Sunday, July 14, 2019

Fairmont HDJ Review - Woody's

Start a conversation about hot dogs with someone from Fairmont and you will likely find that they are either fans of Yann's or Woody's. It seems that all of Fairmont is one camp or the other, with very few people who will admit loyalty to both. This binary dichotomy is interesting to us because of one key difference: Woody's --while optional and must be asked for -- offers coleslaw as a topping, and Yann's reportedly will throw you out if you ask for it.

In other words, Woody's offers hope to the majority of West Virginians in bold defiance of the majority of Marion Countians. It is a stand worth noting, and Woody's is seemingly rewarded for it by the legions of fans that take to the WV Hot Dogs Facebook page to sing the praises of their hot dogs.

A check of the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog archives recently revealed that for some reason our team of Weenie Wonks had never done an official review of Woody's, so we set out to correct that oversight with a trip up I79 from Charleston to the slawless barrens of Marion County.

Woody's is easy to find, just a couple of stoplights off of the interstate exit. It's easy to spot, too, because it looks just like a venerable old hot dog joint ought to look; nondescript cinder block building with a faded Coca Cola pole sign.

Walking into Woody's is like walking onto a movie set. Every detail is what you would expect from a hot dog joint that has been in the same spot for decades. Photos of local celebrities adorn the walls along with WVU sports memorabilia, a long bar sits in front of the food prep area with booths along the opposite wall. The staff is friendly (a stark contrast to - ahem - other Fairmont hot dog joints) and service is fast and efficient.

Before placing our order, we asked the server what "everything" meant, even though we knew the answer: Sauce, onions and mustard, or course. This is Fairmont. We asked if we could add slaw and the server didn't flinch, wince, roll her eyes, try to throw us out or otherwise react in any way other than affirmative.

Woody's also offers a choice when it comes to the spiciness of the sauce: mild, medium or hot. Now usually, when offered with the choice we recommend spicy chili/sauce for West Virginia hot dogs, but this being Fairmont, the land of extremely hot sauce, we decided that medium was the smarter choice.

In short order, before we really had the opportunity to appreciate the historical decor and ambiance of the place, our hot dogs were delivered to out table. Slaw and all. In Fairmont. It was like a dream.

Picking up the hot dog, the first thing you notice is its lightness. The weight is seemingly kept low by two things: 1) the toppings are relatively sparsely applied, and 2) the bun is very airy and light. Usually heft is a good indicator, so we were a little concerned about the lightness.

A. James Manchin in an odd (even for him) photo.
Our first bite revealed that our concerns were unfounded. The toppings didn't need to be voluminous because the flavors were dense and complex. And delicious. A little of this chili/sauce goes a long way. The flavor is as good as any we've ever had, and far better than most. The slaw was sweet, fine and creamy, and even though there wasn't much of it, it was a perfect complement to the sauce.

We're going to rate Woody's hot dog a very high 4 1/2 out of 5 Weenies. What prevents it from being a Five? It might seem unfair to punish Woody's for the cultural bias imposed upon it because its geographical position causes slaw to be something you have to ask for, but by West Virginia hot dogs standards, this gets a half point demerit. If it was located in a place where it was socially acceptable to proudly plop a dollop of its coleslaw atop its otherwise perfectly prepared hot dog -- in other words, anywhere but Marion County -- it could be considered among the best in the state.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Clendenin HDJ Review - Frostbite Dairy Bar

Before the tragic 2015 flood, Clendenin was home to one of the truly great 5 Weenie Hot Dog Joints in West Virginia, the Clendenin Dairy Queen. Sadly, the flood waters took the DQ (and a couple of other good HDJs) and since then Northern Kanawha County had been without decent hot dogs. But lately, we've heard that another spot had opened up, just a few hundred yards from the old DQ spot, and -- it was rumored -- that it had the old DQ Chili recipe and was serving it to hordes of happy customers. It took us a while, but we finally made the trip to find out for ourselves if the rumors were true.

Frostbite is a grab and go place with no inside seating, but does offer several umbrella covered picnic tables for those who prefer not to eat in their cars and don't live close enough to go home with their hot (or cold) purchase. Per usual for this kind of establishment, there is a "order" window and a "pickup" window, and the service is fast and efficient. Friendly too.

The first test for any HDJ is always how they answer the question "what is everything?" As discussed and debated extensively on the WV Hot Dogs Facebook page recently, most West Virginians agree the only correct answer to this question is "chili/sauce, slaw, mustard and onions." Frostbite passed this first test, as the young order-taker confidently answered our query with confidence and precision. 

We didn't have to wait too long on our order, and took our bags to one of the picnic tables. We were thankful for the umbrella on this super-hot July day, but more thankful when we saw that our hot dogs were wrapped in wax paper - the 2nd big indicator of hot dog quality (and also another similarity with the old DQ). Unwrapping the paper, we found that the buns were soft and either had been steamed before wrapping, or had been naturally steamed inside the wax paper by the hot weenie and toppings. The Utilitarian Dogs were beautiful and covered with just about the right amount of toppings for our tastes. So far, Frostbite was holding up nicely to a comparison with the old Clendenin DQ.

Our first bites, however, did not bring back the memory of the old DQ. The chili does not have the same complexity that we remember. There was none of the tartness that we loved, and that which the slaw was perfectly paired. The chili might have been made from the same recipe, with the same ingredients, but it lacked the character of the DQ's. The slaw was just as we remembered it, but without the complex chili, the hot dog wasn't quite the same.

We're not saying that it wasn't good, it was very good indeed. It's just that when you're being compared with a legendary hot dog, it's difficult to measure up. The chili might very well have the same ingredients as the old DQ, but something is different. Maybe the chili needs to be cooked longer, or hotter, to bring out more of the flavor of the original. Frostbite is on the right track, but we think some tweaking is needed if it's going to assume the Queen's crown.

We're giving Frostbite a 4 Weenie rating and hope they continue to improve.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Charleston Hot Dog (sort of) Review - Eggs Will Roll

First of all, let me get this out of the way. This is not one of those posts like we do on our favorite day of the year. This is real life.

Eggs Will Roll is a Non-Traditional Egg Roll Pop Up Shop. It pops up in random places, sells a bunch of strange egg roll creations and then vanishes into the ether. Except for the outward appearance, their offerings are nothing like a traditional Chinese restaurant egg roll. They make egg rolls with fillings such as chicken and waffles, chorizo and egg, tater tots with sausage gravy and mac & cheese. One of their recurring specialties that we've heard about is their West Virginia Hot Dog roll, but due to the here today, gone tomorrow nature of their business, we've never been able to catch them to try it out.

Finally, though, we cornered them and procured the object of our desire.

We'll get to the review in a minute, but first, allow us to point out the dollop of mustard in the photo. There has been a raging debate over on the WV Hot Dogs Facebook page about the appropriateness (or more correctly, the disgusting inappropriateness) of ketchup on a WV Hot Dog. Eggs Will Roll, being high-brow culinary artists, seem to innately understand that mustard is the only acceptable condiment for a WVHD, even one that is chopped up, wrapped up in a wonton and deep fried.

But does it taste good? Does it taste like a WV Hot Dog?

We'll address the latter first: No. It tastes nothing like a WV Hot Dog. The  heat from the deep fryer makes the various elements of the filling hard to identify, so we can't be sure that it contains the right stuff, but we'll take their word for it. The finely chopped weenie is plainly visible, as is some finely grated vegetable that we assume is coleslaw. There seems to be onions, but I could see no trace of chili nor could I taste it. When dipped in mustard, the taste of the whole thing was more reminiscent of a corn dog than a hot dog.

Does it taste good? Yes. In the same way that funnel cakes taste good at a carnival, or the way a stuffed-crust meat lovers pizza tastes good when you've thrown caution to the wind, ignored your doctor's orders and just enjoyed some greasy, hot food. Sometimes you just gotta live a little.

We're happy that Eggs Will Roll honors our state's food culture with the WV Hot Dog Roll, but next time we're going to try something a little more mainstream -- like a chicken and waffle egg roll.

No Weenie Rating for this way-too nonstandard "hot dog."

Friday, May 24, 2019

Martinsburg HDJ Review - Dogs 11

For years we have been hoping to find a real WVHDJ in the Eastern Panhandle, and recently an Associate Weenie Wonk stumbled upon a place that gave us hope that we'd finally found it. Dogs 11, a self-described Artisan Hot Dog Joint has on its menu a "WV Classic Dog" with the following description: "This WV staple is an All-Natural Dog smothered in our homemade chili sauce, topped with our creamy homemade slaw, diced onions, and yellow mustard." Sounds good in theory, but there is often a big difference between theory and practice. 
The hot dog bun is big. Too big. Dogs 11 bakes their own buns and they are oversized to fit some of the other, more full-bodied hot dogs they sell like the Salsalito Dog (full of cheese and salsa) or the Fritatta Dog (cheese, mushroom, onions and bacon), but they are too big for a WVHD. The chili was dry (like most EP dogs we've found) but the slaw was moist enough to make up for it. The slaw is waaaay to coarse, though, as are the onions.  Fans of natural-casing weenies will be glad to know this one has that snap, but as real WVHD fans know, it's an unnecessary added frill if the other toppings aren't up to snuff.  Overall, this is just an effort to make a WVHD with inappropriate ingredients. 

But it is an effort, and for that, we will award Dogs 11 a 3.5 Weenie ranking, mainly because it's so rare to find anything like a real WVHD east of Keyser. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Charleston HDJ Review- Super Weenie

Super Weenie began life as a hot dog cart that sold pretty good hot dogs on the corner of Lee & Capitol Streets in downtown Charleston. You can read our review from 2016 here. About a year ago, it graduated to a bricks and mortar location a block and a half away on Quarrier Street. We didn't mean to wait a whole year to do a review, but time happens and here it is.

With a slogan like "I'm serious about these hot dogs," we expected a great hot dog. HDJs that truly are serious about hot dogs are hard to find (even though many claim to be) but when you find one you know it because it shows in the care given to the various elements that make up a true WV Hot Dog. A HDJ that uses food service slaw, for example, can say they are serious, but any true WVHD fan can see right through their ruse.

We heard through the grapevine that since moving indoors, Super Weenie was making their own slaw, which was a good thing since the last time we reviewed them (while they were still a cart) their slaw was found wanting. So we went in, expecting and hoping that we would find that Super Weenie had found the missing ingredient to make their hot dogs truly super. 

They have.

Slaw purists, note the absence of carrots.
Every part of this hot dog is super indeed. The weenie was perfectly cooked, the chili deliciously complex (if not terribly spicy) and the slaw paired with it perfectly. The new slaw is perfect in texture and in taste: finely chopped cabbage sans core and just a touch of sweet. Onions & mustard did nothing to detract. The only possible thing over which we could quibble is that to get a steamed steamed bun you have to request it, but my bun was warm, soft, fresh and delicious so maybe it doesn't really need it because even without a steamed bun this is a Five Weenie superstar West Virginia Hot Dog . 

Congrats to the Super Weenie team on having a hot dog worthy of your name and your slogan. Arguably, the best hot dog in downtown Charleston. 

Friday, May 03, 2019

North Charleston HDJ Review - Huskey's Dairy Bar

After a bit of a dustup over on the  West Virginia Hot Dogs Facebook page a few weeks ago. we decided to go re-review Huskey's Dairy Bar in North Charleston. The reason for this re-review -- in addition to the fact that it’s been many years since we’ve reviewed Huskey's --was that several people took exception with our statement that another nearby HDJ was not as good as Huskey's. Several people chimed in on that discussion and said that Huskey's was not good anymore since the owners had changed.

