100 Favorite Dishes 2015: No. 99, Chili-Cheese Coneys at JCI Grill

Chili-Cheese Coneys at The Restaurant Formerly Known As James Coney Island.
Chili-Cheese Coneys at The Restaurant Formerly Known As James Coney Island.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Phaedra Cook is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes of 2015. It's a collection of personal favorites that is also indicative of Houston dining. It's a scene where a vast range of dishes coexist: highbrow and lowbrow; local and international; cheap and expensive; modern cuisine and beloved tenets--and everything in between.

I appreciate that James Coney Island--now with a sleek, abbreviated logo that reads, "JCI Grill"--is trying to modernize, get with the times and offer some healthy choices.

That will still not change what brings me through their doors--classic Cheese Coneys made appropriately sloppy with the additional chili sauce. Two, please, with no onions.

You can have the onions if you want them, but they're not for me. I don't want anything to distract from the irregular zig-zag of unnaturally orange cheese sauce across the top. The electronic order board at JCI proclaims that it's Kraft® Cheez Whiz. Has it always been Cheez Whiz? Either way, it's a swath of salty goodness that matches the equally sodium-loaded wiener underneath the chili gravy.

They're awesome in their terribleness--pure calorific fun with almost no nutritionally redeeming factors. They'll also forever remind me of being in college seeking a sunny porch and a cheap meal to eat while hitting the books between classes.

Later, as an exhausted, broke parent, I'd be grateful for James Coney Island as an occasional, economical respite from cooking dinner and washing dishes at home. At the time, they had a kids-eat-free night once a week. It might vary by location, but the one I recently visited on FM 1960 near Cutten Road doesn't have a kids-eat-free night. However, it has a kids-eat-for-99-cents night on Mondays, which is practically the same thing.

It's fun for the kids and yes, you can assuage some parental guilt by guiding them to better decisions. On the other hand, if you're serving a good, homecooked meal six times a week, taking a night off isn't going to kill anyone. Everyone should know what a James Coney Island chili-cheese coney tastes like. It's part of our Houston heritage.

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