Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Sam's Hot Dogs - Randolph Street

We reviewed this convenience store location of Sam's when it first opened in 2008, actually on it's very first day in business. We found the hot dogs and service to be sub par on that day, but realizing that it's not fair to judge a place before it has its sea legs, we made a promise to come back. We didn't mean to wait seven years.

But seven years it is, and when we returned today here are the differences that we found:

  1. They weren't as busy.
  2. They no longer use coffins for their hot dogs.

Other than that, the experience was exactly the same as in 2008. Chunky slaw. 3 1/2 Weenies.

The only thing that made this visit remarkable was that we broadcast the review live on Periscope (now if you don't know what Periscope is, do not feel alone because approximately 99.8% of the world's population is just as clueless, but you can read more here). It was our first Periscope review (it won't be our last) and we learned a few lessons.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

West Virginia Slaw War Museum

In 1921, there began in West Virginia a battle that pitted brother against brother and North against South; blood relatives railed against each other's deep-seeded beliefs and family traditions. Decades later the scars of this battle are still visible and divide this great state. A clear victor has been established in this fight, and yet citizens of a certain area of the state stubbornly hold to the old ways and will not allow defeat to be acknowledged.

Of course, I am talking about the great Slaw War of West Virginia that began when the Stopette Drive In on Rt. 21 near Charleston began putting coleslaw on top of their popular chili dogs and started a food revolution that soon swept the entire state. Well, almost the entire state. Marion County, along with certain factions from Harrison County resisted the slaw advance and set the scene for The War.

A new museum has opened in Jane Lew, just a few miles south of the front lines of The War, that hopes to enlighten people on the ways in which this rift has affected people in North Central West Virginia. The Slaw War Museum is owned and run by Flora Olips, a former school cook for Marion County Schools. Flora is determined to help people on both sides of the issue come to an understanding. She was kind enough to sit down with us for a recorded interview. We hope to have the full audio version posted soon, but here are some highlights of our chat:

West Virginia Hot Dog Blog: Flora, when did you first get the idea for this museum?

Flora Olips: I've been wanting to do it since 1967. That's when my grandfather died. He was the one who told me about The War.

WVHDB: Was he affected by The War?

Flora: Oh Heavens, yes. He drove a truck for Heiners Bakery and he used to have to make the run from Huntington to Morgantown. He used to tell me how some Marion County restaurants wouldn't take buns from a open tray because they didn't want to use the same ones that places that served slaw used.

WVHDB: That sounds a little crazy...

Flora: Crazy? O mercy, that's exactly the kind of talk I'm trying to discourage here. It's just a different way of thinking. It might be hard for you to understand, but it's real to those who believe it.

WVHDB: So, which side are you on, Flora? Are you for slaw or against it?

Flora: Hah! If it were only that simple!

WVHDB: What do you mean? I just want to know if you like slaw on your personal hot dogs or not.

Flora: No, you asked whether I am for slaw or agin' it. That's what is complicated. As for what I eat on my own hot dogs, well, it depends on where I am and who I am with.

WVHDB: You mean, you swing both ways?

Flora: In a manner of speaking. I would never walk into Russell Yann's place [Yann's Hot Dogs in Fairmont] and ask for slaw, but if I am in Charleston or Logan, I love me a big helping of cool creamy slaw on my dog.

WVHDB: So you're attitude is kinda 'when in Rome?'

Flora: Exactly. I believe strongly in a person's right to choose.

Flora gave us the full tour of the museum that included photos of seemingly every hot dog sold by West Virginia vendors, showing the variations in presentation and styles. She had secret chili recipes from some of the great hot dog joints of the past, and iconic hot dog memorabilia such as the 1950s era Sunbeam Bun Steamer from Romeo's Grill in South Charleston. Just seeing these artifacts made my mouth water thinking of the delicious hot dogs they used to sell.

Alas, Flora doesn't allow photos in the museum so you will have to check it out yourself. The museum is located on Flair Pools Road just south of the Jane Lew Exit of I79. Open only one day per year, on April 1.

