Monday, May 02, 2016

Charleston HDJ Review - Big Joe's Bar & Grill

I've been trying to get to Big Joe's for a while, not for hot dogs but for their Pastrami on Rye; a sandwich I had heard about my whole life but have never tasted. As far as I know, Big Joe's is the only restaurant in Charleston - maybe in West Virginia - that serves this New York staple food, and furthermore, they make their own pastrami on the premises. I had to try it, and when I finally made it in I found that they also had hot dogs, so I had to try those too. I should have stopped with the pastrami.

So should Big Joe's. They should stop offering hot dogs. Never serve another one. Ever. Let me explain:

The first indication that this was not good to be a good hot dog experience was when I saw cheese as a standard topping. I of course, deleted the dairy and went ahead boldly, thinking that at least the rest of the standard ingredients were correct - chili, slaw, mustard and onions. But then...

My hot dogs arrived and I immediately recognized a few potential problems: First, the bun had been grilled to within and inch of its life, and was no longer able to hold the weenie and other toppings. When I picked up my first hot dog it fell apart on the way to my mouth, and the second one - still on my plate - fell over when the first one was moved spilling its toppings all over the plate. Easily the messiest two hot dogs I have ever eaten. And I will remind you, I have eaten a lot of hot dogs.

When the "chili" spilled out (and I use quotation marks to sarcastically point out that it was pseudo-chili), from the looks and taste of it, it was nothing more than slightly browned ground beef. Tasteless.

Then there is the "slaw" (yes, there are those sarcastic quotes again), that seemed to be the cabbage portion of sauerkraut with nothing else added to it. It was long, stringy threads of cabbage with hardly any flavor.

There were large hunks of red onions on top of the stringy slaw.

The mustard and weenie were fine.

Big Joe's gets 1 Weenie, and that might be generous.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Townsville HDJ Review - The Hot Dog Factory

The WV Hot Dog Blog has gone on record numerous times about the way weenies are prepared. While we prefer grilled weenies, we are not too awfully concerned when hot dog joints use other methods to heat their meat. We've had excellent hot dogs whose weenies just came out of a hot bath, and even the dreaded roller dogs can't hold an otherwise good hot dog down. Generally speaking, we take a "when in Rome" attitude about how weenies are cooked.

But hold the phone, we recently were told about a new hot dog joint in Townsville that did something completely out of the ordinary to their hot dogs: Chicken Fried Hot Dogs. We could not envision what a chicken-fried hot dog would look like, much less taste like, so we scheduled a road trip up Route 12 as soon as we could. Although we didn't have an address for The Hot Dog Factory, we went anyway, figuring that we'd ask around once we got there. It turned out we didn't have to ask, because as you probably know, Townsville has only one street that runs through the center of town and every business (I think there are three) is on this street, so we soon found ourselves in front of a very cool looking little hot dog joint. We hoped that they had normal hot dogs in case the chicken-fried version wasn't to our liking.

Chicken-Fried Hot Dog
Walking in to the Hot Dog Factory, we immediately spied the Chicken Fried Hot Dog on the menu, threw caution to the wind and ordered up. When asked what "everything" meant, I was please to hear that Chili, slaw, mustard and onion were the standard toppings. I didn't however, expect to be asked whether I wanted Original or Extra Crispy, but without thinking I went for original. 

Now I have certainly had chicken-fried steak, and even chicken-fried chicken and I thought I knew what to expect. I envisioned that my hot dog would have its weenie encrusted with a golden-brown crust, nestled inside a bun with the normal toppings applied. I was even a little concerned about my ability to take a good photo of the weenie, and I found myself kind of hoping that the toppings would be more sparsely applied that I usually like so I could get a better look. 

I completely misunderstood. 

When The Hot Dog Factory says "Chicken Fried Hot Dog" they aren't talking about the weenie. No, they take the entire hot dog, bun, toppings and all, and dip it into the chicken batter and then crispy fry the whole thing. So the finished product was a regular old West Virginia hot dog completely encased in a crust. Are you understanding this, dear reader? The Bun, weenie, chili, slaw, mustard and onions were on the inside! Astounding!

After getting over my initial shock, I finally bit into the hot dog and was amazed to find that it was absolutely delicious. The ingredients that we so love in their normal state, were somehow enhanced by the deep frying, and the salty chicken-crust made the whole thing an absolute symphony of flavor! I immediately ordered another one and forgot all about trying the other hot dogs on the menu (of which there are many, including a veggie dog that uses a steamed carrot in place of the weenie). It wouldn't be fair to rate this hot dog on the same Weenie Scale as more traditional hot dogs, but if we did it would surely be worthy of a 5 Weenie score.

