In our new series of posts called “Worth the Hype?” we’ll trek across the different boroughs, tasting the staples of the New York food and beverage scene and evaluate whether or not they are worth going out of your way to check out for yourself. Let our “Worth the Hype” series be the discerning palate you only wish you had.
1310 Surf Avenue at Stillwell Avenue, Coney Island
Getting There: D,F,N,Q to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue
Restaurant Review: Nathans
In 1916, a Polish immigrant opened a hot dog stand on the corner of a Brooklyn beach. Close to a century later, while prices are no longer a nickel, the familiar green logo and signage has become synonymous with the handheld comfort food. Thought it’s sold in franchises, retail outlets and even in grocery stores all over the world, the original outpost of Coney Island’s Nathan’s Famous still stands strong. Nearly 100 years later, the singular shop has evolved into a block long madhouse of frenzied dog-to-bun placement, lightning fast ordering and serving stations to feed thousands of hungry eaters every single day.
Now at this point, we’ve all enjoyed a Nathan’s frankfurter somewhere- be it at a mall, ballpark, movie theater or a friend’s barbecue. The summertime staple is seemingly available at every turn. But it’s the charm of the Coney Island location which still resides on Surf Avenue in all its grandeur and its historical significance to New York City that has continued to further the legacy of the place as a landmark. In fact, despite the beach, the boardwalk and even the emergence of a minor league baseball team and the construction of a stadium, it’s sort of incredible that it’s a hot dog place that has become most ingrained in the fabric of the neighborhood.
Coney Island is around an hour outside of Manhattan depending upon where you’re traveling from and although it’s certainly a beach town, hopefully you have a primary reason for trekking out there other than grabbing a hot dog. That said, seeing the historic building in all its splendor is truly something special. An outdoor patio hosts hundreds of guests at once- from intimate dates to groups of buddies to full-on families in swimwear- all crowding the surrounding outdoor tables and lining up at the many cashier stations nearby. Who can blame them? Everybody loves a hot dog. Fortunately, despite the warm summer weather during our visit there are no lines to speak of and we move quickly to place our order. Burgers and seafood dishes are served separately so the waits for the traditional all beef hot dogs move at an express-line pace.
Avoiding the likes of the bacon or chili cheese toppings, we go with the time tested staples of New York City living: the “Original Hot Dog” ($3.95) and “French Fries” (reg. $3.15, lg. $3.65). Whether it was the sun, the breeze from the beach or the thrill of being in Coney Island, something about these hot dogs just tasted exquisite here. We dig a little bit deeper below.
Ranking What Matters:
Value: Two people can comfortably share a meal at Nathan’s Famous for less than $20 all in. Granted, these are comfort foods like hot dogs and fries, but value is value. That’s what you’ll find at Nathan’s. Health benefits though are another story.
Taste: I’d be lying if I said that each bite into the juicy hot dog transported us back to an old New York that doesn’t exist anymore but there’s something about the historic setting that made each hot dog actually taste tangibly better. The fluffy plain white bun. The crisp casing that snapped with each bite of salt-filled meaty goodness. The delectable meshing of ridiculously tasty and piping hot crinkle-cut fries with the comforting and familiar taste of the frankfurter. The entire experience in and of itself is both an exercise in patriotism and also ingratiates you into a piece of the history of our City’s lineage. A visit to Nathan’s Famous is much more than eating just a hot dog- though your GI tract might disagree.
Overall: Add Nathan’s Famous to the list of things that New Yorkers take for granted along with the ease and convenience of getting around, the views from the Empire State Building and the constant success and relevance of our sports franchises. But take it for granted no longer- it’s summertime! Now is the best time to head out to Coney Island to enjoy a New York City beach, take in a Brooklyn Cyclones game, and yes dine on a couple of incredibly savory dogs from Nathan’s Famous. It’s an American institution- and it’s also most certainly, the best Nathan’s dog you’ve ever tasted in your life.
- Jane Van Arsdale
Other ‘Worth the Hype’ Pieces: