There are those times when the harsh realities sink in and you have to go back.
Dawn in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
On a spur of the moment trip I couldn’t back out of due to Priceline having my credit card, I made the short trip from Grand Rapids over to Windsor, Ontario. My friend Jeff was supposed to come with me, but after over 20 minutes of pounding on his door, bedroom window, and calling his phone, I made the trip solo.
Arriving in Detroit gave me a rare winter glimpse there as I hopped the People Mover (raised monorail) and headed into Greektown for some gambling and the first Greek food since I had come back from Athens 2 years before.
Crossing into Windsor, the only Canadian city located South of an American border, I drove around and found it a fairly interesting place. A few hours later, Jeff arrived courtesy of a bartender we knew who also had a couple nights off. And together, we hit up the Windsor nightlife that is more commonly known to michigan’s 19 year olds.
Windsor also has a few nice riverside parks which give a nice view of the Detroit skyline. This eerie (no Great Lakes pun intended) silhouette was taken in one of those parks.
A proper So Far travel post, Sundown in Penang coming as soon as I get to an actual computer.
I slide my phone shut as the track finishes downloading and look around. Airports. At times, perhaps even more than cities, they are the symbols of the material center of the modern world. Here is perhaps the greatest display of the best and the worst of humanity. Paranoia and tensions mix with impatience as each traveler is made to go through such intense screening just to see another part of the world. Yet here still is the greatest mix of people that an observer could ever see. Be they the archetypical New York businessman pacing around in front of the window, or the rowdy group of kids that are quite obviously still in high school suited up for an off-time tropical spring break adventure, or the noticeably Orthodox Jews emerging from a plane inbound from Israel, these people are from all parts of the world and all corners of societies, and they all exist here traveling and searching for something.
The song that I downloaded is one that I haven’t heard before, as the CD it is supposed to be on was scratched when I bought it off of eBay, curiously enough over only that one track. As I listen to this song that I should have heard long ago, but didn’t, I am struck by one line in the chorus, “I’ll ***** a path far from here.” Now, this line intrigues me for two reasons. The first is that I cannot pick what word goes in that second slot. I’ve narrowed it down to “light” and “write” but because of Tom Delonge’s habit of warping words and somehow managing to stick an extra Y-sound into each word he speaks, I cannot go any further. And although I am personally more partial to have the “write” inserted into the blank, given my field of interest, the second reason is that either word makes for a phrase that gets me to thinking, about myself, about all these travelers around me, and even about the species as a whole.
This small device, I realize, is just as much a window into the world as that one behind me whose light is glaring off the screen I am trying to look at. A hundred or so years ago, as the movies tell us, at everybody’s side was another small device, a gun, which through flame and controlled explosion was capable of killing. Now, each of us carries at our side one that through electrical signals and controlled radio frequency is capable of uniting any and all at any time. If that small progress is not a sign of hope for us, I cannot say what could be.
American TESOL Institute Series
A term that I recently learned in my research into different kinds of border restrictions and visas is “Visa Run”, a term meaning to make a quick cross of the border into to another country, and then returning to the previous, thereby resetting the clock on the original visa. While not exactly what I was doing here, I still needed to make a run to Chicago to get my Thailand visa, and preferred to do it in person for both speed and to make sure it was done right.
So after being reminded of the successive tolls ($.80, $1.50, $3.50) on I-90, the route of the Chicago Skyway, I was able to exit onto a road completely stripped bare (less manholes higher than speed bumps) for construction.
Still, once off that road, my directions led me right to the Royal Thai Consulate and a really good free parking space only a block away. So, after a 3-hour drive, I strolled over to the Consulate, all my information in hand, only to find a sign on the door telling me they were closed for Chulalongkorn Day, a national holiday in Thailand.
I looked it up later, and it turns out the holiday wasn’t even that day, but Sunday. It just carried on into a national non-work day on Monday.
I hadn’t known if I was going to stay overnight initially or not, but this turn of events kind of made that decision for me, though it was only around 2:30 in the afternoon. I briefly considered driving down to Kempton, a middle of nowhere town about an hour south of Chicago. It’s home to the World Explorer’s Club and a bookstore opened my one of my favorite travel writers growing up, David Childress.
However, as close as it is to Grand Rapids, I had never spent a night actually in Chicago. Since only recently becoming iPhone-less, I had to actually find a telephone book to look up the number for the HI Chicago and then use a sign outside of the John Hancock Tower to find out where it actually was.
After a short walk over to Navy Pier, I returned to my car just before my meter would be running out and headed south toward the hostel. Driving in Chicago was no more fun than driving in Boston and it almost made me happy that I would be getting rid of my car within a couple weeks. The nearest major intersection to the hostel was under heavy construction, forcing me to loop around a series of one ways several times before I could find a 24-hour parking garage nearby.
The HI Chicago was enormous. It is apparently the second largest in the United States, second only to New York, the desk clerk told me as we discussed her upcoming stay at HI New York and some of the details I had liked about it.
One thing that I wanted to check out while in Chicago overnight was the Occupy Chicago protests. They had made national headlines a couple days before because of a few arrests that had been made. So I began zigzagging all over the sprawling lakeside park where they were supposedly arrested while camping out, but could find no side of the protests anywhere near the financial district.
Giving up out of hunger for the time being, I walked through the financial district and through a neighborhood of immensely nice luxury high-rises until I came to the Riverwalk. I followed that upstream a bit until I came back to the road to turn back down for the Hostel. There stood a House of Blues where I enjoyed a nice bacon cheeseburger dip for dinner.
On the way back to the hostel I walked along the edge of the park and eventually came upon the Occupy Chicago movement. It was a little underwhelming. Maybe a hundred people or so sitting around a monument in a half-roundabout. They took turns speaking into a megaphone, mostly about the arrests the previous day and seemed to think that gave their cause some added nobility. Not sure I would agree with that.
The area where I was staying, south side downtown Chicago, is a charismatic university district, but did not have a hopping night scene. Granted it was a Monday night. I found a low-key karaoke lounge called Brando’s Speakeasy that had good drink prices and a very friendly crowd. I’ve found that if you can’t sing well (i.e. me) it’s more fun to just pick the most ridiculous song you can for karaoke.
After walking the empty neighborhood streets a bit more and coming across a couple interesting sights, I headed back toward where the Occupy protests had been around midnight to see if any hardcore protesters were left. There weren’t. Only a few of their left over signs littered the ground.
Finally calling it a night, I headed back to the hostel.
The next morning, I got my car out of the parking ramp ($28) and drove back to the Thailand Consulate. This time, not looking quite as nice as I had yesterday, as I hadn’t brought a razor to shave, expecting to see the consulate the first day there. That didn’t seem to bother the man working the counter, as he was as pragmatic as could be.
He took my visa application and flight information, only amending my request for a multiple-entry tourist visa to a single entry, as I had only bought a one-way ticket to Thailand.
I then had to go on a series of errands that had me feeling like a character from a Playstation RPG.
First, he wouldn’t accept cash payment; it had to be in the form of a money order. No problem, I just had to find a Chase bank. But, as I said, no iPhone anymore. So rather than just look it up, I had to find someone to ask. I figure it’s central downtown Chicago, there has to be a Chase nearby. I asked a doorman outside a hotel and he gladly pointed me a few blocks over.
*You have received money order*
Then, he accepted my passport and application and told me to come back in 2 days. While I could have stayed in the area another couple days, I had a lot to do before leaving in Grand Rapids and just didn’t want to spend the extra money. I asked him if it was possible to mail it back to me. He told me to get a paid envelop from FedEx or UPS and he could. So, I was off again.
I quickly found a FedEx delivery driver right down the street from the consulate and he informed me of a FedEx store in the John Hancock building. I arrived there to an open, but empty store. Another few moments and the attendant came back with a Subway sandwich and was very apologetic and walked me through each step in what I needed for the paid shipping.
*You have received overnight paid envelope*
I quickly went back to the Royal Thai Consulate, eager to finish this process. The same man took the envelope, stuck it with my passport and told me that it would be mailed out on Thursday. Surely enough, Friday it arrived only containing my passport with an official sticker taking up an entire page allowing my tourist visa for Thailand.
An hour later I was back on the stop-go traffic of the Chicago freeway, and an hour after that, back in Michigan.
American TESOL Institute Series
So skipping ahead a few months, as another summer on Mackinac Island provides little new from year to year. The same small island, same seasonal people cycling through every year, and the same things that result from everyone knowing each other in such a small place.
Around mid-summer, I began looking seriously into a program called the American TESOL Institute (ATI) that operates a TESOL certification program in Thailand among other places. The biggest problem in this process was that there simply wasn’t that much information available about ATI (apparently because it only started around 2007). They have their own website, actually a couple, which sometimes didn’t help in convincing me of its legitimacy.
My biggest help in legitimate first-person experiences were blogs like my own here that the people not only updated on their experience through the program, but also gave me a direct line to ask them questions about the whole process.
So after a phone interview, several long Google chat conversations, proof of my degree and passport, and a $500 deposit, I was in the ATI program and began getting sent online reading material and assignments. After the completion of these, I would join the class in person in Bangkok at the beginning of November.
Another task in getting ready for Thailand: Vaccinations. Doing some reading up on what I would need beforehand, I was expecting about 5 or 6. However, a few of the more cynical sites aimed at/run by expats advised that whomever was giving the vaccinations would try to sell you on more than you would possibly need.
I didn’t find this to be the case at all. I went in to the Kent County Health Department giving them the knowledge that I would be in Thailand for several months and not sure where to after that. There were only 4 vaccinations that they said were very strongly suggested; Typhoid, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B.
On the desk in the nurse’s office was a map highlighting where in the world certain diseases were present. Thailand was also included in a few such as rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and influenza. I’m more of the mindset that it’s better to deal with a minor cost and inconvenience now than a larger one later (though it doesn’t seem to always work out that way), so I asked about those ones.
The nurse told me that most of them were almost entirely unnecessary for me unless I was going there to either spend a great deal of time in the woods or work directly with animals.
The other one that was on my mind was the Yellow Fever vaccine. It lasts for 10 years, but is only required for travel in South America and Africa. I told the nurse that I would likely be in South America at some point in the next decade, though no idea when, where, or under what circumstances.
The Yellow Fever vaccine, I was told, is standardized worldwide. I would get the same one at this Health Department as I would in one in Thailand or Austailia, or anywhere else I might ask for it. So, unless I had imminent plans to travel to an at risk area, there was no point in getting it here and now.
Unfortunately, since I had been on Mackinac Island the last few months, a place with much to want in health facilities, I had decided it would be best to wait until I got back to Grand Rapids to get these immunizations. I hadn’t known that the Hepatitis B vaccine was a 3 shot series requiring a month between the first and second shot. I arranged to get the first with plans for the second and third in Thailand at a locale recommended by the American embassy.
So after two painless pricks in each arm (Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus, and Influenza) and a bill of $151, I left the clinic with a prescription for Malaria meds and a couple spots on my arms that wouldn’t become sore until about 6 hours after they had been injected.
“Attachment is the great fabricator
reality can be attained
only by someone who is detached.”
- Simone Weil
And so the decision came to leave Grand Rapids as there was soon going to be little concept of home left for me there, with the exception of my immediate family. After my grandmother’s death, my father decided to move in with my grandfather. This decision meant that he would be leaving the apartment he had been living in for nearly 8 years, the one I lived in my last year of high school and most of my college career and still had most of my things at.
