true confessions

A New York City hot dog virgin asks: Are Nathan’s hot dogs really all that special?

Photo by Flickr user Jazz Guy.
Photo by Flickr user Jazz Guy.

As this summer’s self-appointed Hot Dog Princess of Brokelyn, my responsibilities have ranged from educating the masses by shining light on the myth of my beloved Detroit Coney Dogs to exposing the salty underbelly of the return of the Coney Island Hot Dog Wars last month. But the time has come to get something off my chest, for I have my own dirty water secret: this Michigan girl has never had a New York City Hot Dog. And frankly, it’s a relief to finally type that out loud.

Upon making the move from Detroit to New York more than a year ago, I’ve abstained from all-wiener consumption outside of Michigan state lines. I’ll admit, I’ve dabbled with some local artisan sausages here and there (you should check out Jake’s Handcrafted in Park Slope = yum), but my harsh reality is that I crave what I can’t have: My beloved Coney Dogs of Detroit.

The time had come for me to put my stubbornness and fear of meats unknown aside, suck it up, and eat a NY hot dog.

This is New York, a Hot Dog Mecca to many, but a Hot Mess-a in my eyes because everyone puts goddamn beans in their chili. Temptation was around every subway stop, but I wasn’t about to just cheat on Coney Dogs with some quickie Hot Frank I might lock eyes with in a bodega. The city is full of people who moved here from elsewhere trying things for the first time, but my hometown hot dog pride is something I refuse to give up.

At first it was easy. All I could think about was how a little separation would do us some good, only making a Coney Dog back in Michigan taste that much more special when I returned. But with the warm weather finally upon us, my hot dog cravings have never been more persistent. Researching and writing hot dog related articles for Brokelyn kindled the fire deep in my belly; aromas of burnt street meat bombarded me at every turn. I only had a month and a half left until I would get to visit Detroit in July, but as the days went on, it soon became very apparently that I was weak, and I began to fantasize what it would be like taking the plunge into the dirty forbidden waters.


Photo by Flickr’s Steve Robbins.

Now, I did not take this decision lightly. I wasn’t looking for a one-night hot dog stand, but I wasn’t looking for commitment either. My bar was set pretty high for hot dog standards, so I wasn’t about to throw myself on the first hot dog vendor I came across. My New York Hot Dog Expertise was limited to one place only: Nathan’s Famous. I knew the history, I somewhat knew the menu, and Nathan was well-known for leaving his customers satisfied and smiling. FDR even loved Nathan’s, and he’s my favorite president!

So it was decided: Nathan’s in Coney Island would be My First.

The journey was no walk in Prospect Park: I was hot, I was hungover from a night of drinking gin and juices like it was 2002 and I forgot that school was a thing. I departed around 2:15pm which resulted in cars being swarmed by school children commuting home. Somewhere, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” was playing as I was left standing, staring into subway space, re-evaluating all the decisions I’d made in the past 24 hours.

Fast forward an hour later, and I found myself standing in the Express line at Nathan’s Famous. The beauty was that there was no line, the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” was booming from the speakers, and the air smelled of saltwater breezes and bacon: Things were beginning to feel just right.

I stood there and ordered $14 worth of food and drink, practiced safe condiments of applying a light layer of ketchup and mustard to my Original Nathan’s Hot Dog, grabbed a handful of napkins, and then took a seat next to a table of touristy bros who I’m fairly certain had come to Coney Island mistaking it for the Jersey Shore.


Finally, the moment had arrived, and I couldn’t tell if I was just giddy because I was day-after drunk starving or if I was nervously excited for breaking my hot dog abstinence. As I stared down this Forbidden Wiener, for there was no room for pleasantries, my mind started racing: What if this is the worst hot dog I’ve ever eaten? What if it’s the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten? What if it’s rubbery? Why does Nathan’s put beans in their chili dog chili?

I froze. As if that skinny, wrinkly hot dog came to life and slapped me in the face, I realized why I’d been abstaining from hot dogs for over the course of the past year.

What if I ended up like New York hot dogs over my favorite Detroit Coney Dogs?


The Detroit Coney Island diners hold a special place in Hope's heart.
The Detroit Coney Island diners hold a special place in Hope’s heart.

I grew up eating Coney Dogs. When I was a little, my Grandpa Barr would pick me up and take me to Coney Islands (aka diners) where I’d struggle to get through two Coney Dogs while he inhaled five, polish off my french fries, and still had room for apple pie. Every summer my parents worked as florists in Eastern Market in downtown Detroit, and my mom and I would go to Zeff’s Coney Island for lunch every Saturday. While I was in college, D1 Coney Island was right across the street from our undergraduate theater, The Bonstelle. My friends and I would spend all our dinner breaks there during tech weeks. These are some of my most treasured memories.

My grandfather passed away unexpectedly two years ago. My parents, who got divorced in 2010, have practically nothing to do with each other. My post-grad years with a theater degree have been a little less theatrical than I’d hope for. But I still had Coney Dogs; the tradition, the consistency that they’d taste exactly how they always tasted, and I’d be comforted.

Now I find myself living in Brooklyn with three roommates, working a serving gig with a group of misfit new friends/family that drive me mental, doing little to no theater but writing for this really sweet website called Brokelyn, while still being able to make time to go adventuring with friends and search for love in all the wrong dating apps. I didn’t think I would last more than three months out here, but look at how far I’ve come on my own.

New York has unexpectedly become my new home, which prompted me to take that first bite. And you know what? I didn’t hate it.

It was different, sure. Definitely not what I’m used to, but it certainly hit the spot and I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Smiling, I finished off my onion rings, ate most of my bacon cheese fries (again, I can’t express how much I prefer my chili beanless) once I was happy and full, walked to the beach with my best friend to live in blissful, food coma comfort of neglecting all over adulting responsibilities for the remainder of the afternoon.

I now understand why New Yorkers will rave about Nathan’s in this Hot Dog Mecca of a city. Nathan’s is not only home to world-famous hot dogs, but to happy memories old and still to come, just like how Coney Dogs from Detroit mean the world to me. No matter what success I find here, I can always go back to Detroit and Coney Dogs will still be there waiting for me; happiness on a fluffy bun.

You may have sold me a little bit on hot dogs for the time being, New York. Now let’s talk about the atrocious obsession you have with thin-crust pizza.

Follow Hope, whose views on pizza do not reflect the opinions of her editors or this blog: @HavingHope14.

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