Sunday, December 31, 2006

Logan Hot Dog Joint Review - Morrison's Drive Inn

When the Associated Press distributed a story about this blog in November I began to get emails from every corner of the state. One of the most oft mentioned hot dog joints was located in Logan. Morrison's Drive Inn, I was repeatedly and confidently told, has the best hot dogs in West Virginia. These recommendations carried extra authority because people from all over the state sent them. I had folks from Parkersburg, Morgantown, Beckley and Charleston say that Morrison's was the place to go for the definitive West Virginia Hot Dog. I had eaten there before, years ago, but I knew I had to go and find out if this was The One True Dog as so many people claimed. It took me a few weeks to carve out the time, but I headed down Corridor G as soon as I had a free day.

After a little misadventure and re-familiarizing myself with Logan, I found my way to Morrison's. It's located right on Route 10 just south of Logan in Stollings. It's one of those places that people tell you "you can't miss it" and you can't. It sits virtually IN the road (the restaurant has been there for 50 years and you get the feeling the road was an afterthought) and the curb service area wraps completely around the building. They have an inside seating area but the cigarette smoke that billowed out the door as I pulled up discouraged me from eating inside. No worries, though, because the curb service is fast and friendly.

"Everything" on a hot dog, I was told, means chili, slaw, mustard and onions. Since I planned on visiting at least one other HDJ I decided to get a single hot dog and a Pepsi, and my wife ordered the same thing. I could tell by the "That's all?" look on the carhop's face that not many people got one hot dog and a drink. We stuck by our order, though, and within three minutes it was hanging on the edge of my window.

The first remarkable thing about a Morrison's hot dog is that it comes wrapped in clear cellophane. This is the first time I have encountered such a presentation. The clear covering holds in the steam effectively and even though my dog was quickly delivered it was already very soft and gooey. If you got this order to go and had very far to go, a fork would be a necessity.

When I unwrapped the hot dog I got some chili on my finger and instinctively licked it off. That was the moment I knew that this was going to be an awesome WVHD. The chili is a little bit spicy, sweet, complex and meaty. It smelled and tasted heavenly. Before I took the first bite of the hot dog I was regretting ordering only one.

The slaw was good, bordering on great. It was finely chopped but just a bit dry. It was only slightly sweet but it really worked with the chili. The onions were in there, I could tell, but they must've been finely chopped because I couldn't see them. The mustard was perfect and perfectly applied. Just an absolute taste treat, through and through.

I'm not ready to say this is the best hot dog in the state, but I am willing to call it the quintessential West Virginia Hot Dog. This is the one I want to feed to people from slawless places like Marion County and most every state in the union. I want to have them take a bite of this hot dog and then see if they still say it's crazy to eat slaw on a hot dog. I think we could make believers of a lot of people with this one.

Definitely a five-weenie treat. Thank you, everyone, who took the time to write in with a Morrison's recommendation.

Logan Run

Today I made the trek down Corridor "G" to check out the Logan/Chapmanville hot dog scene. I've had quite a few emails from folks down that way that claimed two different hot dog joints had the best hot dogs in the state and I knew that one of them must be wrong, so I decided to see for myself. I'll be posting reviews over the next few days.

The Logan area sure has changed since I was last there. It's been quite a few years since I'd been - before the Corridor was completed - and I was surprised to find a large shopping plaza with a Wal Mart and all the trimmings right there beside the main road. Then I took the new access road into town and was completely disoriented when I finally made it to town. Once I got my bearings, though, I found the main part of Logan really hasn't changed much in the past 20 years or so. The streets and buildings seem to be suspended in time and almost nothing new seems to have been built in years. All of the development is out towards the Corridor where the traffic is.

I'm always surprised by the terrain of the area. The mountains, while not as tall as they are in the eastern part of our state, are impressive due to the steepness of their slopes and frequency of their ridges. It looks as if all of the hills have been squeezed together like an accordian bellows until every direction you move is either uphill or downhill. This time of year when the trees are bare you can really see how treacherous the topography is. It's a wonder that anything is ever built in the county. Virtually any prospective building site is either on the steep, rocky hillside or beside a river that floods nearly every year.

