One of the really (not) great things about living in Michigan is you are within walking distance of a Coney Island no matter where you are. You could be miles away from any sign of civilization and you could probably still manage to find some place serving coney dogs and Greek Salads. One of the best things about the national emergence of Detroit style pizza is the coney no longer being the cuisine Michigan is known for. I understand the experience of going to Lafayette when you’re in downtown Detroit — and if you’re wondering why I didn’t say “Lafayette or American” it’s because there’s no question that Lafayette is superior. There’s tradition there but what is the point of the other Coneys? Seriously, just in Ypsi we have eight different Coney Islands serving almost the same exact menu. There is Abe’s, Luca’s (two different locations), Leo’s (also two different locations), Eastern, Sinbad’s and Joe’s.
I have questions. How is there demand for EIGHT different Coney Islands serving 21,000 people? When was the last time you went to a Coney Island and said “Wow, I’m really glad I ate there”? Do people always go to the same Coney Island? More importantly, why did I eat this on June 21st in 2013?
But this isn’t all a rant about Coney Islands. I just said all that for effect. The last trigger statement I’ll throw out there is literally every Coney Island I have ever been to is serving the exact same thing: Coney dogs, simple Greek food and breakfast. It’s like fast food with a waitress.
I heard rumblings about something different. Apparently there was a couple operating a Coney Island in a strip mall serving two menus — One with traditional Coney fare and one with authentic Honduran and Guatemalan food. Some claimed it was actually a Central American restaurant in disguise of a Coney Island. But why would anyone do this? Is anyone that seeks out a Coney dog and a Greek salad interested in sampling that kind of cuisine? Somehow it works.
Story time. A couple of years ago there was this couple. The husband was a cook at many popular Ann Arbor restaurants. The wife ran a cleaning business. There came a time where they decided that they were tired of working for other people. Why not open a place of their own? Well, the answer is money. Opening a restaurant is expensive. The couple went into a business with this guy who was opening a Coney Island and needed someone who could run the place. They became partners. Halfway through the opening process the guy ran out of money and pulled out. The couple moved forward but were locked into opening a Coney Island due to their native cuisine being served in the same building at a different restaurant — and a pesky lease prohibiting two Mexican restaurants in the same building. Some friend was like hey, there’s a lot of people around here from Guatemala qne Honduras. Maybe you should check that out? They were like yup, good idea. The rest is history.
The result of that story is Antonio’s Coney Island, a Coney Island serving both a full Coney and Central American menu. All of the criticism I spoke about previously where Coneys don’t have any variety and all have the same food? That’s out the window here. Antonio’s is a tiny seven table restaurant with two chalk boards that broadcast their daily specials. Upon sitting down you are given the two menus and it’s immediately obvious that one is more interesting than the other. It simply says Central American Food at the top and has two pages of items that sound much better than a Coney dog or chili fries.
So after being called a gringo by one of the owners, I requested their Honduran combo plate which consisted of a Honduran taco (chicken, Honduran slaw, sauce and cheese), enchiladas catrachas (more slaw, beef, tomato, egg, avocado, sauce and cheese) and churrasquitos (basically a Honduran steak taco). The woman who waited on me, who I believe is also the owner, was 100% willing to walk me through everything and even challenged my original order of three Honduran tacos. She encouraged me to try different items and I settled for the combo to get as many different flavors as I could. The real star of the meal? The enchiladas catrachas, which is basically a tostada on Honduran steroids.
My favorite part of the menu was that it made me uncomfortable, in a good way, and that hasn’t happened to me in a long time. I saw the usual items that were familiar — tacos, enchiladas and fried plantains, but they were all in different forms than I was used to. There is a whole fried fish (served as a whole fish), Honduran style fried chicken and a dish combining beef and green bananas. I loved the feeling of not knowing anything about this type of food and having to stumble my way through the menu. Trying to go comfortable and having the owner call me out on it made the experience that much better.
Check this place out. It’s a family that is taking a chance and doing something different. I’m sure there’s that urge to take the easy road and serve traditional Coney Island food because it’s comfortable for people and will attract more walk ins. Just to be sure, I Googled “Central American Coney Island” and Antonio’s was the only result. It’s one of a kind.
Antonio’s is at 2896 Washtenaw Ave in Ypsilanti. Google it.
Lastly I would like to point out to Katy, who previously questioned my usage of expletives, that there are none in this post. Is that better?