Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The Original Coney Island since 1921. 107 E. Superior Street, Duluth, MN
Strip away the Scandinavian kitsch, Temperance River worshipping mountain sexuals, and Lake Superior-side vacation mansions and you’ll find a filthy old inland port town in Northeastern Minnesota called Duluth. The San Francisco of the Upper Midwest, which is hardly even slightly true and possibly only topographically at that, as my friend Jim likes to call it. Pass through from the north heading south on Superior Street mid-day Sunday and you’ll find haggard old seamen guarding the doors of the Owl’s Club, ne’er do well’s of all type peeking glass eyed from the doors of the Miketin Boarding house, and numerous hard working men and women just looking for the earth to grant them a soft spot to land as they come down from a long, hard, unforgiving weekend. In other words, my kind of place.
Tucked in on the western slope of the hill that terminates at the more upscale (soulless nexus of evil commercialism) Canal Park and Lakewalk area is The Original Coney Island Diner since 1921. I entered it’s hallowed halls just this past Sunday, with a hearty appetite and raging hangover to boot.
There’s something about a place like this that makes you feel good. Sitting in one of their booths wasn’t unlike floating in a thick and viscous amber bubble filled with Betty Boop paraphernalia, old RC cola signs, and salvaged lumber.
This wasn’t my first Coney Island dining experience, so the menu wasn’t much of a surprise. Coney Islands, Coney Islands with Cheese, Fries, Cheese Fries, Chili Cheese Fries, etc., etc. The staff was polite if not a bit tight-lipped but I wasn’t much in the mood for conversation anyway. The PYT and I were the only folks in the joint except for the help and a woman who looked like she’d been sipping the same cup of bad coffee since the place opened up nearly 90 years ago.
Four Coney Islands with onions, two orders of onion rings, and a bowl of chili. The onion rings were frozen, presumably from some monolithic Sysco-like left of the center of the plate specialists. They were served with a dense French Onion/Tzatziki-sauce that made them almost tolerable. I knew right away from the sight of the translucent and overcooked onions that these particular Coney Islands would not meet my high and discriminating standards. As I snapped into my first bite, I noticed there wasn’t much of a snap at all but more of a languid recoil. And the buns. Oh, god, the buns: They were about as tough as Carhartt canvas coveralls made stiff by sweat and wood glue.* Goddamnit if they don’t make a good bowl of chili though.
*Less than stellar review aside; I ate three of the hot dogs, most of both orders of onion rings and the entire bowl of chili.