Eating my way through a Coney Island day.

A day on Coney Island brings to mind many things in the eyes of normal folks – the beach, the Cyclone, ticket-bearing arcade games, the freak show, and the ancient “step right up” carnival games.  I certainly did my fair share of the above when I was there yesterday, but I have to say that the first thing that comes to mind when I go to a neighborhood with friends in from out of town is, “where should we eat?”  A sickness, I’m well aware.

However, in between bumper cars, the Cyclone (my friends rode, not I), the Wonder Wheel, and several rounds of skee-ball, we managed to eat extremely well – the decrepit neighborhood surrounding the beach and amusement park actually has several great places to nosh.

The day started, per my friends’ request, at Nathan’s – for the out-of-towners, this is where the hot-dog-eating contest happens every year.  (By the way, out-of-towners, we don’t call chili dogs “Coneys” here.  I find that concept totally bizarre, considering the general filth and decrepitude of the Island, and I doubt Nathan’s invented the chili dog anyway.  What gives?)  While the premises look like a larger version of an old time lunch counter, with its polished steel, and neon signage, the menu at Nathan’s has expanded slightly past its humble roots to include chicken sandwiches, cheesesteaks, and onion rings.  

I didn’t taste any of those, though, sticking with a single and unadorned frankfurter ($2.50).  The sausage is started at one end of the grill and rotated through to the other – by the time it’s ready to serve, it has been slow-heated to perfection, retaining a nice casing snap and consistent juiciness.  Flavor-wise, too, the dog is top notch.  It may be pricy for a hot dog, but it’s worth trying (Nathan’s website has a coupon for a two-for-one hot dog deal – no idea if it applies at the original location, but it’s worth a shot).  The fries are good too (freshly cut daily), though, I’m warning you, there won’t be room enough for your franks if you opt to top the fries with chili and liquid cheese.

After a few rides, some skee-ball, and a lot of wandering around, my friends wanted to check out the freak show.  Not being as much of a carnival aficionado as they are, and being somewhat afraid of being hit by an errant chainsaw, I opted to run up to Neptune Avenue.  There, I hoped to check out list entry A&S Homestyle Catering, as well as pick up a pie at Totonno’s.  

Neptune Avenue is kind of a gas, by the way – completely overrun with car repair shops and gas stations, and all the buildings look totally beat.  Not the kind of place you expect to find any restaurants, much less a pizzeria with Totonno’s pedigree and a Sietsema-recommended cheap spot.

A&S turned out to be closed, unfortunately, and there weren’t even any eye-level windows to peer into (it’s literally on the end of one of the rows of car shops).  So I hoofed it back to Totonno’s and put in my order for a large plain pie ($15.50), and watched the idling cars for twenty minutes (it seems that people will drive down, stop in the bike lane and wait for a pizza – not a huge local clientele).  Also, if you’re a freak about watching your pizza being assembled, this is the place.  Unlike most pizza joints, it doesn’t happen in the back or behind a counter – you can watch your pie being shaped, topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce (in that order!), and chucked in the oven.  Pretty neat, actually, and combined with the atmosphere of the place (the usual array of semi-celeb signed photos and other ancient decorative touches), it wouldn’t be a bad spot at which to eat-in.

Having opted for take-out, though, I brought the pizza back to my friends just after the freak show ended.  We located a table on West 12th Street that happened to belong to a taco stall in the same building as the freaks.  In order to facilitate the taqueria’s owners not shooing us away, I decided to grab a salted beef taco ($2).  Lordy, was it ever good – the dude cooked it up fresh, and it showed.  Just a little hot sauce with the cilantro, onion, and beef – next time I go down to Coney, I’m going to have about four of them.

Oh, yes, and the pizza – while the crust was a tad chewier than I perhaps like, and the tip sag indicative that the pie was a little soggy (in their defense, I wasn’t eating it right out of the oven), the pie was excellent.  Good fresh mozzarella and a sweet tomato sauce, with a little drizzle of olive oil – totally delicious.

I stumbled home and sat on the couch for the rest of the evening – not so much full of food as exhausted from the day in the sun.  Thankfully, Coney Island has enough food options to keep you going all day – and more urban decay and amusement park fun than you can shake a stick at.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Eating my way through a Coney Island day.

  1. Had To Move

    The last time i was in coney island, I gained five pounds in ONE DAY (literally). Took me months to work that flab off! I recommend the marshmallows dipped in caramel and rolled in nuts. mmmmm. cavities.

  2. Too sweet for me, but I did get a good look at them. I ate practically everything else I saw, though.

  3. Dan

    Sorry, I hate to sound like a troll, but you are a fraking idiot! WHY WHY WHY would you get a pie, a beautiful totonno’s pie, and then GET IT TO GO!Don’t you know that any great pizza loses greatness with every second removed from the oven. You’d gone all the way there, and you could have had your totonno’s pie piping hot out of the oven. You could have had that firt perfect bite of charred, crispy, chewy, cheesy, saucy perfection…and instead you inexplicable TOOK IT HOME AND WAITED TWENTY+ MINUTES TO EAT IT?!?! You, sir, messed up that one big time. Good post though…but I thought you took too many unnecessary shots at Coney Island. You should have gone there 15 years ago if you wanted to see decrepitude. The area is primed for a comeback.

  4. Yes, I am aware of the fact that good pizza has a half life measured in minutes. The situation with the friends dictated my actions, I’m afraid.I don’t think I was taking shots at Coney, either. Just calling ’em as I see ’em.

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