There's nothing quite like a bowl of chili with chopped onions and saltines to warm you up on a cold winter day. And for eighty-five years, one of the best bowls of chili in the city has been served at the James Coney Island hot dog stands. The chili recipe hasn't changed in all those years, although the price has gone up a little. Chili was 15 cents and a hot dog was a nickel when the first James Coney Island opened downtown in 1923. And the most popular hot dog of the day was served with chili on top.
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The chili dog was popularized in the Midwest, where it was known as a Coney Island. (In New York, it was called a Michigan dog.) Made with a hot dog on a steamed bun with mustard, onions and chili, the Coney Island was an instant hit in Houston. But the Greek brothers were probably unprepared for the popularity of chili served all by itself. John Wayne was among the many fans of the beanless chili served at the original location at the corner of Walker and Main Street in downtown Houston.
Why, you might ask, did James and Tom Papadakis, two Greek immigrants who came to Houston by way of New York insist on making their chili without beans? No, it's not because they were dedicated to Texas foodways and wanted to preserve the purity of the San Antonio Chile Queens's recipe. It's because once you put beans in the chili, you can't make chili dogs with it--or use it for much of anything else for that matter.
Chili without beans isn't a Texas perversion, it's the way everybody made chili back in the heyday of chili con carne. -Robb Walsh