Recipe by OhioKen
One of the nice things about having been on this earth for a extended period of time is that you get to experience many things. Some good, some bad. Some things that you remember and many things that you forget. Once in a while some thing, experience or event comes along that stays with you and provides many nice memories. One such thing for me was a coney dog. Not just any coney dog, mind you. But one that stands out — nonpareil. The ultimate coney dog. A poor man’s gastronomical delight. One that shall never come this way again. For it just wasn’t the taste of that coney dog among coney dogs: it was the aura of a bygone era. Not only did the sauce-covered wiener satisfy your appetite, but the smells, sounds and sights of the surroundings made the consumption of this king of coney dogs an event to the looked forward to, cherished and remembered for years to come. In the old days in Canton, Ohio, there was an indoor version of a farmer’s market called the Arcade Market in downtown Canton where one could get the freshest produce, meat cut to order on the spot, actually homemade items for your home and, of course, breakfast and lunch. Homer E. Dickes (Dick), a spry wisp of a man who seemed old even when I first met him as a 5-year-old kid, owned two eating venues within the old arcade. One was a sit-down counter that served lunch and breakfast. You could get that day’s version of fast food there, eggs made to order, various sandwiches, sodas and shakes, but there was one thing you couldn’t get there: that was a coney dog. For that you had to amble over toward the other side of the market, elbow your way up to a counter where Mr. Dickes himself served up coney dogs par excellence at Dick’s Coney Stand. During the rush at lunchtime you sometimes had to stand five deep and hope you got served in time to get back to work. Lunch, at least in my working years, consisted of two coney dogs washed down by an ice cold root beer. Mr. Dickes would take your order, grab his tongs and deftly fish the required number of wieners from a pot where they had been simmering since early morning. He would then take a bun or buns from a steam warmer and with a quick flick of the wrist using a long soda spoon put the perfect amount of sauce on your dog. An assistant would bring your root beer and take your money while Mr. Dickes methodically waited on the next customer. In the 30 or 40 years that I frequented Dick’s Coney Stand I don’t think I ever heard Mr. Dickes saying anything more that “What can I get you?”. He was much too busy for chit-chat and I was much too eager to consume my prize dogs to want to converse with him anyhow. Those days are long gone now, but the memories linger on. The Arcade Market was slowly pushed aside by the newly arrived aseptic and extremely mundane super markets. Dickes Coney Stand held its own against the fast food restaurants that started to populate downtown Canton, but even the popularity of his coneys couldn’t sustain the Arcade Market and keep it open. The Arcade Market finally lost its battle to serve the citizens of Canton and with its closing Dick’s Coney Stand served its last coney dog some time during the '80s. After its closing, I, along with others, would search in vain for a coney that was comparable to Mr. Dickes’. At times I would come across one that was reasonably good but the ambiance — the sights, sounds and smells of the old Arcade Market — could not be replicated from that earlier time. For years I had heard rumors that someone had the actual recipe for Mr. Dickes’ coney sauce. I was eventually given a copy of said recipe by a friend and eagerly set about making it in my home. What I was given was a pretty standard recipe for coney sauce that didn’t seem to be anything special and indeed my first few attempts at making the coney sauce didn’t produce the hoped for results. It took quite a few tries before I discovered that the secret to a good coney sauce wasn’t in the ingredients but it was in the preparation. Like all things of import, the effort put into creating something — whether it be a food item, a material object, or even a work of art — directly impacts the final result. You can use the finest ingredients, building materials or artist paints, but if individual effort is lacking, the finished item will leave something to be desired. A quick search of the Internet revealed a couple recipes that were attributed to Mr. Dickes. The one that I offer here is one that has been circulated for years by word of mouth and is popularly thought to be the original recipe from Dick’s Coney Sauce. For many years now I have served this sauce to friends and family and it is now known in my somewhat limited circle as Ken’s Famous Coney Sauce. I have freely given out the recipe but invariably I get feedback from others that they just can’t make it the same way as I do. That is probably because of the required amount of effort that it takes to make a truly great coney sauce. It takes a couple hours of intense motivated effort to make the sauce come out right. An effort that most won’t put forth for a lowly wiener.
- 1 (29 ounce) can tomato puree
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons dark chili powder, divided
- 2 lbs lean hamburger (buy the leanest you can get)
Directions See How It's Made
- Over medium heat combine the tomato puree, sugar and one-half of the chili powder.
- Brown the hamburger in a large skillet, crumbling it with a spatula while cooking.
- Once the hamburger is browned evenly, reduce the heat to medium low.
- Now comes the first of two critical steps in making a great coney sauce. The hamburger needs to be crumbled into extremely fine particles; the finer the better.
- Pampered Chef makes a tool for chopping hamburger into fine particles that I use. It requires a lot of effort and time but I cannot overstress the importance of getting the hamburger particles as small as you can.
- I have been tempted to put the cooked hamburger into a food processor but I am not sure if a food processor is appropriate for use on meat. I usually move small amounts of hamburger to the center of the skillet and take out my frustrations on it with my Pampered Chef tool adding the hamburger to the sauce as I go.
- While I am cooking the hamburger, I slowly add the rest of the chili sauce a little at a time. This is the second of two critical steps. It is important to get a balance between the sweetness of the sugar and the tang of the chili sauce.
- For a sauce to be truly good you should be able to taste both the sweet and tangy at the same time with neither overpowering the other. You should have a lingering taste of chili with just a hint of sweetness. It is important to frequently taste the sauce, as balance is critical.
- After making it for many years you will be able to pretty much tell how far along the sauce is by the color; the sauce will start to take on a rich dark red color from the dark chili powder when you are nearing completion.
- All this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But the outcome is worth it. Rest assured that if you follow my directions you will be treated with a sauce that some day will come to be known as Sam’s, Jane’s or maybe if your name happens to be Richard — Dick’s Famous Coney Sauce.