Coney Island Menus

People are generally aware that Coney Island restaurants are mostly Greek in nature. But in Flint and Jackson they began with Macedonian immigrants, which partly explains the unique differences in styles. As late as the nineteenth century, and even into the twentieth century, “Greek cooking” as we know it today didn’t exist. There was no moussaka, souvlaki, “Greek salad”, stuffed grape leaves, or most of the other items on today’s “Greek” menus. A lot of the areas were rather rural, many of the people living in poverty, so the majority of Greeks ate very rustic foods. Earlier Coney Island shops therefore had simple menus without many items, and because of where they came from and when that immigration occurred, those simpler menus never changed. A menu from Angelo’s in Flint in the 1990s still included these few offerings:

Hamburg Steak 4.75
Roast Beef 4.75
Baked Ham 4.75
Hot Sandwich 4.00
Franks & Beans 3.00
Ham & Potatoes 2.50
Egg Sandwich 1.40
BLT 2.30
Chili 1.70
Soup 1.45
Cottage Cheese Salad 1.40
American & French Fries 1.45
Hamburg 1.45 DX 1.60
Cheeseburg 1.50 DX 1.70
Coney Island 1.45
1 Egg 1.75 W Meat 2.90
2 Eggs 2.10 W Meat 3.20
Cheese 2.90
Ham & Cheese 3.90
Western 4.20
Chef Salad 2.70 & 3.70
Grilled Ham & Cheese 2.60
Grilled Cheese 1.45
Sausage Sandwich 2.00
Warm Sandwich 2.50
Meat & Egg 2.55
Ham 3.30
Coffee & Tea .90
Juice .90
Milk .50 & 1.20
Pop .80 & .90
Malts 1.45

Monday Vegetable Beef
Tuesday Chicken Noodle
Wednesday Beef Noodle
Thursday Beef Barley
Friday Pea
Saturday Vegetable Beef

So where did the Greek dishes we know today come from? In Greece the word Tselementes basically means “cookbook”. There’s an individual behind that word who introduced the dishes Americans think of when talking about Greek cooking. Nikolaos Constantinus Tselementes was a Greek cook at eateries owned by relatives. He then studied in Vienna, and was cooking at various embassies in Athens when he began publishing his “Odigos Mageirikis” (“Cooking Guide”) periodical in 1910, which included recipes, dietary and nutritional advice. He first immigrated to the U.S. on December 15, 1920, aboard the Themistocles embarking from Piraeus. (His name was misspelled on the manifest as “Tsilimintes”.) While living in the United States, he published his first Greek language cookbook, which is where he first demonstrated American and European influences in his cooking techniques and ingredients. Returning to Greece in 1932 he began a cooking school, whose collection of recipes was reprinted at least nine times, recipes having the same outside influences as his earlier Greek language cookbook.

On September 28, 1949, Tselementes immigrated to the U.S. again aboard KLM Royal Dutch Airlines into New York from Amsterdam, listing himself on the manifest as a “Professor of Cookery”, and his destination as the St. Moritz Hotel. In 1950 he published his only English language cookbook, “Greek Cookery”. The book presented multiple versions of Moussaka, souvlaki, and the rest of the so-called “Greek classics” which, in fact, weren’t. The book ended up being a return to the “Lifestyle of Luxury” in a manner similar to the dishes outlined centuries ealier by the Greek poet Archestratus in his “Hedypatheia”, meaning “Life Of Luxury.”

Because of Tselementes, after about 1960, newer Coney Island restaurants share a food culture of large menus serving similarly-named and prepared dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s almost a stock menu between all of them, with minor variations due to family and cook preferences. There are omelets and skillets for breakfast, Greek salads and pitas, tuna salad sandwiches, spinach pie, hot ham, turkey or beef sandwiches, fish & chips, diner-style chef’s salads, and pies and cakes for dessert. But it’s certainly the coney dogs that make Michigan Coney Island restaurants unique.

updated April 25, 2016
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