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While you’ve probably heard of both Flint and Detroit Coneys, the disputes about which one is best, and the decades-long dispute between the Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island over which one is the best Detroit coney, you probably have never heard of the third contender in the state of Michigan: The Jackson Coney. Developed by George Todoroff, the Jackson coney has been sold at Todoroff’s Original Coney Island at 1200 West Parnall Road in Jackson, Michigan, since 1914.
One of the key points about the Jackson coney and why it’s important is that it’s linked to the development of what’s known as the Michigan Hot Dog that’s popular in upstate New York and parts of Quebec. From the Wikipedia article on the Michigan:
(i)ts also been reported that the Plattsburgh origin of the “Michigan” name came from Plattsburgh residents, Jack Rabin and his wife, who discovered the Jackson Coney Island Hot Dog while vacationing in Coney Island, fell in love with it, and subsequently recreated the sauce at Nitzi’s, their “Michigan Hot Dog” stand on Route 9 just outside of Plattsburgh … At least one other story exists linking Plattsburgh to the “Michigan Hot Dog”. This story claims that a Canadian, possibly a salesman, traveled between Montreal and New York City. and – on his way home – he would stop in Plattsburgh and spend the night at the Witherill Hotel. Apparently, he would bring back several of Todoroff’s “Jackson Island Conies” and get the cook at the hotel to warm them. The cook liked the flavor so well that he created a similar sauce with similar taste and it caught on and spread in several of the local restaurants. Soon thereafter, everyone in Plattsburgh began referring to them as, “Michigan hot dogs”.
This past Saturday while shopping at the Country Market in Adrian, Michigan, for the ingredients for Sharron Lee’s fruitcake for the previous post, I glanced in one of the island freezers and spotted this tub of sauce. Having never been to Todoroff’s at any point in my life, even though I’ve lived here in Michigan the majority of it, I had to have this container of “Todoroff’s Original Chili No Beans”, aka original Jackson coney sauce. I then promptly sent Ryan off for a couple packs of Koegel Viennas and some decent buns.
One of the things we’ve noticed about pre-packaged hot dog and coney sauces is that they seem to lack the flavor of the same sauce directly from the restaurant of the same name. Ron is one of the cashiers at the Kroger in Point Place, Ohio. When Rudy’s Hot Dog of Toledo recently released their sauce in a can, Ron told me some of his customers had pointed out the canned version didn’t quite taste the same since it hadn’t been simmering in grease all day.
Before taking the above photo, I made sure enough of the grease … er, oils … had simmered to the top of the Todoroff’s sauce to illustrate that their version is probably quite close to what’s served in Jackson. Of course, if you want to spoon this off go right ahead. The flavor probably won’t suffer since apparently it’s the same as what’s served in the restaurant.
Todoroff’s original Jackson coney sauce … regardless if they want to call it something else, or if someone in New York wants to call it a Michigan … is pretty darn close in flavor and texture to my beloved Flint coneys. Serving it on grilled Koegel Viennas also added the correct meat and “snap” of the casing to really show how close the Jackson sauce is to the Flint sauce.
And for Mary’s and my daughter’s benefit, Todoroff’s sauce doesn’t contain any of those danged organ meats.
I’ll be picking up a few more of these next time. And the Viennas, too. We … I mean I … need a stash.
On March 13, 2016, Tom Thomson sent us the following personal rememberances of the Jackson Coney. Enjoy!
