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Uncle Franky's vs. Valley Lounge: A coney dog confrontation

Coney dog
Coney dog

Most of the time we visit restaurants that specialize in something we wouldn't normally prepare at home: tacos al pastor, Thai boat noodles, grilled sweetbreads, tres leches cake, and coney dogs. Real, make-your own sauce coney dogs respect and honor Michigan's great culinary contribution to the Western world. However, in the sausage-mad Twin Cities, where numerous restaurants chef up nearly infinite high- and low-brow hot dog permutations, there are only a handful of legitimate coney dog vendors. This week's Food Fight features two of the best.

See also: Foxy Falafel vs. World Street Kitchen: A falafel fracas

Uncle Franky's coney dog
Uncle Franky's coney dog
Amy Dahlin

The Venue: Uncle Franky's is a cozy joint in Northeast Minneapolis. It's hard to imagine a friendlier neighborhood gathering spot; it's as cheerful and comfortable on a snowy, sub-zero winter afternoon as it is on a clear, warm summer night. Valley Lounge in Eagan is a similarly welcoming place that gives off a suburban-snowmobile-bar charm. It's a place where families can gather at long tables for a casual Sunday lunch without cramping the style of the loquacious middle-aged sports fans talking hockey, munching chicken wings, and enjoying a Bloody Mary nearby.

The Weigh-in: Uncle Franky's looks and feels like a cleaner, bigger version of those rickety Chicago-style eateries wedged under El stations throughout the Windy City. The grill's behind the counter, the high-top tables are along the wall, and the photograph of Cubs legend Andre "The Hawk" Dawson is in the corner. If you're a Chicago native, then this place should remind you of the City of Broad Shoulders you left behind. Valley Lounge is a huge, Tudor-style building across the river that has karaoke nights, bocce ball leagues, and multiple big screen televisions for whatever game is on. Its cracked-leather seats and chatty servers feel beamed in from a much smaller town.

Round 1: The bun Uncle Franky's soft, poppy seed bun has just enough weight and firmness to hold everything safely inside. It's standard yet satisfying. Valley Lounge uses what looks like a thick slice of grilled toast pried open just enough for a hotdog to nestle in. This bun's added texture and unexpectedly buttery flavor were wonderfully satisfying.

 

The Valley Lounge coney
The Valley Lounge coney
Amy Dahlin

Round 2: The dog When properly cooked, the natural casing of an all-beef hotdog should snap with every bite. Uncle Franky's dogs snap. Their hot dog also has a nice balanced flavor that's not too salty. The Valley Lounge dog, while tasty, is a more commercial product that lacks the snap.

Amy Dahlin
Amy Dahlin
Uncle Franky's coney with cheese

Round 3: Coney sauce and toppings Do you like a drier, finer, cumin-based sauce? Or do you favor a wetter, sweeter sauce? Uncle Franky's homemade coney sauce recipe tends toward the drier side. All coneys at Uncle Franky's come with mustard and diced onion; the cheese whiz is optional, but highly recommended. The Valley Lounge coney sauce is more like high-quality Sloppy Joe filling. Their coneys come with shredded cheese and optional onions, but you'll have to add the mustard yourself.

And the winner is... Valley Lounge. Both locations are definitely worth a visit; be sure to take the kids with you if you stop by during the day. And Uncle Franky's cheesesteak sandwich and crinkle-cut fries are among the city's finest. Ultimately, though, the toasted bun and wetter sauce of the Valley Lounge coney dog prevails.

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