Remember when bowling alleys were bowling alleys? For a while they called them "bowling establishments" to make them sound classier, but they were still noisy, smoke filled places with cold beer and good hot dogs. Next came the "bowling lanes" movement. That lasted for quite a while. Now we have ...(drum roll please)...
... Family Fun Centers!
Venture Lanes, er I mean Venture Family Fun Center in Jefferson used to have great hot dogs. The food concession was run by a man whose mother made the chili and slaw at home. Since he had the food concession at both Venture and Boulevard Lanes (the latter of which, by the way, is now nothing but a very flat piece of real estate) you could be assured of a quality dog at either place.
Not any more. I present to you, the jury, the final piece of evidence that it is no longer possible to get a decent hot dog in these once proud colonades of culinary delight. The Venture Family Fun Center's hot dogs are nearly carbon copies of the mediocre offerings from Galaxy Lanes. Yuck.
I am beginning to formulate a theory regarding second-hand smoke and hot dogs. Once upon a time bowling alleys were filled with smoke and they had great hot dogs. Now they are smoke free and the dogs are crummy. Two of the best hot dogs I've had recently have come from places I can barely stand to walk into for the smoke. Hmmm.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
The next chapter in the Great Bowling Alley WVHD Search took me to Nitro to check on the dogs at Towne & Country Lanes. Would my hot dog hopes be dashed? Or would I find a glimmer of promise embedded there between the chili and the slaw?
First, a little historical perspective: Towne & Country Lanes was the first bowling alley in the area to have electronic scoring. Except for an occassional tournament my mother never bowled there so my exposure to this particular establishment came only after I had reached my 18th birthday and was somewhat independantly mobile. Many of my high school friends liked to bowl there simply because they didn't know how to keep score otherwise. Having nearly been born in a bowling alley, I literally knew how to keep score before I could multiply or divide so I found it quaint that my friends were so challenged.
But I digress: The first thing I remember about Towne & Country's hot dogs is that they were four for a dollar. Quite a bargain, and teenage boys usually are much less concerned with quality than the volume/cost ratio, so I thought they were great. Forty-something boys, however, are a little more picky about taste and much more interested in the flavor/calorie ratio.
Well, first off let me report that the dogs are no longer four for a buck. Secondly, I will say that I can't use these hot dogs as proof-positive that all bowling alley dogs are bad. They are okay. Not great - on par with those at Dunbar Bowling Center, but much better than Galaxy Lanes.
The slaw is actually pretty good. Seems to to be home made - or at least bowling alley made. The chili was mediocre. Everything included chili, slaw, mustard and onions. My "to go" dog was packaged in a wax paper sleeve instead of a hot dog coffin (props to Jackie Lantern for the term).
Only one more bowling alley to go. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Posted by Stanton at 7:00 PM
Monday, April 24, 2006
It was a beautiful springtime Saturday afternoon and I was craving ramps. I knew there would be a roadside stand in upper Kanawha City selling the delicious little leeks so I headed out to grab some in time to cook up a mess for dinner. Once I had procured my produce and since it was near lunch time I thought I should check out the hot dog offerings at nearby Galaxy Lanes. A few years ago I had an excellent "yellow slaw" dog there but they have remodeled and have new management so I wondered if they still were serving quality WVHD's.
The dog was less than mediocre. I tried to find something good to say about it, I really did, but there was nothing worth even a mild word of praise. The chili is blah, the slaw was obviously the factory chopped stuff. Everything includes chili, slaw, mustard and ketchup. No onions.
This is the second bowling alley whose dogs have been disappointing. I have to wonder: Were the great bowling alley hot dogs of my youth only a construct of my nostalgia? Could it be that they were average or worse and only the distance of my faded memories made them good? I think I'll go ahead and make it a point to visit the other two in the area (Venture and Towne & Country) soon to see if this is a trend.
In the meantime maybe I'll experiment with a recipe for ramp coleslaw.
