Hot dog! Feltman’s of Coney Island returns to the People’s Playground

Dog fight! Nathan’s and Feltman’s battle for hot dog supremacy
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

This underdog is making a comeback!

Feltman’s of Coney Island is returning to the People’s Playground, where the restaurant’s founder invented the hot dog 150 years ago. The original Feltman’s closed in 1954, but a historian-turned-restaurateur has resurrected the brand and is bringing it back to Coney to keep the founder’s story alive.

“I always wanted to bring back the original Coney Island hot dog, and I want to make sure everyone knows who Charles Feltman is,” said Michael Quinn, who revived the recipe used by founder Charles Feltman — the man who taught a young bun slicer named Nathan Handwerker everything he knew about franks. “I want to bring this obscure figure back to light — he was a very important player in Coney Island. He believed in Coney Island before anyone else did.”

Feltman’s will return to its birthplace this summer, replacing the shuttered Cyclone Cafe and White Castle at W. 10th Street and Surf Avenue on land that is now owned by Luna Park. The park is leasing the lot to Quinn, where he’ll fling franks for customers at the sit-down hot dog stand and through a kiosk in the back. Feltman’s only other location is on the distant isle of Manhattan, though the brand ships across the country.

The 8-inch dog is made out of uncured beef with Feltman’s secret spice blend. And the succulent sausage comes in a smaller, skinless version for kids — to eliminate the choking hazard of a casing. The old world taste is even preferred by prolific Nathan’s hot dog muncher Takeru Kobayashi, said Quinn.

“Kobayashi loves us. He said it tastes just like steak,” said Quinn. “It has an Old World German spice blend to it — no nitrates are added.”

Hot dog!: Historian turned restaurateur Michael Quinn is bringing Feltman’s of Coney Island back to the People’s Playground.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

But today, Feltman’s serves more than classic Coney dogs. The “Al Capone” is also on the menu, which Quinn invented — a hot dog smothered in Michael’s of Brooklyn vodka sauce and sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese in honor of the Brooklyn gangster who used to stop by for a frank before heading to work as a bouncer at Coney Island’s Harvard Inn. It adds to the grub’s exciting history, said Quinn.

“There’s nothing better than going up to the counter and saying, ‘Can I have an Al Capone?’ ” said Quinn. “It gives them a sense of empowerment.”

Quinn has yet to determine how much the Al Capone will go for, but customers can purchase a classic hot dog for $4.25 — in the ballpark of his competition down the block. The restaurateur resurrected the wholesome original hot dog as a high-quality alternative to franks like Nathan’s Famous, but as far as a hot dog rivalry goes, Quinn feels he doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

“I’m not going to name names, but most hot dog brands use lower-quality meat, and for a lot of places, their secret spice is a ton of garlic powder,” said Quinn. “I honestly believe we have a superior product, but as far as a rivalry goes, that’s up to them. We’re focused on what we’re doing — on bringing back the original hot dog.”

Feltman’s brick-and-mortar Coney Island home will officially open its doors on Memorial Day, but Quinn will set up a kiosk after noon on April 9 for the amusement district’s opening day.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
A true original: The new Feltman’s will serve up franks using its original spice blend from 1867 for $4.25 a pop.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto