Saturday, April 01, 2017

Barkersville HDJ Review - Le Chien est Chaud French Bistro

We have long maintained on this blog that the West Virginia Hot Dog is an art form unto itself, but never before have we found a hot dog joint that embraced the idea more than does Le Chien est Chaud in Barkersville. To call this lovely restaurant a hot dog joint might be seen as a disservice to some, but not to Claude de'Avril, the friendly owner and chef of Le Chien.

"Not at all!" de'Avril said with a chuckle. "When I came to West Virginia I was delighted by the culinary landscape, and what would it be without the West Virginia Hot Dog? We are honored to be called 'hot dog joint'"!

Le Chien est Chuad's signature dish!
With menu items ranging from a hand-cut Delmonico steak to New Orleans Style Bouillabaisse, you might be surprised to find hot dogs on the menu, but there they are right between the Coho Salmon and the Veal Scallopini. Listed as the signature dish, the entree that takes the bistro's name as its own is no ordinary WVHD, but  "two deconstructed West Virginia hot dogs. Delicately grilled frankfurters served with moutarde jaune, onions, chili con-carne and koosla."  Deconstructed dishes are all the rage in fancy big-city restaurants these days, but we were still surprised to find this dish in a small town like Barkersville, even though this little burg has surprised us before with its culinary offerings. We were eager to try it.

While Claude was preparing our dish, we looked around the interior of the restaurant with great interest. A neat display of old photos and newspaper stories from the 1920's illuminated the impact that French immigrants had on Barkersville. According to one of old newspaper clippings, at one time there were so many native Frenchmen on the town council that it almost changed the name of the town to "Poisson," in recognition of the great fishing that could be found in Barker Creek which runs through the middle of town. The native locals, however, though the word was off putting since it was only one "s" removed from a very negative English word. The locals won, evidently.
Culinary artistry!

 After a reasonable wait, our entree arrived and we were simply stunned by its appearance. Certainly this WVHD was far different from any other we had encountered. While the weenies were presented in their entirety, the bun had been carved into bite size pieces and lightly toasted. Small mounds of chili and "koosla" (slaw) were placed nearby on the plate and an artistic stripe of moutarde jaune (yellow mustard) brought color and life to the plate, which was made complete by a beautiful arrangement of delicately sliced onions. After beholding the artistry for a moment we were eager to dig in.

Chili, slaw mustard and onion was our favorite combination
Not wishing to commit a faux pas, we asked Claude how he had intended the dish to be eaten, whether with fingers or knife and fork. He suggested we use utensils, but to vary our bites so different combinations of the ingredients could be tasted. We definitely found the best combination to be a bite of bread, a cut of meat dipped in mustard and dredged through the complex chili and sweet cole slaw. Delightful.

We also took the chef's suggestion for a wine pairing, the 2013 Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet. The wine's rich, hedonistic core of wild berry, blackberry, plum and currant, with a graceful, elegant mouthfeel and supple, caressing tannins leading to a long, powerful and refined aftertaste was the perfect complement to the entree.
So rich! We couldn't finish the meal!

At $21, these are the most expensive hot dogs we've ever bought, but the dish would have been a bargain at even a higher price point. Deceptively rich and filling, it didn't leave us room for dessert; a shame because the Moon Pie Flambe' sounded so tempting! Perhaps the next trip - and there will definitely be a next trip for this Weenie Wonk.

While we never give an official Weenie Rating to hot dogs that are so non-standard as these, we do give Le Chien est Chuad our highest recommendation as a fine dining restaurant and a great place to dine on special occasions, like April Fools Day.



Monday, March 20, 2017

A partial list of some HDJs that have closed since our last review

The Hot Dog business in West Virginia is tough since most every locally owned restaurant includes some kind of hot dog on its menu. Perhaps this is the reason that a lot of promising HDJs have closed in the last few years. Whatever the reason, we feel it is our duty to report the casualties from time to time. Here is our most recent list of formerly great HDJs that have bitten the dust:


Hog and Dog - Charleston 
Sistah's Rib Shack - Charleston
Sammy's Chili Dogs - St. Albans (now called Bammy's)
J's Grocery - Bluewell
Not Franks Pizza - Shrewsbury (we're not sure if the Montgomery location is still there)
Five Corners Cafe - Charleston
The Blossom Dairy - Charleston
Maggie Moo's Ice Cream- Charleston
The Daily Grind - Charleston
Sister Act Cafe - Charleston
Wild Flour Bakery - Fayetteville

In addition to these that succumbed to the natural pressures of competition, we also lost two well-known HDJs to last June's floodwaters: 

Mumsey's Iron Skillet - Richwood
Dairy Queen - Clendenin

On this first day of spring we can only hope that the newness of the season brings us many more great HDJs to take the place of these fallen heroes.


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Teays Valley HDJ Review - L&R BBQ

This little restaurant, that has recently changed ownership (and its name) is hidden back in a little cove alongside Route 34 near Hurricane High School. You will probably smell it before you see it, because out front is a high-capacity smoker that seems to be always emitting a large quantity of delicious smelling hickory smoke.

Not knowing that hot dogs were on the menu when I stopped, I had set my taste buds for pulled-pork. But since I rarely get to Teays Valley at lunch time and didn't know when I'd be back this way to do a review, I thought I might as well get the hot dog special, especially since it was called the "WV Special" and the ingredients were listed correctly. At $2.25 a dog, these would be on the pricey side, but would they be worth it?

One very encouraging sign that the hot dogs might be good was that the menu offered their hot dog chili in take-home quantities.

