For the MacDonald family the best things in life aren’t free; they cost exactly $1.50.
That’s the price of coney islands--hot dogs covered with chili and smothered in onions--at the Lafayette Coney Island in downtown Detroit, and the MacDonalds will travel hundreds of miles to get them.
On Saturday, Huntington Beach resident Hugh MacDonald, 55, and nine other family members--ranging in age from 17 to 72--gathered there to have coneys for the first time in years. They came from Michigan, California, Illinois, Ohio and Ontario. MacDonald and four others rode by train from his sister’s home in Buchanan, Mich., where he was visiting.
And as far as he’s concerned, the 200-mile excursion from Buchanan to Detroit was only natural: “You can’t come this far and not get here. They have the best Coney Island dogs anywhere you could find in our opinion. We’ve tried places all over the world.”
Still, MacDonald, who had not been to the restaurant since 1974, said the food was only part of the reason for the trip. The place itself conjures up recollections: “You walk in the door and you smell the unique smell and it just floods the memory with the good times that we’ve had there,” he said Monday.
The MacDonalds have gathered at the modest downtown restaurant innumerable times since the 1930s, when it was opened by a Greek family. They went there after school, after dates, weddings and when the men returned from combat in World War II and in Korea.
“It was a ritual. You went there for no reason and for any reason. That was our joint. In this changing world we live in it’s unique to go back and find it the same. That’s the minor miracle of it: You walk in and it’s the same exactly, nothing has changed about it.”
For example, the menu is the same and the waiter still never writes down orders, but “calls out everything to the grill, ‘two loose’ and that’s a hamburger, or ‘one dog.’ ”
The green and white tile is spic-and-span clean just like it always was. And the little grill at the window “where the guys cook and people walking down the street can see” was unchanged as well, he said.
“The whole trip was just fantastic. We got to jaw with each other and reminisce--and we all had at least three hot dogs each. We were fairly well saturated,” he added.