Monday, October 13, 2008
James Coney Island
This past Tuesday Texas celebrated National Night Out. The reasoning for the delay has nothing to do with the fact that Texas has to be on their own page about everything and refuses to do things the "national" way in some radical attempt at exerting our own idealistic beliefs about our state within the union. The simple fact is, it is too hot to celebrate and grill outside in September. The only exclusion to that comes on real holidays (like Memorial day, Labor day, July 4th, and Aggie football game days). Thus, we celebrated in October. Since moving to the suburban, cookie cutter neighborhood that we did, Mattie and I wondered what sort of perks came with living (and paying for the fee) of a neighborhood that has an HOA. We found out on National Night Out with the promise of free JAMES CONEY ISLAND at the clubhouse! We were stoked, but tried to keep our excitement in check because we were unsure if there would be any left once we arrived. We cautiously entered the clubhouse (where we will both be casting our ballots on November 4th) and looked around for the promised dogs. There they were, steamed buns, chili sauce, melted cheese, onions, mustard and all. For those of you unfamiliar with James Coney Island, call me when you come to Houston. I have a personal attachment to the place. The company was founded in downtown Houston and is something of a local chain. I am not sure when my earliest visit to James Coney Island was but the memories made there (at any of their locations) easily number in the hundreds. First, Grandaddy and Nana ALWAYS took us there when we visited them. I cannot remember a single visit (several times a year) that we did not stop at JCI when we were with them. Grandaddy (being the large man he was) would polish off 4 chili cheese dogs and an order of fries. I still remember the time he ordered me a dish of chili cheese fries. I had already scarfed down my two chili cheese dogs (extra mustard, extra onions) and although I was not remotely hungry, he gave me money (or maybe he gave Nana money) to order chili cheese fries. With that characteristic Grandaddy gleam in his eye he watched as I grabbed my first fry. Their fries are the old fashioned kind, the kind you would make at home if you wanted fries. They are not too thick and not too thin, crispy on the outside, soft and potato-ey on the inside. Their chili and cheese is the same as what they put on their dogs. A thin, but tasty layer of chili seasoned meat and creamy (deliciously processed) cheese. I grabbed a fry that was almost completely covered by the toppings, with only a small niblit of actual fry to hold and held the treat over my mouth. As I put the fry in my mouth, I knew why Grandaddy had such a gleam in his eye. I had never had such a tasty and complete variety of flavors in a fry before. Sometimes you want ketchup and fries and sometimes you want something more. The chili cheese fries were something more. That first (and second and third) fry was something that would not be matched until having the bacon cheese fries with ranch at the Deluxe Diner in C.S. which is no more. Now I had a dilemma, do I order two dogs or a dog and fries. I tended to vary my selection and was happy for the day that I could convince someone to share an order of chili cheese fries with me. I never eat a JCI dog without thinking about my Grandaddy! The other important JCI experience is with my mom. Mom, Jessica, and I would frequent JCI whenever possible. Growing up there was not a JCI really close to us, but I remember on big shopping Saturdays (especially around back to school time) we would always try to find a James Coney Island if possible. It did not matter where because although it is a local chain, it is always delicious and pretty consistent. Mom would always get a chili dog and a frito pie which led to one of our JCI traditions- "the tooth check". For some reason the chili on the frito pie left little bits of chili all over your teeth. Because mom and I both hate to walk around with stuff in our teeth. I slowly graduated from the chili cheese fries on to tater tots when they began to offer them. With moms guidance I began to add extra mustard onto the coney in order to get an extra punch of that tangy flavor. The mustard and ensuing tanginess helped cut through the creamy cheese and greasy chili. I like to think of the yellow condiment as being the wine that helps cut through certain flavors of your dinner. Regardless of becoming a lover of JCI, the more important part is the memories that were made there. I cannot pass the location where Grandaddy would take us without thinking about the plate of coneys he would polish off and the times we would go to the locations with the old fashioned tables. And often, when I think of going to lunch or hanging out with my mom from my childhood until I left for high school, somewhere in the chain of memories, JCI comes to mind.