We were so impressed by the Chicken-fried Hot Dog at the Hot Dog factory that we made plans for a return trip. We're thinking of going back again next year on the same day, because April 1 seems like the perfect day to have a foolish-sounding hot dog like this.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Charleston HDJ Review - Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill

Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill is one of the greatest culinary success stories ever in Charleston. Starting out with a smoker/grill along the sidewalk of one of Charleston's famous Five Corners where they developed a huge following, they eventually moved into an actual building on another of the corners. Then most recently moved across the street to yet another corner. But don't think that their largest claim to fame is dominating 3 out of 5 corners, or being the restaurant in town with the most slogans ("We be smokin'," "Home of Bay's Famous Ribs," "The best smelling corner in town"). No, D2B&AG has become the quintessential pulled-pork restaurant in town, and has been featured on a couple different nationwide TV shows to boot.

Having been to D2B&AG for pulled pork and other of their fantastic food, I was looking forward to checking out their hot dogs.

Although the lady behind the counter really had no idea of what "everything" meant ("I don't know what all they put on them back there," she said), I cut through the red tape and ordered mine with chili, slaw, mustard and onions. When they popped out of the kitchen, I was pleased to see they were tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, because I had planned on taking them for a short drive and eat the at home. I knew that the foil would keep them warm and give them a good steaming.

Upon arriving at home and unwrapping my lunch, I was a little dismayed to see the roughly chopped coleslaw that was piled on top of it. Now I should have known, since I had had their slaw with pulled pork, but then it was hidden under the bun. Here, exposed on top of the hot dog, it looked way too coarse. This, as it turned out, was the last complaint I would have about the hot dog.

The bun was very unusual because it was a standard hot dog bun, but it had been grilled; something usually reserved for New England Style buns. I'm not sure if I have ever - in over 10 years of hot dog reviewing - seen a standard bun grilled before. It was a great touch, providing that comfort-food toasted flavor and slight crunch without being overwhelming like those lobster buns.

Next was the split and grilled weenie. It was high-quality and expertly grilled. Covering the weenie was some delicious chili with just enough spice to make itself known. It paired well with the slaw.

This was a very good and satisfying hot dog, and if it weren't for the coarse slaw I would be tempted to award a strong 4.5 Weenie rating, but I have to deduct a half point, but still a strong 4 Weenie hot dog.

As good as it is, though, it's still my second favorite thing at Dem 2 Brothers. Next time I go back it will be for the pulled pork. Man cannot live by hot dogs alone; not even Weenie Wonks.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Eleanor HDJ Review - The Baker's Table

In the town of Eleanor along Roosevelt Boulevard sits The Baker's Table, a little bakery/eatery that
serves up lots of sweet goodies and down-home comfort food. I'm not sure how long it's been open, but it seems to have a pretty loyal following. Having heard good things, I decided to stop in and check out their confections, but that was before I found out that there were hot dogs on the menu. After seeing this, my plans changed.

Now if one is going to sell hot dogs in Eleanor, one must be aware of the competition, chiefly the Eleanor Dairy Queen. The DQ has an enormous fan base, hot dog wise, and it sits just a few hundred feet away from The Baker's Table. I surmised that in order for TBT to sell enough hot dogs in this location to make it worth ordering buns, they must have a pretty good dog. Surmised and hoped.

My hopes were tempered when the waitress told me that "everything" meant "anything you want," but really couldn't give me a list of choices. After a bit of pressing, she finally listed "sauce, slaw, ketchup, mustard, bacon, cheese..." so I stopped her and asked her to bring me two with "sauce", slaw, mustard and onions.

While I waited on my hot dogs I mused over the waitress' use of "sauce" instead of the more common Kanawha Valley term "chili." (Regular readers know that "sauce" is the preferred term for North Central WV and along the Oho River, but most of the rest of the state calls it "chili"). One of the possible explanations that came to mind was that perhaps the sauce was very liquidy, which sometimes explains why the term is used out of character, or that perhaps the owner is from Huntington and doesn't know any better.

When my dogs arrived, the first thing I saw was beautiful, fine grated and creamy coleslaw neatly applied and in a generous helping. I eagerly sampled a taste and was surprised that it was a bit bland. I could tell it was very fresh, as the cabbage flavor and aroma was pronounced, but little other flavor could be detected.

Digging deeper, the "sauce" mystery deepened because it was not at all thin and runny as I expected it might be, but as dry as it could be. The flavor was almost exactly like Taco Bell's taco meat, or what I make at home to go over a taco salad, a concoction with only three ingredients: ground beef, water, and a package of Old El Paso taco seasoning. This is not the first time I have encountered the taco-meat hot dog, but it is the first time in a place that called it "sauce."