Posted by Stanton at 7:32 AM
Friday, April 21, 2006
The Gold Dome Restaurant sat at the northern end of the old Kanawha City bridge until the interstate construction buried it under in the early 1970's. Its hot dogs were legendary for their quality and affordability. At one time, I'm told, you could by 10 hot dogs for a dollar at the Gold Dome.
After the restaurant was closed the signs were moved to the side of a building on 57th Street near the Kanawha Mall. I am not sure if there is any real connection to the old Gold Dome, but I am sure they have very, very good hot dogs.
The place is now a bar and grill and despite the smoke that comes with that designation it seems to be a pretty nice place. I was there on a Friday afternoon and a half-dozen or so folks were there that seemed like regulars. A couple of nice pool tables and several tv's give it the ambiance of a modern sports bar. The service was prompt and friendly.
The first thing to say about the dogs is SWEET! Not just in the modern vernacular exclamatory (although it fits) but in the literal adjective sense. The slaw is sweet like you would expect on a WVHD, but the chili is sweet also. It tastes every bit as sweet as southern style pulled-pork barbecue, but better. It's sweetness is in addition to, not instead of, some nice spiciness that left its mark on my palate for quite sometime. Think of Chris' with molasses. The slaw was a little dry but it's perfectly sweet and served in a perfectly appropriate-sized helping. The weenie had a great flavor and seemed to be larger than average. The bun, since the dog was properly wrapped in wax paper, was delightfully soft and delicious.
I also must report that I saw an order of onion rings come out while I waited and they looked fantastic. I wish I had tried some for myself. I will the next time - and there will be a next time because these dogs definitely have taken over a spot in my top five.
Posted by Stanton at 10:50 PM
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
On Rt. 62 between Dunbar and Cross Lanes, in the land that locals call "Little Tyler Mountain" you will find a little place that is big on character. The Wagon Wheel used to be more of a restaurant than it is today. Several eating tables have vanished in favor of two very nice pool tables, and the bar has grown into a penninsula that dominates the what used to the dining room. It has more of a bar & grill feel today.
The walls of 1950's wood paneling are covered with old newspaper articles, photos and beer advertisments. The dim lighting makes the presence of a bookcase full of paperback novels a bit moot, as if the patrons are there for a little reading anyway. A beautiful old 1940's gasoline pump stands guard near the doorway, and the namesake wooden wagon wheel is suspended nearby. The neon sign in the photo hangs on an inside wall, which is a shame because it would be a great attention getter for the drive-by traffic. The owner's pet bird provides the backround music when the jukebox isn't playing.
The hot dogs are typical bar and grill dogs. The chili is pretty lifeless, but the slaw is pretty good. To go orders are wrapped in wax paper just as nature intended. Not worth going out of your way for.
I didn't really notice what other things they had on the menu, but no matter. It seems like a good place to have a beer, relax and shoot some pool. After a few beers the hot dogs and anything else on the menu might taste pretty good.
Posted by Stanton at 8:15 PM
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Back in the day before I worried about calories and cholesterol I used to frequent the old Valley Bell Store on the corner of Delware Avenue and Roane Street on the West Side for milk shakes and hot dogs. There's nothing quite like the combination of a good hot dog and a chocolate shake, and it seemed to me that wherever you found good shakes around Charleston, there you would find good hot dogs as well.
Well, when I cast off milkshakes in favor of a smaller waistline (and a hopefully longer lifeline), I forgot about some of those places and their hot dog potential. But as I was driving by the Valley Bell today I saw a sign in the window with those two glorious little words that say so much: HOT DOGS. I immediately remembered and I immediately stopped.
The Valley Bell was the largest dairy company in town for many years. They were the last company in our area to offer home delivery - well into the late 70's. The dairy building, although it has been rebuilt and added on to many times, was a late Art Deco achitectural showpiece in its day. A little of the architecture can still be seen in the corner where the store is located. The floor to ceiling windows that lean outward at the top are the most visibly striking arcitectural element, but if you look closely you can still see remnants of the past throughout the space. There are a few booths and tables if you'd like to eat there, but I got mine to go.
The hot dogs are still pretty good. Everything is chili, slaw mustard and onions. The chili is pretty basic WVHD chili, except that it is the slightest bit tangy. I could not postulate a theory on the ingredient that gave it the subtle taste. It was good, though. The slaw was pretty good. Weenie and bun, both adequate. The yellow onions were a bit too strong for my tastes. Overall, a good hot dog, but not one I'm going to regularly pass Chris' to get to, unless I fall off the milkshake wagon.
Go for the achitecture, have a dog and a shake or an ice cream cone and you won't be sorry.
Posted by Stanton at 8:40 PM
Thursday, April 13, 2006
I practically grew up bowling alleys. My mom bowled two or three times a week and I always had to go along. As a single divorced mother she would often feed me bowling alley food for dinner on those evening when she worked late and bowled early. Hamburgers and french fries were staples then, but I eventually came to the conclusion that hot dogs are much more dependable, quality-wise, in a bowling alley grill than virtually any other food type. I'm not sure why this is so.
Anyway, a reader suggested a visit to Dunbar Bowling Center for a hot dog, so when I found myself on my way back to Charleston one day at lunch time I thought I should check it out.
The first thing I noticed is that it is very difficult to park in that part of Dunbar. Every space seems to be reserved or has a "two hour parking" sign with cars that look intent on getting every last minute's worth of their allotted time. I circled the block three times trying to find a spot and finally nabbed one just as one of the two-hour parkers vacated.
My reader had told me that the hot dogs were "first-rate." I was expecting great, but only got "good." Only good because of a complete lack of anything distinctive. Slaw is sweet, creamy and served in the proper amount. The chili was okay. The bun was a little crusty and it was served in one of those blasted styrofoam boxes. The best thing about the experience was that it was a nice day and I ate my dog outside under a tree on a park bench.
Overall, I can't say anything bad about the dog, can't say anything overly good about it. Not dissapointing, but not one I would go out of my way for.
I had forgotten, though, what a neat little bowling alley Dunbar has. If nothing else the trip was worth it just to see it again.
Posted by Stanton at 8:25 PM
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
In days of old our beloved WVHD would usually come to us wrapped in wax paper, or inside a wax paper bag made especially for the purpose. The wax paper was impervious to water vapor and therefore the moisture condensed on the inside of the wrapper and soaked into the bun creating a nice gooey hot dog. The longer they stayed in the wrapper the gooier they got. When I was a kid we lived 15 minutes from Gold Dome hot dogs at the end of the Kanawha City Bridge. My mom would always get footlongs from the Gold Dome and then purposely take them home so they would be so gooey that she had to eat them with a fork.
Sometimes aluminum foil would be used, which was as impervious to moisture and had the added benefit of keeping more heat in. Dogs wrapped in foil were hot and gooey.
Sadly, these days it is very difficult to find a "to go" WVHD that isn't served in a styrofoam containers. The styrofoam probably keeps the temperature up better than paper or foil, but it completely eliminates gooeyness. From what I've found on internet sites, these things cost about 5 cents each. I can't imagine that wax paper would be any more expensive, so hot dog joint owners must think we like them better. I think we need to have a "just say no" type campaign to get the word to the decision makers. We need a catchy slogan. Feel free to make suggestions.
Posted by Stanton at 7:00 AM
Monday, April 10, 2006
I confess, I have a soft spot in my heart for new locally owned restaurants. This blog gives me an opportunity to help get the word out about new places to the four or five people that religiously read these posts (you know who you are!).
Well, here's the latest discovery. I happened across it today and just had to stop and see if they had dogs. Yep, they do!
The diner is located just past Capital High School in an unassuming little metal building. The interior finish belies the outside appearance. It is a quaint little place with quite a varied menu. At lunch time it was mostly full, surprising since it has only been open for two weeks. Several camo uniforms made it clear that the word had gotten out at National Guard HQ, which is located nearby.