And speaking of museums, make sure that you visit the West Virginia Mine War Museum  that opens on May 16th in Matewan.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Suppers to Go / Stuck's Hot Dogs

When Facebook user Ranson J Stuck nagged us to check out the hot dogs at "Suppers to Go" on Bigley Avenue, we first thought he meant this place but soon found out that there were indeed two different carry-out dining places just a few blocks apart on the same street. So after trying the other place's mediocre hot dogs we were hopeful that these would turn out better.

The place is small and clean, and you can see everything being prepared from the ordering window. Service was fast and friendly the day I was there, and I had my order in no time at all. Peeking inside the bag as I left, I noticed that the dogs were wrapped in aluminum foil - a good sign.

Back at the office, I unwrapped the first hot dog and was greeted by a well-presented Utilitarian Dog, and the aroma of fresh cut slaw was unmistakable. Sampling a bit of slaw, I found it to be a nice texture and very sweet - much sweeter than is usually found in the Charleston area. Digging down to the chili, I noticed that it was not very spicy and had a bit of a ketchupy taste. Not bad, jut a hint.

My first real bite told me that some serious thought had gone into matching the slaw with the chili, as the combined tastes were definitely greater than the individual parts. I tasted onions, but they must have been finely minced because I could not see them at all.

The bun was the downfall of this hot dog, as it wasn't quite as soft as it should have been, especially after being wrapped up in foil during the ride back to the office. It didn't taste stale, though, and wasn't a big detriment to the overall product.

Suppers to Go certainly delivered on having a good hot dog. It's not great - not the best in town - but it is certainly one of the best. I'm going to go 4 Weenies; softer buns might have bumped it it to a 4 1/2, but it's still a good hot dog in a very convenient location.

Based on the quality of the hot dog I am looking forward to going back and picking up dinner some evening.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review: Hot Dogs to Go at The Corner Kitchen

(OK, I have a confession: When Facebook user Ranson J Stuck nagged me to try the hot dogs at a place called "Suppers to Go", I thought he meant this place. And who could blame me? Who would imagine that there could be two take-out dinner places within a few blocks of each other in a remote corner of Charleston? Don't worry, Ranson, I'll get to your place soon enough.)

I had eaten before at The Corner Kitchen; or I should say that I had eaten from the Corner Kitchen since it is a carry out-only place that got its start selling packaged dinners to go of what they bill as "home cooked" food. I had only eaten there twice before and thought the food was passable, but not remarkable, and so I figured that the hot dogs would be about the same quality.

The first bad omen was when I was told that "everything" included the dreaded red plague known as ketchup, along with the proper toppings chili, slaw, mustard and onions. After deleting this offensive offering from my order I paid my $4 for two hot dogs and waited on my order. In about the appropriate amount of time I received my two hot dogs that were double-packaged in styrofoam coffins sealed tightly with plastic wrap, which I guessed to be an extraordinary attempt at keeping the hot dogs warm and steamy on their ride home. This attempt failed: Even though my ride was less than 5 minutes, when I opened the hot dog packages they were somewhere between lukewarm and stone-cold.

Allow me to vent a moment about these damned coffins: They do not keep hot dogs warm. They are so thin that they provide no insulation value whatsoever. They do protect the dogs from being squished, but they present another problem because they will not sit upright in a bag or on a car seat, so anytime they go for a ride further than from the counter to a restaurant booth the potential is high for an upside down mess upon opening.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the hot dogs.

So when I pried open the coffins, before I even noticed that the hot dogs were tepid, I saw another bad omen: Large - nay, giant - chunks of onion. The chunks were so large that I felt that I needed to measure them like one would a trophy buck's antlers, so I broke out a measuring tape to document the enormity of them. Now after reviewing literally hundreds of hot dogs over the years, I have never once employed a measuring instrument during a review, but as they say, there is a first time for everything. The largest chunks were  1 3/4" long with most being in the 3/4" to one inch range. Very impressive, but not in a good way: Onions should be so finely chopped as to virtually disappear into the slaw.

