Huntington Hot Dog Joints-The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts at Hillbilly Hot Dogs-Downtown Huntington.
When I first heard about Hillbilly Hot Dogs a few years ago, I have to admit that I was quite appalled. My initial gut reaction was to cringe at the thought of someone moving to the area to open up a Hillbilly-themed restaurant that mocked the culture from which I was reared. I kept thinking that this place must be a mere step away from Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben. I mean, how would people in Washington feel if I moved to Seattle and opened up the Pretentious Yuppie Sushi Bar and Coffee House.
After a year or so of principled boycotting of the new establishment, some friends finally nagged me into checking out the joint. They assured me that Sonny was a local boy and not from California as I had heard and that Hillbilly Hot Dogs is more of a loving tribute cultural perceptions of Appalachia rather than a hurtful attempt to cash in on Hixplotation and mean-spirited stereotypes.
While I have been a fan of the Route 2 location (which I will get around to reviewing eventually), I was never thrilled with the prospect of driving 25 minutes into the middle of nowhere just to get a hot dog. I was, therefore, tickled pink when I found out that HBHD was going to put a location near Marshall’s campus in downtown Huntington. After initially looking into the former Calamity Café (a sorely missed treat for dining and boozing by students and faculty alike), the owners settled on the former Subway about a block west of campus on Third Ave. I give them kudos for remodeling a bland cut-and-paste building that everyone could tell was built for a Subway into a one-of-a-kind structure. But enough with the Horatio Alger crap, lets get to the experience of eating a dawg at HBHD-Downtown, shall we?
One of the firs things that hit you when you enter HBHD-Downtown (well, after the outrageous décor) is the fact that this is a hot dog stand that is managed like a restaurant. Patrons are seated and given menu’s by the wait staff and the order is taken at the table by a proper waiter or waitress. I am especially fond of this method since I follow the mantra of Steve Martin’s Vincent Antonelli in the highly underrated comedic gem My Blue Heaven: “It's not tipping I believe in. It's overtipping.” It is also of note that the owners are often at the establishment and go out of their way to make you feel at home.
Their menu features numerous variations of hot dogs, ranging from a standard sauce dog to pizza dogs to the ginormous Homewrecker. They also feature such classic West Virginia fare as a fried bologna sam’mich, which my father commented was well worth the price, so they get bonus points for variety.
For my meal, I ordered two dogs with sauce, slaw, mustard, and onions (one to pick apart for the review and one to just enjoy) with a side order of crinkle-cut fries. As is always the case with a proper H-ton hot dog, the bun and wiener were helluh-fresh and tasty. The weenies at HBHD are supposedly deep-fried, and it gives them a nice taste that I am sure would make any Cardiologist worth their salt cringe in horror (I’m not sure if my dawg was fried, but my wife’s was and it was quite awesome. The bun was nicely steamed in the aluminum foil wrapping that comes with every dog (props for not cutting corners and using a damn napkin) and had the right balance of firmness and gooiness.
The sauce was above average, if not my favorite. Ground beef was the dominant texture and flavor and you could tell that they did not cut corners in the prep of said sauce. There was a gentle taste of chili powder, too. I’m not sure if it was the “spice that’s nice,” but it wasn’t shabby either. I am also thankful that they put the sauce and all other toppings on top of the weenie (hence, toppings) where they belong, unlike Stewart’s Original and Frostop. My mother also gave it high marks for tasting like the sauce served by the drug store in her hometown of Smithers when she was a young’un.
As to HBHD’s slaw, this might be the most controversial topic among Huntington hot dog connoisseurs behind whether Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs are the best or worst hot dogs on the planet. Their slaw has a firm, fresh, slightly chunky texture that is held together with a creamy base, which is a must for any good dawg slaw. As far as taste goes, however, I must concede the point to the couch-burning hillbilly, Stanton, and his hypoglycemic taste in cole slaw. I would venture to say that there is little to no sugar in the slaw, and it suffers for it. The dominant taste in the dog is black pepper, which works on some level, but isn’t necessarily for me. I do give them credit for adding a touch of carrot for color (but not enough to interfere with the taste) and for not being afraid to pile it on high and thick.
I know that they are quite proud of their slaw and would likely not want to change the recipe, but they should perhaps consider following in the footsteps of their rivals over at Sam’s (which serves both mild and spicy sauces) and offer up a sweet variation as an option for its customers. Just an idea.
As far as the sides go, the crinkle-cut fries were somewhat overdone and kind of disappointing and the beverage options were just your basic soda pop/tea selection, although a friend of mine claims that he once heard Sonny (The Weenie Man) say that he would not object to a patron brining with them a Frostop with them, so I may have to test that out sometime.
And now to the ratings:
Atmosphere/service/menu: 5 weenies.
HBHD-Downtown is, quite simply, a fun place to enjoy a variety of Appalachian foods in a location that will delight both families and kitsch-oriented college students.
Sides: 2 weenies
But that might have been just a bad batch of fries, who knows?
Hot Dog: 4 weenies
This is something of a paradox. The sauce and slaw are, by and large, only average and would pull in ratings of 3 weenies on their own. When combined, however, something odd happens. The flavors blend into a taste that can best be described as “creamy goodness.” I’m not sure why, but it works. Maybe we can get someone from the MU physics dept. to look into it. Still, a touch or two of sugar in the slaw would see the score bumped to a 4.5 weenies.
Overall score: 4.5 weenies
Next year, if Stanton lets me give out Weenie Awards for the H-ton area, HBHDs may be the odds-on favorite for Best Hot Dog Stand (although I am not sure if it would win any other awards). For some reason, the combination of good service, good dawgs (with ok sauce and slaw), and a really cool atmosphere combine to form a great hot dogs stand. Hence, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now if they would only sweeten the slaw.