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East State Coney
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Sides give great dogs a big boost

Finding a hot dog in Fort Wayne isn’t exactly a chore.

From the downtown staple Coney Island to the newly popular Brava’s cart, Summit City folk love their dogs, and there are places to find them scattered throughout the city.

So when a place popped up along State Boulevard a few years ago, I didn’t exactly rush to try it. Now, I wish I had.

East State Coney in Beacon State Plaza wasn’t fancy, didn’t offer any strange gourmet toppings and it doesn’t tweet or update its Facebook page daily. But what the people there prepared was good-quality food and provided fantastic service in a pleasant, neighborly atmosphere that just made me – and my family – want to come back.

My kids loved sitting at the counter and watching as dogs were topped with Coney sauce or sauerkraut or cheese. They also got a kick out of the nifty, enclosed, odor-free Autofry machine on the back counter, eagerly anticipating when it would spit out hot, crispy fries.

And they loved the dogs.

East State Coney uses dogs made of beef and pork and steams them. There is no grill to be found, which worried me when I saw a bratwurst on the menu. But even with a sort of gray color on the dogs and lack of char on the bratwurst, both were tasty and had decent texture. The brat was a nice little change of pace to the menu as most Coney joints don’t offer them.

The Coney sauce, which we all know is the secret, was fantastic. It was thick and meaty with the hearty, slow-cooked flavor a good sauce should have. It wasn’t really sweet or spicy, it just had a nice even mix of both.

But what really separated East State Coney from the rest were its homemade extras.

The chicken salad, served on a hot dog bun, was, manager John Smith said, added with moms in mind to give them something other than the tubes of meat to choose from. Mom or not, it was delicious with big chunks of chicken breast, a creamy but not too sweet dressing and plenty of crunchy celery.

The sloppy Joe – also on a hot dog bun – was even thicker and meatier than the Coney sauce and much sweeter. It was fine on its own and would have been good atop a dog, which, of course, is an option.

The potato salad was bright yellow and heavy on mustard with a touch of pimento. The baked beans had a pale, almost orange color, but were sweet and enjoyable.

The real prize, however, was the coleslaw. A Dutch version, I was told, it was chunky, more sweet than vinegary and spiked with caraway seeds. I loved its refreshing taste and crunch, so I had to try the slaw dog – a Coney topped with slaw in addition to onions, mustard and sauce. And it, too, was great with the slaw adding a little sweetness and crispness to what was already a great dog.

East State Coney also shared its Coney sauce with other menu items. The Coney nachos with cheese were brilliant with an aged cheddar sauce – not the neon-colored processed stuff – and the meaty Coney sauce over crispy warm tortilla chips. And, yes, the Coney cheese fries were also worth having, too, especially given the generous portion size for the price. Next time, however, I will ask for jalapenos and onions on my nachos, which I was assured would be no problem.

It would be hard to have a problem at this place, given how nice and accommodating the staff was.

“If I’ve got it in house and you want it on a dog, I will do it for you,” Smith said.

And it was just a comfy place to spend some time with its super clean dining room with a black and white checkerboard tile floor and farm prints on the walls.

And if some simply tasty hot dogs and sides weren’t enough, there was a freezer case full of Blue Bunny ice cream treats up near the front. And what kid – or adult, for that matter – couldn’t go for a push-up or drumstick for dessert?

Restaurant: East State Coney

Address: 2831 E. State Blvd.

Phone: 471-1000

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Coneys ($1.45; $1.95 with cheese), kraut dog ($1.75), slaw dog ($1.65), bratwurst ($2.55; $2.95 with kraut), sloppy Joe ($2.65), chicken salad ($2.95), Coney nachos with cheese ($2.95), Coney cheese fries ($2.85), baked beans ($1.15), potato salad ($1.45), coleslaw ($1.65), ice cream desserts ($1 to $1.85)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.