Like many native Detroiters, David Najor shares a love of coney dogs. After he moved to the Valley four years ago, he tried them here, but they didn’t taste like the ones he knew and loved in Detroit.
“I knew that they were not representative of the Detroit Coney dogs,” Najor says.
Najor decided that there was a niche that needed to be filled, so two years ago, he opened the Detroit Coney Grill in Tempe.
“I knew I had to do it to represent my hometown,” Najor says.
What is so special about a coney, particularly a Detroit coney?
“It is like a sausage, hand-turned, hand-rolled with a natural casing dog, topped with coney sauce (chili), mustard and onions,” Najor says.
Najor won’t give away his trade secret about the sauce, but says it is just like the sauce at Lafayette Coney Island, a coney joint in downtown Detroit and a favorite haunt for Detroit sports fans and downtown workers. Najor’s all-beef hot dogs are made in Michigan by the Winter Sausage Manufacturing Co. in Eastpointe.
His experience as a grocery store owner in the Detroit area built connections for him in the food industry, namely the sausage manufacturers. Winter Sausage “made them the way we wanted them made,” Najor says.
“Michigan has the highest standard of dogs in the country,” Najor says. “Our dogs are better than anywhere else.” Their natural casings give them a slight “snap” when they are bitten into. That attention to detail in menu items (Najor grinds beef for his burgers and hand cuts Idaho russets for his fries) has helped Najor’s restaurant land at No. 30 on Yelp’s list of Top 100 Places to Eat in America and receive a plaque from Business Insider for the honor in January 2015.
The dogs draw Michigan transplants to his restaurant, which comprises about 10 percent of the business, and other snowbirds, along with the locals.
“Michigan transplants will help us by word of mouth,” Najor says.
The delightful Detroit Coney costs $3.95. It is served in a basket, is slathered with the coney sauce, two thin streams of mustard and covered with chopped onions. The bite of the onions, accent of mustard and chili-spiced sauce complement the snappy dog. Beef is ground daily to create burgers, which range in price between $2.95 and $6.95.
Najor serves a Greek salad with a real Greek vinaigrette (“our recipe,” Najor says), along with other salad variations in the $5.95 to $7.95 range. Pita variations include gyro, chicken, Greek, Philly cheese steak and veggie for $5.95 and $6.95.
Former Detroiters will recognize their hometown favorites: Better Made Potato Chips, Faygo “pop” (OK, it’s “soda”) and Vernors ginger ale conjure revered memories of Detroit’s food industry. Najor opened a second location in Downtown Phoenix seven months ago. He is looking to expand in North Scottsdale.
Detroit Coney Grill, 930 W. Broadway Road, (just west of Hardy Drive), Tempe 85282 | (480) 219-7430 | detroitconeygrill.com
– Ken Abranczyk, The Entertainer! Magazine / Edited for Phoenix.org