Which brings us to the slaw: While the texture was pretty good, the taste was about as average as it could possibly be. Next item please.

Chili - OK, to call this substance chili (or even sauce for you Ohio Valley and North Central folks) would be wrong. It might aspire to be chili someday, but it was completely lacking in any spice or moisture. The meat was finely ground (like one might do if they were going to make a serious batch of hot dog chili) and was browned well (like one might do if they were going to make a serious batch of hot dog chili), but it has no discernible flavor other than meat and was so dry that it seemed to siphon liquid from the slaw. Taking a whole mouthful-sized bite of this dog caused me to immediately go for a glass of water just so I could make it go down the correct direction.

And yet for all of these problems, this hot dog wasn't completely bad. It did have a nicely soft bun and decent weight, volume and overall texture. The bland slaw and tasteless pseudo-chili actually sort of complimented each other, so the result was not terrible. It certainly did not taste like what a West Virginia Hot Dog should taste like, but as food stuff goes, it wasn't objectionable.

So we'll give The Corner Kitchen a 2.5 Weenie score.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Per reader request: Mumsey's Iron Skillet in Richwood.

When Stanton relayed to me that we had a request to review Mumsey's Iron Skillet in Richwood I was excited to check it out. I had eaten at Mumsey's several times, but had never tried their dogs.
      My hostess told me "everything" included slaw, chili, onions and mustard, which I took as a good sign. I ordered three dogs and waited.
     Mumsey's has this 1950s feel with its period-style tables, chairs and decor. There are, naturally, numerous cast-iron skillets on the walls. They have a very impressive collection of old glass soda bottles, many of them I remember from my youth. They have Upper 10 bottles. I hadn't even thought of Upper 10 in years. I stood in admiration of their amazing cakes - kept in a glass-windowed case. They were impressive - seven or eight layers in each cake. I picked up a newspaper and read about the latest happenings in Nicholas County. I had plenty of time to reflect upon the sodas of my youth and read a newspaper as it took a little over 10 minutes to receive my dog, but good dogs are worth waiting for. 
     When my dogs arrived, the genteel-looking dogs were individually packaged, They probably were more neatly constructed than pictured, as the dogs turned upside down while I was carrying them to my vehicle for private consumption.
    My first reaction as I opened the Styrofoam container for dog No. 1 wasn't positive. Visually, the dog had several things wrong with it. It was on a New-England-lobster-roll bun for a start, but my eyes were instantly drawn to the large carrot chunks. They were large and plentiful. 
    When I took my first bite, I was aghast, appalled and perplexed as how Mumsey's - otherwise a fairly good restaurant - could make such an abomination as this dog. The New England bun was grilled with butter and was, in fact, the only part of this dog that tasted good.
     The slaw was not creamy at all and long after the the rest of the bite was chewed and swallowed, the large chunks of carrots remained to be chewed and chewed. It was almost like eating carrots. They may as well just topped the dog with shredded carrots. 
   The dog was cold. There was a slight amount of warmth in the wiener and I mean slight. The chili was tomato-based and somewhat sweet. It may have been good if warm. 
   The wiener was slightly warm. It also had virtually no taste whatsoever. Who knows how long it had been standing in water? 
    I kept an open mind as I tackled the second dog. Same results. I threw the third dog away.
    With an over-boiled wiener, generally cold dog and slaw only a rabbit could love - I give this dog a two-weenie rating.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

London HDJ Review - Dogs on the Run

A couple of weeks ago, Weenie Wonk H.C. Paine mentioned that he had tried to catch this new HDJ open but had to settle for a Montgomery Dairy Queen hot dog instead (which didn't turn out so well for him). I too had had difficulties making my driving schedule line up with DOTR's business hours, but finally I made the connection and got to check out their offerings.

