Give Flint some love
By Mark Nixon
An open letter to Hannah’s Koney Island in East Lansing:
The water crisis in Flint compels us all to help that beleaguered city in any way we can.
Here’s your chance, Hannah’s: Start making Flint Coneys. Show Flint some love. Every dog must have its day, and truth be told, Flint Coneys are the best.
You have Detroit Coneys on the menu, along with gussied-up dogs representing Chicago and New York. What is Flint, chopped liver?
The Coney Snob
It’s true, I am a Coney Island hot dog snob. I’ve wolfed down Coneys from Cincinnati to the West Coast to those famed Coney competitors in Detroit, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. They’re good. But I like my Coney sauce Flint dry, not Detroit wet. Allow me to explain.
Even in their namesake city, Flint Coneys have, sadly, tumbled from their pedestal in recent years. The best place in Greater Lansing to find this cumin-centric Coney — featuring a Koegel hot dog in natural casing, of course — is Sparty’s Coney Island in Frandor, just a few miles west of Hannah’s.
Hannah’s would do well to emulate Sparty’s. Heck, I’d even offer my mom’s old Flintstyle Coney Island recipe. (Online bonus: check out lansingcitypulse.com for Margaret Nixon’s Flint-style Coney sauce recipe.)
Our visits to Hannah’s were a mix of happy dining surprises and moments of bewilderment. Let’s start with the dogs. They have six kinds of hot dogs with various “fixin’s.” The Detroit-style Coney has a chili sauce roughly the consistency of thick spaghetti sauce. I prefer the Flint version where the liquid is gradually simmered of the meat, intensifying the flavor and aroma of the spices, especially the cumin.
If you’re a Detroit Coney aficionado, I’d go with Hannah’s signature Koney Island Hot Dog ($3.45). I don’t recommend spending the extra $0.50 for the Koney Special version. This version adds a ground beef topping, but we detected no taste difference from the basic Koney Island.
Less successful is the New York Hot Dog ($3.75) with sauerkraut, mustard and chopped onion. I’m a fan of those toppings, but something was amiss. I would recommend using a better brand of sauerkraut.
The Chicago Hot Dog ($2.75) is better in terms of quality and price. The cold chunks of kosher dill pickle sprinkled on top make this dog menu-worthy.
OK, the snob hat is back on. The sensual beauty of a good hot dog or Coney dog is the look and the snap. The best dogs are about 6 inches long with ends where you can see the natural casing has been trimmed and sealed. The snap is that unmistakable “crunch” sound when you bite into it.
Michigan-made Koegel’s hot dogs have the look and the snap. Hannah’s dogs have neither. They’re on the short side, which may be forgiven, but no natural casings means no snap.
Moving past my dog-mania, we found some fine breakfast choices. The breakfast skillet with a sunny side up egg ($7.15) is excellent, especially with add-ons of grilled onion, mushrooms, bacon and cheese ($0.60 extra per add-on).
On another visit, I dove into a Jess’s “Fat Girl” Sandwich ($6.95). While it reached our table on the cool side (the restaurant was chilly enough that we kept our coats on), the ingredients were spot-on. There’s a fried egg, bacon, ripe avocado, lettuce, tomato and spicy mayonnaise packed between grilled slices of marbled rye. Give it a try for breakfast sometime.
The caffeine crowd should not pass up the French press coffee ($2.50 for a two-cup serving). The locally sourced coffee from the 517 Coffee Co. has the rich smokiness that is the hallmark of good French press coffee.
Service at Hannah’s is easy-going, befitting a college town diner. Hot dog miscues aside, my biggest beef with the diner is Hannah’s mauling of the English language.
Maybe good spelling and grammar are not as important in the age of Twitter and text messages. Auto-correct inevitably autocorrupts the native tongue. Perhaps spelling and vocabulary are now relative, like Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.”
Still, a business ought to know better. Our table tent boasted French press coffee to “enhance your coffee experiece.” Last I checked, experience had an “n” in it.
I’ve already raised the white flag of surrender over the many restaurants that misspell Reuben, as in Reuben sandwich. Hannah’s follows the lemmings over the cliff by putting the “u” before the “e” to make a “Rueben.”
Then we come to “inaptly.” That wonderful “Fat Girl” sandwich? The menu describes it as “inaptly named.”
Did they mean “ineptly”? The “Fat Girl” is, indeed, a hefty sandwich, so maybe they meant “aptly.” It’s a mystery. In any case, “inaptly” is a questionable word choice when trying to sell a sandwich.