I am happy to report that the hot dogs are great. A classic country-style WVHD with mustard, meaty "Church" style chili, chopped onions and lots of sweet cole slaw. Very satisfying for a buck twenty-five. Service was gracious, fast and friendly.
I am really looking forward to going back for dinner some evening. The sign says they are open 7-7, so maybe even breakfast some morning.
Posted by Stanton at 8:45 PM
Saturday, April 08, 2006
The other day I stopped into a Deli-like place on Greenbrier Street near Capital High School to see if I could grab a hot dog. And you know what? I couldn't. They don't sell them.
Now I don't have a problem with a restaurant not selling hot dogs, but what really frosted me was the response I got when I asked for one. The man behind the counter, the owner I presume, told me, and I quote, "I 've been in business for 17 years and haven't sold the first hot dog." He said it with a dismissive tone, like he was French or something.
I have found that locally owned restaurants usually have hot dogs even if they aren't on the menu and so I will often ask for them. This is the first time I have gotten this kind of chilly (not chili) response. It made me wonder if there is some snobbery at work here and so I ask you, my loyal readers, is the hot dog seen by some people as a second class citizen in the food kingdom?
Posted by Stanton at 12:10 PM
Friday, April 07, 2006
Everyone in Charleston knows where Five Corners is, right? Actually there are two places that could be called "Five Corners", but most people think about the one where Delaware and Central Avenues meet up with Virginia Street West, which is where Neighbormart is located (the other is where Fourth Avenue crosses Florida Street and Main Street comes in from the east).
I am not sure but I think Neighbormart must be a regional franchise of some sort because I have seen the logo in other cities like Lexington KY. The tiny sandwich shop has been at this location for a long time relative to other restaurants that have come and gone from Five Corners. The location is not that great and they have very little parking. The decor is minimal and the inside seating is sparse. When a restaurant survives in the face of such odds you can bet the food is very good. I can vouch for the hot dogs.
Everything means chili, slaw, onions and mustard. The chili is a little on the bland side and a bit to coarse. The slaw is nice and sweet and served in an adequate amount, but it is a bit too coarsely chopped as well. Service is quick and friendly. The menu includes a full compliment of deli style sandwiches which would make it a good bet for a non-hot dog person, too.
Overall I would rate the dogs above average. Certainly worth trying the next time you are in the, uh, neighborhood.
Posted by Stanton at 11:45 PM
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Located in South Hills on Walnut Road, this little gem of a restaurant surprised me with a colorful twist on our beloved WVHD.
Just two doors down from Bridge Road Bistro and right next to Kid County Toys, this little place has everything you could want in a lunch spot including lots of riverboat themed decorations and curiosities to keep you occupied while your food is being freshly prepared. Faux portholes line the walls and inside each one is a different display of photos, antique boat parts, etc. A large hand made model of a sternwheeler hangs over the counter.
I first realized that there was something different about the Wheelhouse hot dogs when I got my order inside my car for the trip back to the office. It was immediately noticeable that the onions where quite a bit more aromatic than usual. when I opened the box I was pleasantly surprised to find that they use purple (or red, or bermuda) onions. The unexpected color turned the hot dogs into a work of art. Give then an "A" on presentation.
The taste gets high marks too. The chili is definitely the most unusual chili I have had in Charleston. It had a distinctive and pronounced chili powder taste - almost like Mexican taco meat. The texture of the meat was a little coarse but there was enough liquid to offset the chunkiness. The slaw was not quite sweet enough for my tastes, but was OK otherwise. Everything included chili, slaw, mustard and ketchup.
All the ambience, color, and flavor adds up to a delightful WVHD experience and makes The Wheelhouse a necessary stop on a hot dog tour of Charleston.
Posted by Stanton at 2:52 PM
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Saturday, April 01, 2006
I ran across this seemingly complete survey of major hot dog joints in Huntington.
It also links to the West Virginia Hot Dog Festival website. Does anyone know if there will be a second annual event? If so, I've got to put it on my calendar.
Posted by Stanton at 5:12 PM