This little carryout sits on the side of the road along Route 60 in London, a community famous for its locks and dam on the Kanawha River and not much else. Recently though, two restaurants have sprung up along this short stretch of highway, DOTR and 'Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill, which sells ribs, chickens and other assorted soul food staples just a quarter mile down the road. While I don't expect London to become a foodie Mecca anytime soon, it does make one wonder how this little wide spot in the road suddenly became home to two eating establishments after having none for who knows how long. 

Anyway, Dogs on the Run, as its name implies, specializes in hot dogs and I was eager to find out if they were worth stopping for. It didn't take long to begin forming my impression after the very nice young lady on the other side of the ordering window told me that "everything" included chili, slaw, onions, mustard and ketchup: This is never a good sign. I, of course, ordered mine without ketchup and pretty soon I had my hot dog which looked scrumptious and felt good - the bun was nicely soft, and the coleslaw looked creamy and had the perfect consistency that slaw ought to have. There was a little bit of misplaced chili sitting on the bun, which gave me the opportunity to taste it independent of the other toppings: What I tasted was pretty good chili - not much spice, but a good texture and flavor. Looking more closely, I noticed a split and grilled weenie nestled in the bun. So at this point I was encouraged by what I saw, and despite the shaky and ketchupy start to my experience, I was eager to dig in and taste the assembled product.

And that's where the bottom dropped out - literally. The bun was perhaps a little too soft, or perhaps it was grease soaked from the grilled weenie, but when it was picked up from the styrofoam coffin the weenie just started to fall through the bottom. But that was only the first problem.

The good-flavored chili was no match for the completely flavorless slaw. This concoction, seemingly made from cabbage and mayo with no other ingredients involved, was so bland that it soaked up the otherwise appealing flavor of the chili and that flavors that should be present in the carefully grilled weenie.

The result was a most unsatisfying hot dog experience and a 2 Weenie rating. Route 60 travelers would be much better off stopping of at Burger Carte in Smithers, just a few miles east.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Bammy's Chili Dogs

Let's take a little trip through the annals of the WV Hot Dog Blog, shall we?

Many years ago we reviewed Shaar's Bar and Grill and while we liked the location and the overall ambiance of the place (cigarette smoke notwithstanding), the hot dogs they served were sad. Worse than sad, actually; they were disgusting.

Then, just a couple of years ago, we reviewed Sammy's Chili Dogs (which later changed its name to "Bammy's") at its original location near the corner of West Mains Street and Coal River Road in St. Albans. Their hot dogs were good. Better than good, actually; they were great.

So recently when I heard an advertisement on a Charleston radio station for a new Hot Dog Joint opening up at 829 Central Avenue on Charleston's West Side, my ears perked up. My perky ears were rewarded when I heard this new HDJ bragging that they had been highly reviewed by the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog. Although I didn't immediately recognize the name, when they said that this was their second location and gave the address of the original, it didn't take me long to put it together.

I was happy about this development, because as I said, I really liked the Shaar's building and thought it deserved to be something nicer than a smoke-filled beer joint with bad hot dogs. I am happy to report that while it is a bit smoke-filled , the smoke is from the deep-fryer and not cigarette smoking bar patrons, its hot dogs are much, much improved from its Shaar's days.

I didn't have to wait long for my hot dogs, but while I did, I poked around a little and was pleased that they had mostly left the charming interior intact, including the very cool old wooden phone booth in the back. The pool table is gone, but in its stead is a door with the tell-tale sign that says "Over 21" and cautions that the door must be kept closed. Bammy's, like many other HDJs these days, supplements its income with a backroom casino. Or maybe more correctly, it uses its hot dogs as a front for the casino. I don't care, as long as the hot dogs are good, and these are.

Let's start with the bun: They have a bun steamer - say no more. A sure sign of a serious hot dog joint. The result is near perfection: heavenly soft and nicely warm buns in which to build a tasty hot dog.

And build it they do: A small-caliber weenie leaves room for a good helping of tasty chili: tangy and meaty. The slaw was nearly perfectly paired with the chili, nicely sweet and finely chopped. After I had already ordered I noticed that they offered a spicy chili; I'll try that next time, because there will definitely be a next time.

4 1/2 Weenies. Delicious.