Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cairo HDJ Review - Shemp's Ice Cream Parlor

Cairo (the one in Ritchie County, not the one in Egypt) is a little town primarily known for its proximity to North Bend State Park and for being a stop on the 72 mile long North Bend Rail Trail. There area couple of general stores, a diner, a bike shop and Shemp's Ice Cream Parlor. Shemp's might not be named for that famous (and some may say, lesser) Stooge, of The Three Stooges fame, but he gets his share of homage in the decor of the cute little shop that looks legitimately like it is from the 1950s, not in the fake knock-off way, but things inside Shemp's look like they were there in 1958 and haven't been moved much since.

Fortunately Shemp's sells more than just ice cream, because we were hankering for hot dogs when we rolled in off of the trail on our bikes. We hoped that they were good ones, but when the waitress included ketchup in her list of toppings on an everything dog, we were a bit concerned about the quality. Thankfully our concerns were unfounded. We did notice that chili is called "sauce" here, which is understandable given Cairo's proximity to the Ohio River.

Shemp's hot dog is complex. It tries very hard to be a Genteel Dog, with its split and grilled weenie and giant helping of toppings, but is far too messy to rise above the Utilitarian Dog category. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all: In a small trailside town like Cairo, nobody s going to judge you if you have chili and slaw stains on your shirt and really, there is something magical about a hot dog that takes three or four paper napkins to get through, isn't there?

No, there's really nothing bad about Shemp's hot dogs. The bun was a little crusty, seemingly warmed in dry heat instead of steamed, but the chili/sauce and slaw were applied so heavily that a steamed bun might not have been up to the task anyway. The chili/sauce lacks much spice, but it is perfectly textured, as is the slaw. And speaking of slaw, purists will no doubt object to the orange flecks of carrots, but you won't catch this weenie wonk complaining - it tasted wonderful and was piled on in massive quantities. And most importantly, the Chili/sauce and slaw work together beautifully - the sign of a great WV hot dog. The hot dogs are very satisfying, both in quantity and in quality.

We're going to give Shemp's a Four Weenie ranking and recommend it to not only hungry trail riders, but anyone who finds themselves in the Mid Ohio Valley and in the mood for a great hot dog. But fair warning to you tie-wearing types: If you are going to be heading back to the office after lunch, bring a bib.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sissonville HDJ Review - Buddy B's

During our recent Facebook County-by-County poll of best hot dog joints, several votes were cast for Buddy B's Market in Sissonville, so we took a trip there recently to check it out.

Upon arrival, the very first thing we noticed was the sign out front that bragged "Best in Town" hot dogs. Regular readers know that if a HDJ is bold enough to put up such a sign, then they had better be able to back it up because we judge harshly those who boast. The sign also indicated that this was in no way a dedicated hot dog joint, but a market that happened to also sell hot dogs. We were dubious.

Entering the market you first find yourself confronted with a produce stand full of fresh offerings from local farmers, which is nice. To the left is a door that leads to a small dining room, and to the right is the market proper - and more importantly where the hot dogs are made. We placed our order for two hot dogs with everything and didn't have to wait too long before we had our lunch and walked over to the dining room to partake.

 After receiving positive comments from Facebook fans about Buddy B's, I was hopeful that we would be pleased with our lunch, and after seeing the first dog come out of its sleeve, I was further encouraged because the slaw was nothing short of beautiful! My mouth watered just looking at it; perfect in texture and liberally applied (this is where the word "unfortunate" and associated forms will begin to be used a lot), unfortunately looks were deceiving. It turned out that the liberal amount of slaw was unfortunate, because its taste was, well, unfortunate. The hot dog would have been better without it.

But not much better, because the chili, which was also a thing of beauty with perfect consistency and color, was just as unfortunately tasteless as the slaw.

Best in town? Maybe, because we couldn't find anywhere else in town that had hot dogs except for the local Tudor's (which are notoriously hit-and-miss). Fortunately we were able to drive a few short miles back down Route 21 to Skeenies and grab another couple of hot dogs that helped erase the unfortunate memory of Buddy B's unfortunate dogs. 2 Weenies is a generous score for this unfortunate HDJ.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Oak Hill HDJ Review - Delfino's

With the publication of this year's "101 Unique Places to Dine in West Virginia" list, we were reminded of a few HDJs that needed reviewed. One of those places is Delfino's Pizza and Ice Cream in Oak Hill. Now to call Delfino's a hot dog joint is probably a misnomer because it is a full service restaurant, most known for their desserts (a glass case full of delectable cakes and assorted yumminess is strategically placed by the front door), but since so many people brag on their hot dogs we felt we had to check them out.

The atmosphere inside Delfino's is all about the Oak Hill High School Red Devils, whose memorabilia adorns most of the walls. The twang of classic country music drones on in the background, and every person that comes through the door seems to know everyone else - customers and staff - as often happens in a small town establishments such as this. An outdoor picnic shelter is also available for those who prefer to dine al-fresco.

I was told that "everything" includes ketchup, so of course I deleted that from my order and proceeded with two with "everything else". When I got my hot dogs I was further dismayed by the grilled New England Style bun. Regular readers know that we feel that while these buttered and grilled split top buns are tasty (I mean, how could they NOT be? They are buttered and grilled bread!), they often hide the shortcomings of the rest of the hot dog and toppings. This is partially true at Delfino's. The slaw is very good - nearly perfect in texture but a little on the bland side. The chili - also perfect in texture - is devoid of any spiciness, but has a strong onion flavor instead. The weenie is low-to-moderate quality and added nothing particular to the experience. Overall, the hot dog was adequate, but nothing special.

We'll give it a 3 Weenie rating, and suggest that if you are looking for a good hot dog in Oak Hill, that you go on through downtown, hang a right on Jones Avenue and stop at Tom's Carry Out.

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.