Finally, this place ought to choose a name and stick with it. The sign outside says Hannah’s Koney Island. At the top of my bill, it read “Hannas Coney Island.” The restaurant’s Facebook page drops the apostrophe from Hannah’s, and the diner’s website is found at msuconey.com.
Auto-correct run amok, I suppose.
Gyro the hero
By Gabrielle Johnson
Over the holidays, the fiancé and I took a trip to Buffalo, N.Y., to visit some of his family. On the last morning we were there, I scoured Yelp for somewhere interesting to have our first breakfast of 2016. I settled on the Original Pancake House, a place that is lauded for its potato pancakes and Dutch babies. (A Dutch baby is something like a big, puffy pancake cooked in a cast iron skillet. It’s to die for.) We took a chance on something new, and it paid off. My potato pancakes and his chocolate chip pancakes — and our stockpiled episodes of the second season of the “Serial” podcast — fueled us through the slow drive across Canada.
Unfortunately, Hannah’s Koney Island doesn’t offer anything that unique. The menu is overwhelming in its volume, ranging from typical omelets, skillets and pancakes to burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads and soup. On our first visit, I ordered the Cinnamon French Toast Special ($8.25), which features two pieces of French toast, choice of meat and two eggs. I had my eggs scrambled, my meat in sausage patties and my French toast covered in a thick dusting of powdered sugar. That last part wasn’t my choice, and the diner wouldn’t have to rely on cheap powdered sugar garnishes if the bread was any good to begin with. My breakfast was disappointingly middle-of-the-road and would have been forgotten if not for iPhone photographic evidence.
The fiancé had the Farmer’s Omelet ($7.95), which was the same version of a farmer’s omelet that my grandpa’s been ordering since the armistice. The recipe hasn’t changed in 100 years.
On our next visit, I decided to branch out and try a lunch item. I chose the Chicken Gyro Supreme ($7.25), one of my go-to lunch choices, with an added side of fries ($2.25). The chicken was juicy, well seasoned and hot, and the vegetables in the gyro were crisp and refreshing. The gyro could be improved if the bread were grilled like it is at my favorite chicken gyro joint, State Side Deli in Okemos.
The fiancé had the chicken tender lunch ($8.50), a choice that has infuriated us every day since then. The chicken tenders were obviously removed from a freezer bag shortly before they were heated and brought to our table. They lacked flavor, character, heat, seasoning, integrity, honor or anything else good. I would be embarrassed to serve these if I were the restaurant owner. A text I received from my intended an hour later informed me that he wished he could “throw up and have another lunch.”
The fries were the only reason he didn’t. They were lightly battered, hot, crispy and above average.
We returned a few weeks later for something completely unexpected — a ramen pop-up. Ramen, you say? While I could use the excuse that we are eating on the cheap and pinching pennies for our upcoming nuptials, the situation is in reality the complete opposite. Ramen, in much of the world, is something very different from the inexpensive meal-in-a-minute version we are familiar with. For one night only, two fledgling ramen chefs took over the kitchen at Hannah’s and offered a limited number of tickets for curious eaters. The tickets sold out almost instantly and we were lucky to snag a few. The steaming bowls of ramen were beautiful, with long loops of noodles, crispy sheets of seaweed, and delicate pork belly. It is an abject shame that the ramen isn’t a permanent menu item, because it was head and shoulders better than anything else we ate at Hannah’s.
Before our final visit, I asked on Hannah’s Facebook page for the best menu item. A reply from the diner suggested I try the Jess’s “Fat Girl” Sandwich ($6.95). It is essentially a B.L.T. with egg and avocado. The sandwich was lonely on the plate with nothing to accompany it. If a B.L.T. is the best thing on your menu, my suggestion is that you get a new menu. The fiancé created his own skillet ($7.15), including feta cheese and gyro meat. Nothing spectacular, but much more exciting and flavorful than my B.L.T.
I don’t need restaurant menus to read to me and take out the trash. I don’t need a breakfast section, a Mexican section and a sushi bar. I just need a few things, some of them unique to your establishment, and all of them “snatch this plate from me after I’m done licking it clean” fantastic. That menu doesn’t exist at Hannah’s, no matter how many trips we made.
Hannah’s Koney Island 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday 4790 S. Hagadorn Road (in Hannah Plaza), East Lansing (517) 333-3527, msuconey.com