My God, I can almost taste the stuff just by looking at it! My late father, God rest his soul, was born and raised in Detroit, but spent all of his summers in Chelsea, which if you are at all familiar with Michigan geography is just a Petoskey Stones throw from Jackson! My dad would work his summer vacations from Cass Tech on a friends working farm! I don’t really think that my dad was really all that interested in farming, as he was a city boy, and really didn’t like the outdoors all that much! He hated bears, mosquitoes, and all of the other bugs that would crawl into your bed at night, so he preferred the city life! I think that he went to Chelsea because it was the lesser of two weevils! I know, really bad! You see, my Grandfather was a Scottish born immigrant, who came to America to find the fortunes that this young country had to offer! He was a journeyman plumber, and had actually done a lot of work in places like Buckingham Palace! Believe it or not, he specialized in fitting and running small copper and brass lines through toilet seats, so that the seats could be heated by running hot water through them. I guess when you are Royalty, your throne is wherever you sit! Because of this specialty, he thought that this skill would be in great demand here, because, after all, we were the place where everyone lived in luxury! Not only did my Grandfather bring his skills as a plumber to the U.S., he brought his taste for whiskey with him too. After settling into his life as a master plumber at the Packard plant, he proceeded to drink himself to death! My Grandmother died of ruptured appendix when he was nine, leaving my Grandfather with a son that he really didn’t want to take care of. Between the physical and psychological abuse, my dad would spend as much time as he could away from home. They lived in a two story building with the bottom floor of his particular building being a Coney Island restaurant! It was on the corner of Livernois and Grand Street, not to be confused with Grand Blvd, and stayed busy all the time! It was owned by a Greek man, George Popodopolis, who was married, but his three sons were killed in Greece prior to George moving to the U.S. George was like a father to my dad, and would let him sleep on a cot in his back room when it was too dangerous for my dad to go home. My dad would eat two or three meals a day there, and would work off his bill by working in the restaurant after school. It was a pretty fair trade off, and he even taught my dad how to cook! It was a sad situation, but my dad made the best of it. Until the day George, my dad would take him cartons of cigarettes, cigars, and Ouzo when George got older, and couldn’t get around so well.
As my dad got a little older, he would ride his bicycle all the way to Chelsea, MI, where he had a friend from school who’s family owned a very large farm. My dad would spend all of his summers there, working on the farm, and having somewhat of a normal life. (It was kind of sad when my dad told me that the only way he ever knew it was a holiday, was when the Coney Island downstairs was closed!) Anyway, my dad absolutely loved Coney Islands, and had the opportunity to eat at Todoroff’s, and just about every other coney place that existed in lower Michigan! My dad left Detroit on December 8th, 1941, when he joined the Navy. He was only 16, but my Grandfather was all too happy to help him lie about his age to get him in! He returned to Detroit after the war, met my mother at a wiener roast of all places, and went to school to become a mortician. As the low man on the totem pole, he worked some really long and screwy hours for Detroit Funeral Car Service, and also drove limos for the Tocco and Zerilli families, which is a whole different story! He was in that business for 25 years, through 7 kids, watching two sons leave for Vietnam, riots, and several moves around Highland Park and Detroit. Through all of this life, he never gave up his crazy mad love for Coney Island hot dogs! I can remember as a kid when there was an occasional time when my dad was late getting home from work. My mother never worried about him having an affair, but I do remember her saying that he was “probably at a Coney Island”!
When I was a kid, right on through my middle aged years, I had the opportunity to go on numerous road trips with my dad, and we stopped at a lot of CI type restaurants all over the U.S. My dad had met, and talked with George Todoroff on many occasions, and said that he was a fine man, who took great pride in his cooking! Someone at a Coney place here in Detroit once told my dad and I, that Todoroff’s used a pre-made, and pre-packaged chili, but my dad swore that this was impossible. This man told us that Todoroff’s, and several other coneys used a product called “Great Lakes Chili Con Carne” I would have just written it off, and ignored this guy, but a couple years later, I heard this same exact story from someone else!
Normally, all of this would be trivial, and wouldn’t matter, but I am currently looking at doing another travel guide for Michigan, which will include the Jackson area, and have a bit on some of the restaurants in Jackson, and the road trip history of the area. I didn’t really think that it would be cool to contact the fourth generation of the Todoroff’s just yet, as I fear that it would insult the heck out of them by asking whose chili they were using on their father’s or grandfather’s groundbreaking and historic recipe! So, if anyone out there has any information on it, I would appreciate it a whole lot if you would share that information with me!
I didn’t realize how carried away I got here until I was done, and looked back at what I had written! I hope that I haven’t bored you to death, or made you so sick of Coney Islands, that you stop eating them!
Take care, God bless, and keep eating the veins of Detroit!