The life I had been leading the last few months, bouncing between Grand Rapids and Marquette, an 8 hour drive each way, had become routine. However, it was also a grand experiment in being unbound. I had no responsibilities anywhere I went except for myself and the people I was with. And there was something good about that.
It’s an interesting experience, the act of purging. To go through each item you own, ponder why you have it in the first place and then decide on the spot whether or not it’s worth the space or effort to keep.
After over a week of doing this and getting rid of nearly 75% of what I owned, I ended up with 5 boxes. Two contain clothes. Two contain books. And the last is random items that I likely have no need for but still didn’t want to part with. They now sit waiting in a corner in my mother’s basement in a suburb of Grand Rapids for whenever or whyever I may choose to retrieve them.
Now left with a big blue backpack and whatever I could comfortably fit into it (which in itself was a formula I would find myself reworking several times) there was a sense of liberty in the detachment from things.
And more and more it seemed like a reset into all the things I had ever wanted to do. I went to school for anthropology, the science of cultural exploration. I went to school for writing, the portrayal of cultural exploration. And much to my home city’s credit, there are grander things than Grand Rapids in this world to be explored.
The anticipation, the need to leave home was already there. I just needed the opportunity for something brand new, which would soon come after over a month of email swapping.
Most every city seems to have its own token snack food. In my home city of Grand Rapids, that tends to be chili dogs. There are enough Coney dog places around the city to rival even Detroit, with it’s distinguished Coney scene. Within the last decade or so, the Coney scene around Grand Rapids has revitalized itself as old ones have faded out.
(RIP Red Lion).
A Brief History of “Coney” Dogs
Despite what the name may lead you to think, the Coney Island style dog did not really originate on Coney Island in Brooklyn. I found this out to my dismay when I recently visited New York City, expecting the city’s beach resort to be hopping with chili dog stands. Instead the only one is the landmark Nathan’s Famous dogs, which began as a hot dog stand rather than a “coney” stand, adopting the concept of a chili dog later on.
I purchased a chili cheese dog here and was surprised to find beans in the sauce. The idea is not uncommon for chili itself, but for the sauce on a hot dog, it’s something I didn’t come across while eating at 23 different joints in Grand Rapids.
I asked around about more dog stands in the area, only to find out that there weren’t any. The Coney Island dog was not a Coney Island, New York invention, but one from Michigan. Invented in Jackson, Michigan and heavily influenced in its history by Detroit’s Greek immigrant population, the chili dog has an inextricable link to Coney Island, New York, but is a Michigan dish.
The Michigan Coney Dog has since developed into two different styles of chili sauce: Detroit-style and Flint-style. The Detroit sauce is usually a sort of red, meat sauce with varying degrees of consistency and thickness. The Flint sauce is more of a thicker ground beef topping than a sauce and it is extremely well seasoned.
Coneys in Grand Rapids
In recent years, Grand Rapids has witnessed a plethora of new hot dog joints opening all around the city, many with there own twist on the coney dog. Inspired by the lackluster reviews done on the topic by Josh Leo (WanderWestMichigan) who only went to 4 places and John Serba’s best burgers of Grand Rapids which for some reason includes the nationally uniform Red Robin burgers, I set out track down every single one to create a singular reference.
I ate a chili cheese dog at each of these restaurants, something simple enough that all of them would have. Given the large number of chili dog restaurants I came across (23 of them) and the subtle, sometimes non-existent difference between them, I didn’t feel that I could rank them like I originally wanted. My top 5, in no particular order, are:
1.) Filling Station
2.) One Stop Coney Shop
3.) Jonny B’z Dogs & More
4.) Papa’s Dogs and More
5.) Mad Dogz
However, the most famous of these restaurants in Grand Rapids is undoubtedly Yesterdog, a sliver of a restaurant wedged between Wealthy St and Lake Dr and staple of the Eastown neighborhood. A nod was given to it in American Pie as the characters’ hangout Dog Years.
