At one time, it seemed that just about every town of decent size in the Midwest had their own Coney Island hot dog shop. Unfortunately, they are harder to find these days, which is why it was such a pleasure to come across The Nook in Columbia City, IN. It has only been in business since 1971, but it has a much older feel and I was told the building was another restaurant before then. The inside is long and narrow, with 19 counter seats and more booths in the back. Colorful murals fill up the back wall space.
The wieners are grilled until brown with a crispy skin and placed in soft, steamed buns. While other toppings are available, the locals prefer their coneys with the homemade chili, onions, and yellow mustard. The addictive chili is dark and meaty, with a fetching heat on the back end. Unlike other hot dog joints we have seen that slap the toppings on the wieners at a lightning pace (I am thinking Rhode Island’s New York System restaurants), they take their time and add the chili and onions with care and precision. The prices are small town low and a Coney Basket with two chili dogs and fries will set you back a mere $3.75. To wash it down: a thick chocolate shake, delivered in a tall glass.
Before leaving, I asked if the chili sauce was a family secret. The young lady who waited on us turned out to be the owner’s granddaughter and confirmed that it was. Another waitress nearby overheard the conversation and laughingly complained, “I had to work here for ten years before they showed me how to make it!”