This is a claim we hear often about HDJs that change ownership, and sometimes it is accurate. So just in case it was true, we decided to pay another visit to Huskey's to find out for ourselves.

Bottom line up front, those people who said Huskey's was not as good as it used to be are dead wrong. In fact, it might even be better.

The first thing that Huskey's gets points for is the proper toppings listed on their menu for what everything on a hot dog means: Chili, slaw, mustard & onions, just like God intended. The next thing for which we'll give them giant kudos is the perfectly steamed bun on which they laid the rest of their toppings.

Next let’s talk weenie; Huskey's is unafraid to use a smaller diameter weenie to allow more room for their other toppings. We have found over the years this is often the mark of a HDJ that is serious about its hot dogs. Some lesser HDJs put too much emphasis on the weenie and leave no room for toppings, which is usually a sign that those toppings don’t deserve the room anyway. Not so with Huskey's; these toppings are nearly perfect. The chili, while not terribly spicy, is perfect in texture and deliciously complex in taste. The slaw was great and a perfect complement to the chili, and it was lovingly applied in a perfect quantity. Lastly the onions were chopped well: Not too fine to be runny, not too large to be obnoxious. They stayed put when taking a bite out of the dog and were aromatic and delicious.

The only negative thing that I can say about Huskey's hot dog is their use of the dreaded Styrofoam coffin. We would prefer our dogs wrapped tightly in wax paper or plastic so it continues to steam the bun and keep it soft, but given that the bun was so perfectly steamed, the coffin did no harm this time.

We're going to give Huskey's a 4.5 Weenie rank and reaffirm our statement that it is definitely the best hot dog in North Charleston.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Pendleton County HDJ Review - Top Dog

Top Dog can be found in the Spruce Knob parking lot.
Perhaps the most aptly-named HDJ we've ever seen, Top Dog, situated near the summit of Spruce Knob, is unarguably above all other WV Hot Dog Joints. While a few feet lower that the 4,863 feet knob itself (the highest point in the state of West Virginia), Top Dog still must have an elevation of over 4,850, making it even higher than Cheat Mountain Dogs, one county over in Pocahontas.

But altitude aside, we wondered how Top Dog could serve a quality hot dog in such rare air and in such a remote location. One could argue that being the only food concession within a 40 minute drive (the closest being The Front Porch Restaurant at Mouth of Seneca) would be prime real estate, but the low volume of travelers that actually make the dusty 21 mile ascent up Forest Road 112 to the top of Spruce Mountain would seem to be a significant offset. Indeed the afternoon we were there, there were no other customers to be seen.
A Hot Dog with a View

Top Dog's menu offerings are obviously meant to ingratiate them to travelers from other places, with such specialty hot dogs as Chicago Dog, Classic Coney and two different kinds of Bratwursts. But we were pleased to find a WV Hot Dog with chili, slaw, mustard and onions placed in proud prominence at the very top of the menu, and fittingly called "West Virginia's Top Dog." Interestingly enough,  four spaces down the menu was a "Fairmont Dog" which was described as "A simple hot dog for the simple-minded, including overly spicy sauce, mustard and onions."

While we have to admit, finding a WVHD in such a remote spot was a real treat for us, the hot dog was just so-so. Apparently the altitude affects the slaw in negative ways. While I'm no scientist, I suspect that the lack of oxygen inhibits the uptake of complex sugars necessary for really creamy slaw, so the result was a little too sweet and a bit runny. The dry air also made the bun a little too stiff for our tastes. The chili was good. The view, however, couldn't be beat.

We'll give Top Dog a 4 Weenie score. It's hard to get to but worth the drive. Get an early start because you know how bad traffic can get on holidays like April Fools Day.