Saturday, February 25, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Chris' Hot Dogs

Chris' Hot Dogs is for many the pre-eminent hot dog joint in Charleston. Its location is convenient (just one block west of the interstate on Washington Street) its atmosphere is delightfully retro and its dogs are always great.

Gus Christo started the restaurant in the 1960's and his daughter still runs it today. Photos of Gus and his family adorn the walls and you get a feeling that nothing in the place has been updated in the forty years since it first opened. Tin ceilings, old wooden booths and a carved wood ornamental bar mirror surround give the place a one-of-a-kind look and makes the dining experience unique.

But it is the hot dogs that makes Chris' most unique. And it is Gus' forty year-old chili recipe that makes the hot dogs unique. It is, in a word, spicy - but not the kind of sweating-from-the-brow and make-your-nose-run kind of spicy. This is not spicy for the sake of being spicy, the burn is integral to the taste of the chili in a way it is hard to relate in words. The meat and everything else in the chili is finely ground. There is obviously chili powder and garlic heavily present and some other pepper (perhaps cayenne)but you can't see any visual evidence of what makes it so darn good. Whatever it is, fans of Chris' hot dogs are very loyal to it. I once took a Chris' fan to Romeo's and he left his dogs half-eaten in protest. He said the chili "doesn't speak to me" like Chris'.

As for the rest of the dog, it is very good. The slaw is finely chopped and sweet, just like good WVHD slaw ought to be, although it applied too sparingly for my tastes. The buns are basic and the weenies are tasty. "Everything" means mustard, chili and slaw. I guess with this much spice onions would be superfluous.

Personally I rate Chris' dogs in my top five favorites in Charleston, but because I value good slaw over good chili, they certainly aren't in the top three. I can certainly see why people love them and are so rabidly loyal.

Thanks to Rick Lee for the photo. See his other Chris' photos here:

Monday, February 20, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Bigley Foodland Deli

All weenies are not created equal.

As reported before, some dogs have weenies that are larger than average, some are better tasting than average, and now I find out that some are very, very small.

A co-worker was heading out to the Bigley Foodland for some things and I asked her to pick up a couple of dogs from the deli for me. Little did I know how little they would be.

The dogs came to me packed like a raw steak, shrink-wrapped onto a styrofoam tray. Not good for the dogs as they were mashed flat, but looked pretty much like a normal WVHD after they were unwrapped. But the real surprise came after a few bites when I realized that the weenie was about half the diameter of a typical dog! No kidding, it was a micro-weenie! It was about the same diameter as those "Little Smokies" sausages you find on a buffet table. It was as tough, too.

As for the rest of the dog, the slaw was definitely the cheap factory made stuff that they sell in their deli. It might be fine as a side dish, but please, keep it off of the dogs! The chili was the standard ground beef chunky hurriedly prepared stuff. Overall pretty mediocre dogs.

One more thing: If you can't see, the "Best By" date on the wrapper in the picture is February 24th. I bought them on the 20th. I can't imagine how bad they would have been by Friday. Even at two dogs for a buck-fifty-eight, I recommend that you pass on these puppies.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - The Grill

The Grill, on Washington Street just west of the Interstate, is one of Charleston's most unique eateries. It is delightfully understated (even that might be an understatement!) decor-wise but the food is great and the service is like family. The menu is eclectic and regulars know what they are having before they walk through the doors. This week's and next week's specials can be read about in advance on the dry erase menu board behind the counter. I know people that plan their weeks around the specials, which it seems are the same 12 items recycled over and over again. I can personally attest that most of the specials are very good, and anecdotally that the rest of them are good as well.

In the back room you will often see some of the most influential politicos in Charleston having lunch together. Men in expensive business suits sit in old wobbly booths that looked like they were there before the building had a roof. The four TV's tuned to sports and news channels compete for wavelengths in the audible spectrum above the din of the diners. The walls are covered with 1970's wood paneling, Pepsi signs and the autographed pictures of celebrities both major and minor. The most recent major celebrity to dine there was Dick Cheney during the last election campaign.

"But", you ask, "what about the hot dogs?" Well, they are as interesting as the atmosphere of the restaurant.

First off, it must be said that hot dogs are not the specialty of the house but an obligatory item for any self-respecting West Virginian owned greasy spoon. This is good news because the dogs at The Grill leave something to be desired.

The cabbage in the slaw (the most important part of a real WVHD) was barely shredded and rather tough to chew. The chili, while it tastes pretty much like hot dog chili ought to taste, is very meaty and chunky. The wiener is a little tough and the buns seem to be toasted (or perhaps just kept in a dry warmer). Even after a five minute drive back to the office, even wrapped in wax paper, the buns were still a little crunchy in spots. The whole hot dog was an exercise in exercise to masticate.

Since The Grill is just down the block from Chris', it seems to be a shame to waste one's hot dog calorie budget on inferior specimens like these. If you are in the mood for liver and onions, hot bologna or a great bowl of pinto beans and cornbread The Grill is your place. But if you're in a WVHD mood keep on traveling west just a few doors down.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Blues BBQ

On Jefferson Road, halfway between South Charleston proper and Southridge, you will find a little place that has very good barbecue ribs & sandwiches and a surprisingly good hot dog. Blues has long been one of my favorite quick lunch stops and is one of the few places around town that have bratwursts (they will fix one up just like a WVHD complete with chili & slaw if you ask). I've never had their ribs but their BBQ sandwiches are as good as any I've had.

But the matter at hand is the Blues BBQ version of a West Virginia Hot Dog, or perhaps I should say "versions" plural because they have two different kinds of chili that makes the dogs different. I tried one of each. The regular-strength stuff is tasty - a bit sweeter than average. The spicy is bland tasting but has a sneaky slow-burn. My guess is that the burn comes from added chili powder and maybe some cayenne pepper. Whatever it is, I was still feeling the burn twenty minutes later.

