Only in Detroit: The coney paczki

Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News

Detroit — What’s red, white and has chili sauce and Detroit all over it?

The new coney paczek (the singular of paczki) introduced Tuesday exclusively at American Coney Island in downtown Detroit.

The concoction was introduced for one day only, on Fat Tuesday, in an era of national food chains unveiling one food concoction trying to top the other.

Customers were hailing the only-in-Detroit fusion a hit.

“It was amazing,” said Nicola Strong, an Eastpointe resident who got off her midnight shift in Utica and drove downtown.

Even though Strong is dieting and the coney paczek packs 1,000 calories, she said she allowed herself to have one.

“It was so worth it.”

Strong was among the scores of patrons who came to American Coney Island to try what could be the new Detroit food legend: coney paczki.

For the uninitiated, a coney dog is a Detroit specialty, consisting of a hot dog, chili sauce, mustard and onions. A paczek is a pastry that originated in Poland and made famous locally in Hamtramck, Detroit’s immigrant community once dominated by Poles. Paczki are typically eaten on Fat Tuesday, the day before the Christian period of Lent begins, to use up all the eggs, flour and sugar in the house.

Before 9 a.m., American Coney Island had sold hundreds of coney paczki to those dining in, others taking carryout.

“They’re selling like hotcakes,” said Hice Sleiman, the restaurant’s general manager. “Everybody wants one!”

Among the crowd was Jonathan Farrugi, who has traveled around the world and eaten strange fruits in Singapore and the heads of fish in Thailand.

When he saw that a Detroit restaurant was marrying the city’s iconic coney dog with the legendary paczek for Fat Tuesday, he woke up early Tuesday and went downtown to American Coney Island to be among the first to eat one.

“It was really good — a mix of salty and sweet,” said Farrugi, 41, of Detroit.

The new Detroit dish garnered a lot of publicity, including a Facebook Live episode featuring Cort Freeman, aka Intern Jack Black from Mojo in the Morning radio show. Mojo offered Freeman $5 for every coney paczek he could eat.

“I’ll do anything for money,” said Freeman, who ate four coney paczki and vowed not to eat again until Thursday.

American Coney Island has been around for 100 years at the corner of Lafayette and Griswold, but it was the first time it came up with the idea of combining the two famous Detroit foods, according to owner Grace Keros. It was a Detroit Police officer who suggested the coney paczek fusion last year during a fundraiser at the restaurant on Fat Tuesday. Keros had some paczki at the restaurant, and asked her staff to combine it with a coney island hot dog. She shared it with others, and decided she would make it official all day long this year.

“I loved it!” said Keros, who promises to offer the concoction every year from now on.

Many who came in to pick up the coney paczki were intrigued by the concept.

James Hughley, a Wayne County sheriff’s deputy, picked up two for himself and two for his partner after hearing all the buzz.

“It looked good, something different,” Hughley said. “I like trying new things, I love coneys and it’s something you won’t find anywhere else.”

But not everyone found the concept appetizing.

Andrew Holmes opted for three traditional coney dogs and an order of fries instead.

“I didn’t want the coney paczki,” said Holmes, a Roseville resident. “I didn’t think it would taste very good. A hot dog with a doughnut?”

Next door, at Lafayette Coney Island, the restaurant wasn’t offering the coney paczki. Only traditional coney island hot dogs were for sale.

“Maybe next year,” said Ali Alhalmi, a cook at the restaurant. “Why not?’