Monday, August 30, 2010

What's Your Story?

After the longest, hottest, busiest summer of the millennium—after the Flint Art Fair, the Flint Jazz Festival, The Flint Blues Festival, Back to the Bricks, and now the Crim Festival of Races—after all that, I’ve finally crawled back into my writing chair and I’m ready to get this year’s installment of Eating Flint under way.

In my most recent post, I committed to exploring the Coney Island diner phenomenon in Flint. Of all the dining choices in our quintessential blue collar, working class community, what better way to explore the relationships between food and culture than through our Coney Island diners. They do, after all, through their own identities, add clarity to our collective identity as the people of Flint. Our Coney Islands also tell very revealing stories about our city’s history.

Talking about Coney Islands is as familiar to Flint natives as the Hamady Sack or The Rock. And everyone has their own Coney stories. When I put a call out for ideas on which restaurants to include, I received a dozen replies from readers who provided, in whole or in part, their own definitions and criteria for what a Coney Island diner is. I certainly hope that over the next eight months you will feel compelled to share some of your stories too.

When possible, I’ll give you advanced notice, week by week, of where Stephanie and I will be eating. I’ll try to weave your stories into the conversation about each restaurant and weigh them against my own experience. I’ve lived in Flint for sixteen years, and my expertise in the Coney Island experience (at least in the early years) comes from patronizing them between the hours of 1-3 am, which for some obvious reasons is quite different from the Sunday morning church crowd. But both experiences characterize the Flint Coney experience, which I hope to dutifully represent throughout the tour. (By the way, I’ve created an Eating Flint email address so you can send comments at anytime. If you’re eager to share comments and experiences, but not so much in a public forum, then send them to me at

The original list of Coney Island Diners that I shared with you included a number of places that are either family diners or some weird hybrid of family diner/Coney Island diner. And as some of you rightly pointed out, family diners are not the same as Coney Island diners. I’ve crossed as many of the family diners off the list as I could recognize. I’m sure we won’t have consensus on whether every place I choose is truly a Coney Island Diner or not, but I’ll do the best I can to hold as close to the fundamental principles and characteristics of the Coney Island experience as I can—knowing full well you’ll be right there to set me straight when I start to wander.

One of you suggested that, in defining criteria for what actually is a Coney Island, I should consider places that are open twenty-four hours, that serve breakfast all day long, that have wait staff who have worked there at least five years, and that serve bad coffee (thank you corner office). These are great criteria, and I’ll consider places that fit this bill first, but some Coney Islands are worth visiting even though they may not stay open around the clock or even if their coffee doesn’t completely stink.

As I dine with Stephanie each week, I’ll be looking, beyond the above criteria, at what makes each Coney Island a Coney Island, and I’ll do this by examining various aspects of the experience, like their menu selections, their “specials,” the staff, the clientele, the ambiance J, and other unique features. No matter what we order each week, we’ll sample one Coney Island hotdog in order to incorporate this iconic menu item into the conversation. Beyond that, we’re just going to take it all in and share the results with you.

I’ll be putting one more post up after today before we actually start visiting the diners—I’ll be touring Koegel Meats tomorrow and sharing that experience with you. Our first restaurant visit is set for Thursday, September 9th; we’ll be going to the original Angelo’s on the corner of Davison Road and Franklin Street. I’d also like to consider a post that creates a collage of your stories about Angelo’s before my visit there. If you’re willing to let me share your story, then send it to me by Monday, September 6th at noon. Send it to and I’ll compile them into a “Readers’ Post” post.