But the thing I remember most about Logan is the friendliness of its people and I found it to be much the same after all these years. One particular incident today illustrated perfectly the kind of people that live in Logan:

I had just got into town and, as I said before, I didn't quite have my bearings. I was looking for Morrison's Drive In, a place where I had eaten before and pretty much knew where it's located, but I just needed to get pointed in the right direction. A young couple were walking across the street and I rolled down my window and asked them if they knew where the restaurant was. They came over to the car and began agonizing over the question. After a few minutes it was clear that they really didn't know where it was, but they continued to offer suggestions of how I might find it. As I pulled away they both had hangdog looks on their face as if they had failed humanity because they were unable to be of perfect help to a stranger. I felt as if they might both lose sleep over their inability to help me find my way. That's the way people are in Logan.

Once we found Morrison's, another encounter with some local bikers who had stopped for lunch was equally as charming. When I asked them if Morrison's was the place to eat around town they went out their way to tell me the places in town that had the best this or that. One of them even admitted that he thought that Parkway Drive In (my second target of the day) had better hot dogs. They gave me directions to get to Parkway even though I already knew the way. I got the feeling if I had asked that they would have fired up their bikes and escorted me there.

Logan and the surrounding area has its challenges to be sure. But it is a beautiful place and it's beauty is much more than skin-deep.

Oh, and they have some pretty darn good hot dogs, too. More on that soon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Impending Blogiversery

In a few days this blog turns one year old! To celebrate we have set a goal of 100 Hot Dog Joint Reviews in one year. If all goes well review number 100 will be posted on January 7, our Blogiversary.

One of the coolest things about this year has been all of the email I've received. The vast majority of it has been wildly supportive, but I've had a few people challenge my reviews and actually have received a few that could be best described as hate mail. The best ones, though, are from people reminiscing about their favorite hot dogs joints of yesteryear. Sometimes these messages are from people who moved away from West Virginia years ago and I get to tell them that their old favorites are still around and as good as ever. Almost always, these expatriates complain that they can't get a decent hot dog in their adopted lands. You can almost feel them wiping the tears from their eyes as they type about the hot dogs of their youth.

Today I got one that made me a little misty eyed. A man told me about how much his mother loved her hot dogs and how, well, I'll let him tell you:

My Mom died last year ( Aug 14 th 2005 ) - She loved to eat hot dogs - It was Her favorite choice - I had to cut it up in little bites so She would not choke on it - God knows she loved Her Hot Dogs - She had the money to buy anything - but it was always hot dogs She would ask for - and got - Mom died at the age of 92 and it was the Indian blood in Her or the Hot dogs that kept Her alive those many years.

I always knew I loved our West Virginia hot dogs, but in the past year I've come to realize just how special they really are.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Fairmont Hot Dog Perspective

Fairmont hot dog fan Kevin Smith has been a regular reader and email commentator for a while now. He is a native of Fairmont and has the same innate fondness for the spicy hot dogs at Yann's that seemingly all Fairmontians have. He wrote me recently with his comments on my Yann's review:

As a follower of for a while now, I have been eagerly awaiting the eventuality of your review of the Fairmont myth and legend that is Yann's. Certainly, my expectations of a favorable review were not particularly high considering the lack of availability of slaw within the confines of this Fairmont landmark. However, I was hopeful that you would at least be able to absorb some of the dynamics that exist in Yann's.

Watching the comers and goers and the multitude of hot dogs assembled (for lack of a better term) is dizzying to say the least. As you mentioned, some 100 hotdogs departed in the short period of time you were there. I would consider this a pretty reasonable average estimate for most of the lunchtime, probably hovering somewhere around the 4-6 per minute mark for most of the period between 11:30 and 1. If that were not evidence enough of the fervor that the townspeople have for these hot dogs, I recall when Yann's finally reopened this past fall; the lines were, quite literally around the corner at 2PM. While I didn't have the opportunity to visit at the prime lunch period in the first couple weeks, I must imagine the lines would have had those passing by wondering if Elvis was inside.