The taco meat and chili weren't terrible together, though, so there might have been hope for this hot dog, if not for the bun. New England Style lobster roll buns that had been dry-toasted and not - as most "English Dogs" found in WVHDJs would have been - buttered and grilled. The crunchy bun was not at all satisfying and detracted over all from the hot dog.

We're going to give The Baker's Table a 2.5 Weenie rating. I'm not sure if it deserves 2.5, as I might have been unfairly influenced by the delicious frosted cookie that I grabbed at the register.

If you are in Eleanor with a hankering for a hot dog, my advice is to head over to the DQ, or better yet, jump across the bridge to Winfield, go a mile or so up old Rt 35 to Dairy Freeze.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Charleston HDJ Review - The Quarrier Diner

The exterior has been beautifully restored.
This venerable old diner in downtown Charleston has opened and closed more times than I can count. Originally called The Quarrier Diner, it was built in the early 1950s, when it was hailed as an architectural gem by the West Virginia chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In the late 1970s, the restaurant became commonly known as Young's Diner (named for owner Charlie Young), even though the front of the building still sported the beautiful Art Nouveau  "Quarrier Diner" lettering. When the latest owners both the building several years ago, they repaired some of the exterior finish and made slight - and very appropriate - upgrades to the interior. The whole place is still a showplace.

After re-opening to a large fanfare a few years ago, the diner portion of the business closed down again and for a while it seemed that the downstairs bar, Timothy's, was the only viable part of the business. Recently, though, signs of life have emerged upstairs and the diner has once again started serving lunch during the week, dinner on Friday and will soon be starting a Sunday morning brunch service,
The interior is beautifully preserved.

So with the renewed vigor starting to show, I thought it was time to drop in for a hot dog review.

Service was fast and friendly and soon I was seated with a menu. A momentary panic set in as I didn't see hot dogs listed right away, but then I found them listed on the left side under "Specials." That was a good sign, I thought. When I asked what "everything" included, I was dismayed if not surprised to hear ketchup among the condiments, I simply deleted the red stuff and got an "everything else" dog which of course included mustard, chili, slaw and onions.

When my dogs arrived the first thing I noticed was the Lobster Roll bun, which was lightly toasted and strangely small. It was as if the bun had shrunk somehow and it was about 3/4 the size of a normal New England Style bun. It barely contained the weenie, which tasted fine but was a little mushy - like it had been sitting in water for too long.

The chili was extraordinarily meaty and when I isolated a taste of it I found it to be very, very sweet with nary a trace of spice. The taste was almost ketchupy, but a little more complex. Think about a dark sweet Bolognese spaghetti sauce and you will be close.

The slaw was far to creamy and runny for my tastes. The flavor was a little bland, but when paired with the sweet chili it worked well, making this an overall acceptable hot dog. We will give it a 3 Weenie score. With a better bun it could be a 3.5.

While its doubtful that the QD is going to become my go-to place downtown for hot dogs, it is nice to have them back in the mix. Downtown Charleston needs another lunch spot and Friday evening dinner option. I am also looking forward to trying out the brunch!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Charleston Area HDJ Review - One Stop Sub Express

I was in a hurry and had to stop for a quick lunch, so I thought I would drop in at the Sub Express inside the One Stop on Lee Street West. I was thinking turkey sub, but then I saw a sign advertising a hot dog special, so I figured I'd take a chance. Almost immediately after ordering, regrets started creeping into my brain.

First of all, I should have known better than to order a hot dog at a place where the toppings are completely undefined. Asking what "everything" meant was met with a blank stare, and a gesture toward the myriad of toppings available for all subs: Anything from lettuce to tomatoes to olives, to jalapenos and more are all considered fair game for these hot dogs. Thankfully among the cornucopia was chili, slaw, mustard and onions, so that's what I ordered.

The next regret came when I saw the weenies getting warmed up on a roller machine: Never a good sign.

The third regret was when I was asked if I wanted my bun steamed and when I said "yes" they were plopped into the microwave for a good nuking.

So by the time my hot dogs arrived at the register I had very low expectations that they were going to be good, I was just hoping for edible.

And I was surprised.

Despite the problematic beginning, these hot dogs were actually very good. The slaw was sweet, creamy and fresh. The chili was flavorful, if not spicy, and the roller-dog actually tasted more like a grilled weenie. The microwaved bun - usually a sure-fire way to make one tough and chewy - survived its torture and after being double wrapped in wax paper and aluminum foil, actually was soft and delightful. A completely surprising hot dog which earns a solid Four Weenie score.