1505 Wealthy St SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
According to their own website, Yesterdog “has won Grand Rapids Magazine’s
Best Hotdog category every year since 1991, the year hotdogs were included in the poll. It has also been awarded the Gold Townie Award for Best Hotdog so many times we’ve lost count!” I cannot help but feel this is a result of the long-standing nostalgia this establishment holds rather than the product that it sells.
The atmosphere is hard to beat at times. However, that isn’t what I was looking for.
In all actuality, and in many reviews ranging from Urbanspoon to Trip Advisor, the hot dogs here are under par when it comes to being compared to others around town. The size is normal for a chili dog, however, it falls short on almost every other aspect. The dogs are so-so. Small, nothing special, but they do have a somewhat unique taste/texture to them (whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I still haven’t decided). The buns are pulled right out of the bag in front of you, no special preparation, unlike other places around town who may steam or grill their buns.
The chili sauce is where they really can’t measure up though. It has got to be the runniest, wateriest sauce that I have ever come across at a Coney restaurant. If it is near the edge, it’s going to run out of the bun. If it’s tilted toward your mouth, it’s going to run out of the bun. And in the process, it soaks the bun (not moistens it, which adds a more delectable element to a dog) and turns it into a soggy, floppy mess in your hand.
I hate to open by being so hard on what has become a Grand Rapids staple, but when their reputation is what every other hot dog joint in the city is competing against, Yesterdog needs to compete as well, which they don’t seem to be willingly doing.
Opened up on the south end of the city opposite of M-6 from the Celebration Cinema South, this joint has been getting nothing but rave reviews on sites like Urbanspoon. Like the Corner Bar in Rockford, they also have a hall of fame, though nothing quite as extravagant or extensive.
All American’s chili is a thick, saucy chili with a bit of a different texture to it. My best guess to that texture is that there are crushed beans in the sauce. I’ve never been a fan of beans in chili, but here, they only serve to thicken the sauce and add an interesting taste element to its consistency, without overwhelming it.
Located at a little seasonal drive-in stand on 44th street just east of US 131, C’s also doubles as a Christmas tree vendor in the winter. I visited here a few years ago to check it out and hadn’t been back since. My experience there this time around seems to have reminded me why.
The chili cheese dog that I bought here was exceptionally underwhelming. The dog was an average boiled dog. The bun was normal, perhaps a little stale. The chili was a ground meat sauce, but there was a familiar texture to it that I couldn’t initially place.
Then, about halfway through the dog, it hit me. The coney sauce tasted like blandly seasoned taco meat, a la Taco Bell. The thinly shredded cheddar cheese sitting atop this meat did nothing to help the taco analogy either.
Opened a little over a year ago in an old drive-in style building on South Division, Coney Island is a friendly operation which has a loyal set of customers who appreciate its combination of chili dogs with some small Chinese dishes for take out, such as egg rolls.
Their chili cheese dog is another that is unique among ones in Grand Rapids. It’s a small/average dog and bun. However, this dog is wrapped in a slice of American cheese before the chili is poured over it. This melts the cheese into the bun and all around the dog.
The Coney sauce is a thicker, saucy chili with a little touch of nice seasoning in it. These dogs have to quality and taste of a hot dog concoction one might have come up in his or her own kitchen, albeit, a very tasty one.
The Corner Bar
31 North Main St
Rockford, MI 49341
The Corner Bar almost has the reputation of Yesterdog around Grand Rapids. Its well-established spot on Main St. in Rockford is most famous for its Hot Dog Hall of Fame, a list of names which now covers well over four walls in the restaurant. To receive your name on the wall requires that you eat 12 or more dogs in one sitting, though there are some names that have upwards of 40 dogs. It’s a challenge I’ve attempted twice in memory, but never made it past 9 chili dogs.
To start with, their chili is not saucy at all, but almost entirely a finely ground meat sauce (Flint-style). This gets into the bun surrounding the dog and creates a nice layer of seasoned flavor around the dog, similar to at Johnny B’s. The cheddar cheese that the use to top off their chili cheese dogs is so finely grated that it stays solid on the dog, but will melt on your tongue the second they meet.
