by Jolene Ketzenberger
Sometimes, you just have to hit the road. I was pining for a little country scenery recently, so John and I made plans awhile back to hit the state roads and take a drive. We typically head to southern Indiana, but this time we pointed the car north and made arrangements to meet his folks in Fort Wayne.
It was a great drive, which started out with a photo of one of my favorite roadside landmarks — Fortville’s pink elephant — and we stopped at several roadside stands along the way. We ended up with plenty of produce, but were looking forward to what we would find at the end of our drive.
Yes, we had hit the road and driven more than two hours to get to Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island. And most everyone who has enjoyed those distinctive dogs would agree that our two-hour drive was definitely worth it.
Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island has been located at 131 W. Main St. in Fort Wayne for 100 years.
One hundred years. That’s a lots of coney dogs.
The classic restaurant, which, according the the photos, looks a lot like it did 100 years ago, can go through between 1,500 and 2,000 hot dogs in a day. Employees hand chop 75 pounds of onions each day , and they still serve Coke in the small glass bottles (and female customers are given straws).
But before you go inside and order “three and a bottle,” which is three dogs with everything and a Coke (which is what I had), you have to stop outside and peer in through the front window, where the hot dogs cook on a flat-top grill. I counted more than 175 dogs cooking at a time.
The hot dog buns are heated as well, as the neon sign hanging in the back of the restaurant attests: “Our buns are steamed.”
And it’s been that way for 100 years — in fact, the same family has operated the restaurant since 1916. Greek immigrants opened it in 1914, but a Macedonian immigrant named Vasil Eschoff purchased an interest in it two years later. That’s the grandfather of current owner Kathy Choka. Longtime employee Jim Todoran is also an owner.
On our recent visit, we met up with John’s folks, who are from the area and who, of course, had gone to Coney Island since they were in high school. And not much had changed since then. The dogs are still topped with a coney sauce that loyal fans try to re-create. I’ve got a recipe myself I need to try.
If you’ve never been to Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island, or haven’t been in years, you might consider taking a drive up there yourself.
The restaurant will be celebrating its 100th anniversary Sept. 20 with an all-day block party. The festivities kick off at 11 a.m. and will likely continue till after midnight.
But if you don’t make it for the 100th anniversary party, don’t worry. It’ll still be there, and it will still look the same, and you can still get your coney dog. Or several. They’re $1.50 each.