"Everything" at Blues means ketchup, mustard, onions, chili & slaw that is a bit coarse for my tastes. It's also a bit dry but about the right consistency for a BBQ sandwich (yeah, West Virginians eat slaw on those too). The bun seemed to be steamed because it was very gooey even though my "eat here" order wasn't wrapped up. It was so soft, in fact, that my weenie actually began to fall through the bottom of the bun before I was half through. This might be a negative for some, but give me a gooey dog everytime.

Overall I give Blues high marks for their dogs. I think the regular chili version is a top-ten in my book.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Mr C's

"Home of the Famous Yellow Slaw" brags the sign outside of Mr. C's Hot Dogs. Sitting across McCorkle Avenue from Galaxy Lanes (Formerly Robin Lanes) in upper Kanawha City, this little restaurant offers some pretty tasty dogs.

On my most recent trip I got one hot dog with yellow slaw and one with regular slaw to compare (see photo). The "Famous Yellow Slaw" is an enigmatic concoction and Mr. C's guards the recipe like a military secret. It seems to be basic cole slaw mixed with yellow mustard, but it is much sweeter than regular slaw. After carefully tasting the differences between the two I think I have concluded that the difference is honey-mustard. People (Yankees) who like sweet relish on a dog would probably enjoy the yellow slaw.

The regular slaw dog is very good. They wrap them up in foil so a take out order is going to be pretty gooey by the time you get where you're going. Price is great too, at $1 a dog.

Now the bad news: This place looks like it's on its last legs. The Mr. C's in North Charleston closed a couple of years ago (no doubt run off by the competition) and I understand there is another location in Putnam County, but I'm not sure where it is. This location has all the signs of imminent demise, including a hand-lettered sign on the door that says "Cash Only" and one on the counter reading "Deep Fryer is Out of Order." The potato chip rack had exactly three bags of chips on it. If you want to try a good "Famous Yellow Slaw" WVHD in Kanawha City, my advice is to hurry.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Fas Chek, West Washington Street

Rick Lee provides a quick review and photos of an unexpected find:

Nearby to my studio is the Fas-Chek on Washington Street West. I'd been going in there to by soft drinks and whatnot for a few years and I never noticed that the deli in the back (located conveniently next to the imported beer) sells hot dogs. Since we've been doing this research I decided to give it a try. The dogs are not bad... the price is incredible! 79 cents a dog! 2 for a buck on Saturday! Two quite decent hot dogs for less than a cup of coffee at Taylor Books.

Thanks Rick! Like the Kanawha County Courthouse and The Capitol Snack Bar, the beauty of the WVHD is that it lives in unexpected places.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Delish - Not a REAL WV Hot Dog, but ...

It seems almost unfair to include Delish in our ever growing list of Hot Dog Joints. Nothing about the "Delish Dog" can be compared to a true WVHD except its basic shape. But this thing is good. Really, really good.

I was leaving a mid-day meeting on Thursday and found myself walking past Delish at around 2:00. I had planned on skipping lunch but I remembered seeing a hot dog on the menu before, so in the interest of research I decided to stop in and check it out. My taste buds are glad I did (my waistline might have a different opinion).

It starts off with a frankfurter on steroids. Its at least twice as large as a typical weenie. The bun is basic enough, but that's where any similarity to a WVHD ends. Add a creamy roasted garlic sauce, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and scallions. To a true West Virginian this sounds like utter nonsense, but trust me it is a truly phenomenal taste treat.

I have always been a fan of Delish's pasta dishes and various burger offerings, but I will be hard-pressed to order anything but a Delish Dog on future visits.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Whitey's Sandwich Shop & Huskey's Dairy Bar

Situated right across the street from each other, on a busy intersection where 7th Avenue and West Washington Street cross 28th Street in North Charleston, these two little joints offer some of the best WVHD's in town.

Whitey's is an unassuming little place that is easy to miss even if you know where you are going. The building is plain and the only sign identifying it as a restaurant is a carved in wood and hangs inside the plate glass window. The neon "OPEN" sign is the only other clue. But the search is worth it, because at the end you will find some of the very best hot dogs Charleston has to offer.

What makes Whitey's dogs so good? I really can't put my finger on it. Every part of the dog is good and the sauce is about the meatiest in town, but it's pretty mild. The slaw is awesome and the weenies are very good. Put it all together with rock-steady dependability (I've never had a bad hot dog from Whitey's) and you get a great, great WVHD.

The only negative for me about Whitey's is that it is a proud supporter of smoker's rights and has a warning sign on the front window that lets you know that you will surely die of second-hand smoke if you enter. As much as I hate smoke filled rooms, it is worth it to get to the dogs.

Huskey's Dairy Bar
sits right across 28th Street and has very, very good dogs. In my opinion they are not quite up to par with Whitey's, but they have better hours and less smoke so it's about a wash. They are also cheaper (10 dogs for $10) and they have one of the best chocolate milkshakes around. Two dogs and a milkshake has to weigh in at about 2,000 calories so consider this your one-stop RDA depot.

The most interesting thing about the dogs is the chili, which is a misnomer because the meat is so finely ground that it is very thin and runny. This is great if you like your dogs sloppy. Slaw is great too. The weenies could be a little better - they tasted like they had been sitting in a pot of water for too long. The walk-up service is always friendly, and a sign on the building boasts of inside seating but I have never peeked inside to see what it's like.

So, these twin temples of tasty tubular delights are a recommended destination in your search for a good authentic WVHD. I know of nowhere else in town where you can park once and sample two better dogs.