So I ordered the special, straight up, and in a flash my hot dogs had been delivered to my table. Honestly, at first sight I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of slaw on top of the hot dogs, and a little turned off by the onions that were chopped a little too coarsely for my tastes. But all of that prejudice vanished when I took the first bite.

OK, first, the chili: Yes, I think I will take a tub of that to go. I will eat it on hot dogs, spaghetti, heck, on saltine crackers if I have to. This stuff is tasty. Rich, complex and perfect texture. A pronounced chili-powder taste, but not too spicy otherwise. Just delicious.

And the slaw? Heavenly. I was at first a little concerned by all of the green flecks, thinking they were grated bell peppers, but it didn't taste like it. This slaw goes perfectly with the complex chili and even though it was piled high on the bun, it did not overwhelm the chili. It is sweet and perfect in texture. The two were just great together.

The onions were mild enough that the large size didn't hurt, and the slaw was such a beautiful texture that they kind of sunk into it and didn't fall off like coarse onions are often wont to do.

And there was the weenie. OK, you know that we usually get all googly about weenies around here, but this weenie made the whole dog better because it had obviously spent some time hanging out in the smoke house out front. The smoky-grilled goodness took this hot dog from being really good to Five Weenie great.

These hot dogs are so good, it's probably a good thing that I don't get to Teays Valley at lunch time very often. But then again, there's always dinner...

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Charleston Hot Dog Cart Review - Super Weenie

On a nice Spring day, there's nothing like a good hot dog served fresh from a cart along a tree-lined street.

That's why I was psyched to find this new hot dog cart sitting on the corner of Capitol and Lee Streets, just outside of Davis Park. How could there be a better location to enjoy a hot dog? Before I allowed myself, though, to get too excited, I recalled past hot dogs I had found at downtown Charleston street vendors. Many people have tried, and almost all have failed, to deliver a good WVHD from the challenging conditions posed by a cart. Would Super Weenie be different?

I had a good feeling when I noticed that the menu had "Chili - Slaw- Onions - Mustard" segregated in a special place at the top. When I asked what "everything" was, I was confidently told the proper ingredients for a true West Virginia Hot Dog. I also was really, really impressed that while Super Weenie had ketchup on its list of possible toppings, it was at the very bottom of the list and in a very small font. Excellent.

My optimism increased when I read that the weenies were Nathan's Famous, and it swelled again when I was asked if I would like my bun steamed! Oh, boy, would I ever! But how is that even possible on a cart? Ingenuity, that's how (I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to find out for yourself how they do it.)

As if I could get any more optimistic, I nevertheless was when the lid came off of the chili container and the rich and complex aroma met my olfactory organ. And seeing the texture of the chili as it was spooned onto the hot dog also added to to my ever-heightening expectations; it looked simply perfect.

Alas, the slaw's appearance did not inspire further confidence, being a little too chunky, But when the finished hot dog was finally delivered into my waiting hands, the heft, softness and aroma combined into a multi-sensory delight.

Tasting the hot dog did not disappoint. All of the visuals translated to taste as I expected, although the chili could stand a bit more spice. Perhaps the most remarkable thing for a cart hot dog was that everything was the perfect temperature: Each ingredient was exactly right, the weenie and chili were hot and the slaw was cold. The only part of this hot dog that needs improvement is the slaw: The texture is far too coarse and the flavor is a bit bland. This should be an easy fix, and for a five-day old business, we can only expect things to improve moving forward. Perhaps by the end of summer, Super Weenie will be truly super.

For now, we're still going to award Super Weenie a very good Four Weenie rating. Better slaw will definitely bump it a half-point.

 You will be able to find Super Weenie on the same corner on most nice days for the rest of the Summer and into the Fall, and you can follow them on Facebook here.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Upper Kanawha Valley HDJ Review - Not Frank's Pizza

So we went to Not Frank's Pizza. Not "Frank's Pizza", "Not Frank's Pizza." And not for pizza, but for hot dogs.

If you found that sentence confusing, you can read about the way this restaurant got its unusual name here. And then come back here to find out about their hot dogs.

Now for the record, we did not go to Not Frank's original Montgomery location, but the new on that is located in the old Twin Hills Restaurant in Shrewsbury. To confuse matter more, the Twin Hills sign is still on the west side of the building, so perhaps this Not Frank's should be known as "Not Twin Hills,"  but that is a business decision they need to make. We're here to talk about hot dogs.

First, be advised that "everything" on a hot dog at Not Frank's will get you ketchup if you're not careful. I, being careful about such things, deleted that from my order. I was first a little dismayed when the waitress told me that she would get my hot dogs "as fast as we can," and I worried that I would be in for a long wait even though there wasn't another soul in the place. Thankfully the wait wasn't too long, and I was further encouraged by the look of my hot dogs when they arrived. Over the last several hot dog reviews I have done, IO have seen a disturbing trend toward coarse slaw that was made with large chucks of cabbage, but Not Frank's was exactly the opposite: Finely grated, but perhaps a bit too runny. It tasted fine, though, more sweet than tart and was applied in generous helpings.

The chili was decent, with a slightly spicy taste and a nice texture. The chili and slaw went together well. I could not detect any onions at all: either they were chopped as small as the cabbage, or they were hidden under another topping.

The bun was one of those Yankee New England Split Top Lobster Roll buns that have been invading West Virginia for some time now (and about which we are going to be having a conversation real soon because the WV Hot Dog Public needs educated - again). It was grilled and tasted OK, but as always added way too much bulk to the finished hot dog.

Overall, the hot dog was satisfying. Nothing to right home about, but certainly not disappointing. We'll award it a 3.5 Weenie rating. With better onions and bun it could be a 4.

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.