An expat’s search for a corndog in Coney Island
Sometimes only the classics will do, but Holly Baxter’s quest for the fast food treat along the boardwalk seemed doomed
Every British expat in the US has something they’ve latched onto in American culture. My fiance loves fudge-covered Oreos and American service culture (even despite the tipping); I’m a big fan of jalapeno-infused everything (cocktails, bagels, cream cheese) and the trashy reality TV show 90 Day Fiance. For one of
my British friends in New York City, however, there’s one thing and one thing only that he wants in his life right now: corndogs.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a corndog, let me briefly enlighten you. Imagine a hotdog, but on a stick, and the bun is actually a thick layer of deep-fried cornmeal. It ends up looking a little bit like a miniature version of the spinning doner meat you find in most kebab shops in London – and in the US, it’s as much fairground food as candyfloss (or as they say, cotton candy) or toffee apples.
This is the background you need to understand why said British friend came knocking on my door a few days ago, wondering whether I wanted to go on a quick post-work jaunt.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked. “Coney Island,” he replied, with grim determination. He could not be swayed, so I packed up my bag and we got on the Q train towards the coast.
Coney Island and its surrounding coastline areas, many of which have names familiar to British ears – Brighton Beach, Bath, Gravesend – has historically been an eastern European enclave. Just a few steps inland from the sand at Brighton Beach is an area known colloquially as Little Odessa, where shops and restaurants have signs in Cyrillic and Russian and Ukrainian are spoken by many of the passersby. The area has some of the most interesting fusion cuisine in New York, including one cafe (Cafe At Your Mother-in-Law) which specialises in Korean-Uzbek fare. Stores and markets sell eastern European treats and a number of establishments sell some of the most authentic borsht and pierogies you’ll come across in the city.
The areas a little further inland still have some surprising cult New Yorker offerings: L&B Spumoni Gardens, for instance, is an always-packed pizza and gelato restaurant seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where residents of Brooklyn and Queens travel on special occasions for “grandma-style” pizza and unbeatable ice cream.
There is, in other words, a lot more to see along the New York coastline than rich people at the Hamptons and the fairground
rides at Coney Island. Nevertheless, if you want a corndog, to Coney Island you will go.
We had to conclude our adventure without a corndog victory. We sat at Spumoni’s and ate our consolation pizza, wondering what had happened to the fairground food
On this particular warm weekday night we arrived around 7pm and the boardwalk was almost empty. A few isolated screams still emanated off the scarier rollercoasters and the women who sell mango with hot sauce in bags along the boardwalk were still there, but it was certainly quieter than before the pandemic. We decided to have a go on the dodgems for old time’s sake, where a teenager tied me to the seat with rope as an old-school health and safety measure. The music started up, and suddenly I was eight years’ old again. There are few pleasures more ridiculous and pure than driving a tiny vehicle round and round a vinyl floor while crashing into everyone you can see.
Post-bumper cars, we continued on our quest for corndogs via the Coney Island Brewery. People were shuttering up, and it seemed like the corn treats were out of vogue. “Hotdogs, we have,” said one vendor after another. We shook our heads and moved on.
As the night drew in, we had to conclude our adventure without a corndog victory. We sat at Spumoni’s and ate our consolation pizza, wondering what had happened to the fairground food. Someone suggested we try the Iowa State Fair, which isn’t
exactly a bad suggestion but certainly a less practical one. The Q train won’t take you as far as Iowa, that’s for sure.
Today, my friend texted me again: “Corndog adventure?” It looks like the search isn’t concluding any time soon.
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