Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fairmont Hot Dog Joint - Yann's Hot Dogs


Without fear of contradiction I will write that Yann's Hot Dogs is a Fairmont institution. Since this site began nearly a year ago I have received more email regarding Yann's than any other hot dog joint in West Virginia. Mostly the comments I received were along the lines of "If you haven't had Yann's, you haven't had a hot dog." I heard lots about the proprietor, Russell Yann, and his uncanny behavioral similarities to Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi." "Never ask for slaw", I was told, "or Yann will throw you out." I heard that everything at Yann's is mustard, onions and sauce and that the sauce was incredibly spicy.

In the past six months I have made three unsuccessful attempts to eat at Yann's. The first time I found the place to be closed with a sign that said "Closed for Repairs." I was mistakenly told by person on the street that it had closed permanently. After I prematurely published a report on the demise of Yann's Hot Dogs, I got more emails from Fairmont folks who said the sign said "Closed for Repairs on Me", meaning that Russell Yann had undergone knee replacement surgery and the joint was closed during his convalescence. Yann's reopened in the fall, after which I tried again to visit and found it closed. Just closed, no explanation. The third time I pulled up just as the "closed" sign went up in the window. When I asked someone who was leaving why they had closed, she said they had just ran out of hot dogs!

So last week I made my fourth visit and, thankfully, found them open and I finally got the chance to see what the fuss is all about.

Before I can tell you about the hot dogs, I have to tell you about the place. First, it is tiny. It sits on the edge of the riverbank, practically a part of the bridge that links West Fairmont with East Fairmont. It has no signs that lets you know this is the famous Yann's; I guess it doesn't need any since everyone in town already knows.

On the inside, the place is even smaller. Take one step inside the door and you are all the way in. An "L" shaped bar with built-in stools provide seating for six or seven people, and the other side of the bar allows two or three people to work at preparing hot dogs for the hordes that invade the place at lunch time. Signs on the walls tell you everything you need to know: Hot dogs are 85 cents, they come with onions, mustard and sauce, don't even think about asking for ketchup, cheese or slaw. You can also buy pepperoni rolls, but that is the extent of the menu. A temporary sign thanks people for the cards and letters sent to Yann during his recovery. There is also a sign that said "If you are in a hurry you've come to the wrong place," but I have no idea why because it is difficult to imagine a faster food joint. Hot dogs are prepared and sent out at a dizzying pace. In the 20 minutes I was there over a hundred hot dogs were ordered and served to an endless stream for people coming through the door. The whole time I was eating, orders were being spoken over my head, money was being passed on either side of me and dozens of hot dogs were handed over and around me. It was quite a scene.

Sum it all up to say Yann's is one of the coolest little hot dog joints I have ever seen.

Now to the hot dogs:

First, as I already said, no slaw is permitted so I have no choice but to do the "when in Rome" thing and get two hot dogs with everything. I also ordered chocolate milk, the preferred beverage of Yann's patrons (I'll tell you why it's preferred in a moment).

The first striking thing about a Yann's hot dog is the deep brown color of the sauce . I'll call it "sauce" because that's what they call it and because it really doesn't share many attributes with what we call "chili" in the rest of the state. This isn't just semantics like the Huntington/Charleston sauce/chili differences. Huntington's "sauce" is pretty much the same as Charleston's "chili." This is different. The brown comes from cooking, not from any special coloring. This brown color comes from the way it is cooked, not just from its ingredients. Clendenin DQ and Romeo's have brown chili but this is even darker. This stuff has been cooked at high temperature for a long time.

The taste of the chili is really the taste of the whole hot dog. It is overpowering and allows no other taste to interfere. It is very complex it its spiciness. Not just chili powder, but cumin and other spices play a part it the flavor. It is hot, hot, hot. Thus the chocolate milk. It's the only thing that can soothe the burn.

Now I confess that I am a spice wimp. Given a choice I will normally opt for "mild" or "medium" flavors and leave the "spicy" and "atomic" to people to masochistic types. I don't like my food to cause me pain. Yann's hot dog sauce was painful to my lips, tongue, gums and every mucus membrane it came into contact with. But in spite of the pain, there was some very good flavor there, too.

The rest of the hot dog is really insignificant. The bun is straight out of the bag, the weenie is basic and the onions and mustard are minor players. Nothing can stand up to the sauce, although I couldn't help thinking how good the hot dog would have been if it had a big mound of cool, sweet, creamy slaw sitting on it. I kept this thought to myself, not wanting to be thrown out on my keister.

I'm going to give Yann's a four-and-a half weenie rating because they are undeniably excellent at what they do. I know that everyone in Fairmont would give them a five, but by the standards of the State's majority hot dog culture it misses the mark because it's missing the slaw.

1 comment:

kim mayhew said...

One may or may not quibble with the 4.5 weenie rating of Yann dogs. This much I know, I first became acquainted with Yann's in 1974. The sauce is what makes this delicacy and the addition of slaw would be akin to putting catsup on it. In those days, 4 Yann dogs and a quart of chocolate milk would ameliorate any hangover. These days I exist to bring these tasty morsels to as many folks as I can. Mr. Yann has mellowed over the years but you don't ask for anything besides what he deigns to put on his masterpiece. If you want slaw on your dog and I do particularly like Stewart's in H-town and Hillbilly hot dogs in Lesage and Bob's emporium in Coalton and who can forget the footlongs at Cool Springs in Macomber, but I digress. Yann's stands alone as the hottest and best chili dog in the Mountain state.
Bob Mayhew
Romney, WV