michigan Central Station from the outdoor patio is especially poignant, and a conveniently placed bike rack makes the experience that much better.
Tonight, let’s tip our Boston coolers to Detroit. As the city’s motto goes: “We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.“