Uncle Franky's vs. Valley Lounge: A coney dog confrontation
Steven DePolo 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.
Amy Dahlin Uncle Franky's coney dog
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.
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.