Cranker’s Coney Island
454 68th St SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49548-7115
Just south of the M-6/US 131 interchange in Cutlerville is Cranker’s Coney, a full sit-down restaurant with wait staff. The chili cheese dog that was brought to me here appeared a long, thin dog sticking out of a small bun. It was topped off with a thicker-cut cheddar cheese poured over with their chili sauce.
The first bite into the dog gave the signature snap of a grilled or seared dog. The chili here is also, for a saucy chili, very thick. It also has a hint of that same texture that All-American Chili Dogs’ sauce does that tasted like crushed beans.
There was nothing special to say about the bun other than it housed the toppings adequately. However, the cheese melting nicely underneath the chili and the grilling make for an overall pleasant dog.
2184 Wealthy St SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
This small East Grand Rapids location is easy to miss as you drive through Gaslight Village. The window decals don’t attract as much attention as they should, though this place has a fantastic corner location in the center of downtown EGR.
The first thing about their dog you notice as you pick it up and bit in is that they warm their buns, giving them a very soft, warm taste. It also helps to melt the cheese quicker.
The dog is relatively small and seems to get lost in the bun as you are eating it. However the chili is spectacular in its flavor, but they just didn’t put enough of it on as they are putting together the dog.
The Dam Dogs
25 S Squires Sq #B
Rockford, MI 49341
These are thicker dogs in a large, semi-warmed bun. It’s then poured over with a chili sauce that takes up the rest of the bun. The cheese, which comes well over the top of the bun, is a layer thinly sliced Monterrey jack and cheddar.
The seasoning of the chili sauce is the best part of these dogs. It has a nice flavor and a very thick texture, though thick in a saucy sense. There are not a lot of large meaty chunks in it in this chili.
The Dog Pit
132 Monroe Center St NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Dog Pit was the first of the current hot dog joints to dot the immediate downtown area. It’s location at the head of Monroe Center makes it a popular late-night destination for those leaving bars like Flannigan’s and Raggs to Riches who don’t feel like braving the wandering hot dog carts.
Their dogs are also on the small to average size, kept in a hot pan until served on a standard bun. Their chili is also a saucy Detroit-style chili, only a little thicker than the consistency of Yesterdog’s. However, it has a significantly different flavor, including some visible pepper, and a noticeable tanginess to it.
One touch in constructing their dogs, which I appreciate, is that they pour their Coney sauce over top the cheese, rather than topping the dog off with cheese. This allows the chili to melt the thin cheddar down, where it soaks into the bun around the dog.
Located on the far northern stretch of commercial Alpine Avenue, the Filling Station now inhabits the shell of an old Red Lion restaurant. It has since been remodeled into a classic car motif, complete with the vintage signs and gas pumps one might expect along with it.
The dogs here were actually better than I expected though. They are seared, so it has a slight snap to it, though not the definitive one that One Stop has. And one strip of my dog did have a slight blackening, almost a burn, to it.
The chili was the best part here though. For anyone who has had Indian curry chicken before (and for those who haven’t I would strongly recommend it) that is what this chili sauce reminded me of immediately. It was a thick, well-seasoned sauce with a fantastic portion of meat in it. And it was generously added to the top of the hot dog.
The bun wasn’t anything special and was a little stale on the bottom. However, the very thinly cut cheddar cheese, which was under the chili, was already melted by the time I took my first bite.
Grand Coney used to be among my favorite places in town, and certainly for late night junk food and chili dogs. They are a 24 hour joint and fill up between the hours of 1 and 4 am as the city bars are winding down.
The last few years, however, with its expansion and menu rewritings, the quality and variety of their dog selection has drastically decreased. While they still use Koegel all-beef dogs and have a great chili sauce, they just don’t measure up to what they used to be in every aspect.
Jonny B’z Dogs & More
638 Wealthy St SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
And indeed they have a fantastic new take on the bun for the dog. Rather than a small roll cut down the center, they butter up a piece of thick white bread and then toast it, wrapping the dog and the toppings to make the final product. This makes for a sensational taste and texture when the warm chili begins working its way into the crispy bread, while still leaving the outside with a nice, soft crunch.
The dogs they use, and you can choose all-beef or all-turkey, have a nice flavorful texture to them as well. They nestle into the bun as the chili soaks down around them in the toast-bun.
The only small detail I didn’t quite like about this dog was that the chili sauce was nothing spectacular. It’s of a medium consistency, not too meaty or too runny. There is no exceptional spice or seasoning to it though. However, the taste of it combined with the bun almost excuses this.
The Mad Dogz
3916 West River Dr
Comstock Park, MI 49321
Open for a year and a half in Comstock Park, their hometown school spirit is evidenced as soon as the door is opened and the Comstock Park apparel is everywhere. However, I did find it curious how similar their logo-mascot appears to the Grandville and Byron Center Bulldogs’ logos.
They have a very large list of specialty dog toppings, including a special section for spicy dogs. Their chili cheese dog is based on a much thicker bun and dog than most places in town serve. It’s then topped off with a generous helping of their chili sauce and a very large portion of Monterrey jack and cheddar. The cheese was flowing so far over the bun when I got it, that most of it fell off when I first tilted the dog to eat it.
The chili here is extremely good. It’s much meatier than most places in town, with noticeable large chunks in it. The sauce in between also has a much deeper flavor to it than most of the sauces I’ve encountered, whether Detroit or Flint style.
This hidden location in a strip mall on the stretch of Fulton from the highway to Ada fashions itself after a Happy Days-esque soda fountain shop. Outside of the iced cream products, they also serve chili dogs, not so much as a feature menu item, but as one of the primary non-breakfast items available.
Marilyn’s dogs are large for the buns that they are put into. And then are poured over with their chili and covered with a layer of very thickly-cut cheddar cheese. It comes wrapped in an envelope of tin foil, which helps to melt the cheese more quickly.
Unfortunately, this cheese overwhelms the dog. The chili on it has a decent texture but almost no independent flavor of its own. When the thick shreds of cheddar melt into this, the chili taste almost disappears entirely.
Another Coney spot popping up where an old Red Lion used to be, Moe’s keeps very early and limited hours and was closed on my first 3 attempts to go here. They are open early for breakfast and close at 3pm most nights of the week.
Like One Stop, they also grill their dogs here, giving it a small wait for the hot dogs. The dog I got here was grilled to the point where the skin was actually starting to shrivel, but there was no sign of burning. This provided for a nice, crisp snap with each bite. The dog was also a little longer than the bun, giving that first bite solely of the dog itself.
The chili sauce here consists of a finely-ground meat, but still a thick sauce rather than a Flint-style topping. It was served on a pretty average bun and topped off with a thin, shredded cheddar that melted in the thick sauce, but didn’t oversaturate it.
646 Stocking Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Though they advertise beer and dog specials in Recoil, Monarch’s Club is not really known as a chili dog venue. Nevertheless, they do possess the chili recipe from Red Lion, one of the classic, last-generation hot dog joints.
I was at Monarch’s while they were cooking up a batch of the Red Lion chili, and the smell was fantastic. The Red Lion chili is a meaty one that has a bit of a tangy flavor to it. The meat is juicy enough that it moistens the bun around the dog, but doesn’t douse through all the bread.
The bun and dog are average, though the bun is warmed. The cheese here is very thin, but there was too much topping off the dog that I got. I had to peel off a layer to get to the taste of the chili.
One O One Cafe
1811 Plainfield Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
The first thing in the taste that stands out in One O One’s chili dogs is the larger pieces of meat found in its chili. My first impression on tasting it was that it has a similar consistency to that of a Hormel chili.
One welcome difference in their chili-cheese dogs is that, rather than the shredded cheddar cheese, One O One Café uses a melted cheese sauce to top off their dogs. While it may be a bit more unhealthy (and if you’re eating chili dogs, much less reading a review of them, you may not be too concerned with that small difference) it mixes in with the chili sauce and the bun, creating a much better flavor than the shredded cheese which may not even be warm when you are eating it.
For the size of the finished product, the dogs themselves make up a nice portion of it, not getting lost in the bun or toppings. However, the bun has no special preparation and seems pulled straight from the bag.
One Stop Coney Shop
154 E. Fulton
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Opened in 2009, One Stop takes a different approach to cooking their hot dogs than almost any other place in the city that I’ve come across; each dog ordered in seared on a flat top grill. Rather than boiling, grilling the dog this way gives it a clean, crisp “snap” when you bite into it. This means that the dogs take a couple minutes extra from the time you order them to the time they are set in front of you, but it’s worth the small wait.
One Stop also offers veggie dogs or “ripped” dogs for any item on their menu. A ripped dog is when a hot dog is put into a deep fryer and cooks until the skin begins to rip apart. This cooking method makes the entire dog’s skin very crispy.
Both types of chili sauces available at One Stop: Detroit-style and Flint-style. The Flint sauce is extremely well seasoned and flavored. The Detroit sauce is a thick saucy topping, which although good, just didn’t have the flavor that the Flint-style did.
One high praise I have to give them is that the buns were about the softest I’ve had. The cheese went all around the dog, and then the chili is put over top, melting it, creating very well-constructed and very filling dogs.
Papa’s Dogs & More
3012 28th St SW
Grandville, MI 49418
Papa’s Dogs that opened in September 2010 takes a different approach than the usual hot dog restaurant, which the owner was more than happy to take to time to explain to me as a new customer. Rather than putting the dog into a bun and then loading up the toppings, the dog is wrapped in one of a variety of homemade doughs and then baked around the dog.
Behind the ordering counter, there is a large counter filled with all the staple condiments, including chili and a nacho cheese sauce. While the varieties of the baked-on buns make a fantastic deviation from the regular dog, they are also prohibitive in applying additional toppings to the dog. There is no space between the bun and the dog for anything more than a line of cheese sauce or ketchup and mustard, which is the only mild complaint I can muster about this place.
Red Hot Inn
3175 Leonard St NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Aside from Yesterdog, Red Hot Inn at Leonard and East Beltline is the last standing of the previous generation of hot dog joints in the city. The first thing I noticed about the dog was that it was a messy one. It was constructed with the cheese over the dog and poured over with a generous amount of their Coney sauce that overflowed from the two ends of the dog.
The chili had a similar flavor to the one at the Filling Station, a little peppery. However, it wasn’t as thick and was actually a tiny bit runny. The chili melted the cheddar beneath it into a large cheesy mass underneath it, but still on top of the dog. Unfortunately underneath the thick cheese later and chili, the actually taste of the dog became almost lost.
Ritz Koney Bar & Grille
64 Ionia Ave SW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
For having such a central location and a menu good any time of day, this place has one of the most difficult schedules to keep track of. It seems open half the time you wouldn’t expect it to be, and closed so many of the times you want to walk in.
The dogs themselves are average, maybe a little bit on the thinner side. The come served in a warmed bun, which is always an advantage, and the bun is filled to the top.
The cheese, unfortunately never seems to melt on these dogs, and they put such a small amount of chili on their dogs (and on their walking tacos, a favorite of mine that no longer exists on the regular menu) that it can’t help the process much.
This small pink ice cream shoppe has a great number of fantastic homemade ice cream dishes, however, like Marilyn’s in Ada, they also serve a number of hot dogs made right in front of you behind the counter.
The dogs are, overall, pretty basic. The bun comes straight from a bag, the hot dog is one of the softer dogs I’ve come across, and the Monterrey Jack and cheddar are longer shreds. The chili sauce has a good flavor to it, but there was very little meat in its consistency.