BROOKSVILLE — Weeki Wachee State Park is revered as the “City of Live Mermaids.” Even Elvis Presley found the roadside attraction well worth a visit.
But the King of Rock ’n’ Roll also visited another historical Hernando County roadside novelty that continues to be a staple for locals and visitors alike: Coney Island Drive-Inn. The eatery on East Jefferson Street is more than just a great place to grab a footlong Coney dog. It’s as much a community meeting place, fundraising venue, and party-spot and often serves as the neighborhood hub with a hometown heartbeat.
And it has been a landmark in the same location, an old boat manufacturing building, since it opened in 1960. A few nostalgic memories have kept the restaurant on the side of fame, like the rumor that Elvis visited in 1961 and the filming of the movie "Death Dream" in 1972.
It has also stayed a family-owned and operated business though it changed hands a few times. It is now owned by John and Sally Lee and their son, Carter.
John Lee kept the basic foundation of Coney Island, the signature footlong with Coney Island sauce, and added few new selections to the menu. Several different hotdog choices were added, including: Norm’s Big Dog, a hot dog with loose meat, chili, cheese, slaw and topped with onion rings; Rueben Dog, spicy brown mustard, Thousand Island, kraut and Swiss cheese; and Chicago Dog, sport peppers, tomato, celery salt, yellow mustard, neon relish, dill spear on a poppy seed bun.
And that’s only the specialty hot dog choices. They also offer a variety of toppings, corn dogs, several flavored wings, and different french fries, fried corn, thick spoon shakes, coleslaw and more.
A popular item is the Gator Dog — 80 percent pork and 20 percent gator — with swamp relish. “It’s a huge item,” Lee said.
But Coney Island Drive-Inn is a popular meeting place for events and fundraisers. Lee built an amazing back area with a stage for live bands and tables for outside dining.
There is also a private party room for scheduled events like free Elvis shows every first Friday of each month and community events throughout the year.
Lee is all about the community, he said, with a passion for helping Hernando High’s FFA Program. In the five years Lee has owned Coney Island, he has supported the program through fundraising. “They don’t get any funding through the school system,” he said. “We have raised money for the last four years to fund their travels.”
Lee also coordinated the Brooksville Blueberry Festival, which ran its second annual two-day Festival the last weekend of March. It was a phenomenal success, more than doubling in size from last year and catering to 30,000 visitors through Brooksville.
Coney Island Drive-Inn is at 1112 E. Jefferson St. It is open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Sunday and Monday. For more information or to place an order, call 352-796-9141. Or visit their website at www.famousfootlongs.com.
Lee opened a second location in Zephyrhills at 5327 Gall Boulevard, Zephyrhills. You can reach that location by calling 813-602-8396.