Mel's Diner -- Memo to Detroiters in Hollywood: Coney Dog is Here. The Hani Is Next!
As soon as I grab a seat at one of the shared tables amid the wafting, familiar smell of Coney Dogs and chili, I spot the owner at the next table: Actor, writer and director Mike Binder. It’s Tuesday afternoon and he says he’s been camped here all week, since Coney Dog L.A. opened June 21. It’s across from the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip, stays open late and features Detroit-style hot dogs and chili. A Detroit-area native (like yours truly), Binder partnered in Coney Dog with pals Adam Sandler, fellow natives Tim Allen (lived in Binder’s suburban neighborhood) and Sam Raimi (they went to summer camp together), along with Detroit Red Wings player Kris Draper.
Binder is taste-testing with brother-and-sister duo Bill and Sandra Keros. The Keroses’ grandfather founded Lafayette Coney Island in Downtown Detroit, which brought the beloved dogs their regional prominence. Sandra lives in L.A. Bill, featured in one of the historic photos on the wall, tells me he “just flew in from The D.” The Detroit classics served here, Winter’s Sausage Coney Island Hot Dogs and the restaurant’s chili, are flown fresh from The D, too. Among the Hollywood additions to the menu, the veggie chili is made here on Sunset.
The owner says I’ll be able to get my Coney faves, a pita wrap sandwich called the Hani and a Greek salad, soon. “The Hani will come. Since we just opened, we started with the basics,” Binder says. “We’re getting ready to add the Greek.”
Binder’s game plan for the restaurant goes way back. He met the Keros family when he shot the 1992 film “Crossing the Bridge” in Detroit, and included the Keroses’ Lafayette Coney among the locations. The Keroses are consulting on the new restaurant. As Binder, his brother “California Jack” Binder (he gets a menu item - click here) join the shared table and spread out the food they’re testing, Bill Keros advises Binder to be careful not to have the classic napkin dispensers packed too full: “They won’t come out of there right if you do.”
Whether or not the napkin dispensers work properly yet, Binder’s nailed the Detroit experience, with just enough California touches. I wash my turkey dog down with an old favorite, Faygo Rock N Rye pop, as the second lanky hipster in 20 minutes walks in sporting a Michigan t-shirt. Many of the folks who’ve frequented the place so far are wearing Michigan or Detroit hats or t-shirts.
But Binder’s success depends on how Detroit plays with Californians, he says: “It’s all about whether people here like the Detroit-style dogs and chili.”
The hours are right for the strip, staying open until 4 a.m. and serving beer until 2. Coney Dog’s the only place in the state where you can get Stroh’s beer, Binder says, and patrons are taking notice. “People love the Faygo and Stroh’s,” he says. “We’re selling a ton of it.”
As I say good-bye, too full for a Sanders’ Hot Fudge Sundae this time, Binder’s parting message to L.A. is simple: “Come eat.”
Adds Keros: “Come to Coney!”
Pictured: (l to r) Sandra Keros and Bill Keros, whose grandfather founded Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit; Coney Dog L.A. owner, writer-actor-director Mike Binder; Binder’s brother, film and TV producer Jack Binder.