Certainly, though, there is nothing particularly unique about the dogs themselves. As you outlined in your review, the thing that keeps people coming back is, as we call it here, the 'sauce.' If you can get past the simple burn (I say simple but, in reality, even the 'heat' is complex; the intensity grows with good staying power) which will over power the unprepared, you can appreciate the work and time that must have gone into preparing it. The sauce is made up of a number of flavors that have been carefully crafted with the hamburger base which has been pulverized into tiny pieces. As you mention, the sauce is obviously cooked for a VERY long time, with a scant few hot pepper flakes and the little bits of meat remain as the only visually recognizable ingredients.

Obviously, the remainder of the hot dog is merely a shuttle for the sauce. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I can't help but think that the overall hot dog would be even better with either a toasted bun or a premium wiener (preferably grilled). Understandably, neither of these two changes is likely to ever happen; for a number of reasons, not the least of which are cost control and quantity served.

Yes, the simple wiener, freshly chopped onions basic yellow mustard and the unique to this world sauce makes for a distinctive experience. Couple to that the chance that you might get to witness some 'dynamic' conversations with out-of-towners asking for something on their dog other than the classics and you begin to see what makes this place more than just a simple hot dog joint.

As I mentioned, I was quite pleased to see a favorable review of what is almost certainly my favorite hot dog joint. Having grown up in Fairmont, I can't recall a time that I didn't know about Yann's. It was always just a hot dog joint to me as a child, going there because that was where you went to get hotdogs. Having had the opportunity to visit a number of different locales in the past few years, I've grown more appreciative of the uniqueness that exists in Fairmont. There's just something about the dogs and the place, such that when the mood strikes, you can search the world far and wide for curt service and tasty, fiery dogs, but there is quite simply no replacement for a couple of Yann's hot dogs and a chocolate milk.

While I haven't yet had the opportunity to visit any of the 5 wienie rated hot dog joints from your site, I will concur with your 4.5 wienie rating. I concur for the simple fact that I have long recognized that there is room for improvement, and accept that the possible improvements will never be realized. Yann is indeed a master at his self defined art.

Well, as you can see, Kevin is a real hot dog fan and a pretty good wordsmith, so I have invited him to become our North Central West Viginia Operative. He has accepted the challenge and will soon be providing us with reviews from up north the same way that Chris James keeps us posted on Huntingon area hot dogs. Welcome, Kevin!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Putnam County Hot Dog Joint: Good Dogs at Tudor's--Teays Valley

When it comes to the holy trinity of West Virginia cuisine, there is much debate over who makes the best hot dogs and the perfect pepperoni rolls. People from the north, south, east, and west all have their general opinions while each town has their own specific preferences. Do dogs have sauce or chili? How much? Over or under the weenie? Is the slaw to be sweet or tangy? Does it have slaw at all? Does a proper pepperoni roll have cheese? Does it use stick or sliced 'roni? Should they be large or small?

There is, however, little debate over who has the best entry in terms of biscuits (the third component of the triumvirate of deliciousness), Tudor's Biscuit World. Previous reviews have discussed the presence of Dairy Queens in nearly every town in WV. Well, where there is a DQ, there is also often a Tudor's.

It is kind of hard to describe a Tudor's biscuit to someone not from the area. Imagine a biscuit from a major fast food chain, only like 1000x times better. They make gigantic homemade buttermilk biscuits from scratch (and I mean from scratch) and thick slices of bacon, sausage, and/or ham (like you would use at home) on them, real fried eggs (not that reconstituted egg-based product found at the national joints) and the best tasting cheese this side of the government commodity truck (by the way, I challenge anyone to make a better sandwich cheese than the US government. No, I'm not kidding.). If you don't believe me, go to a grouping of fast food joints by an interstate exit any morning. You will see a few out-of-staters at Mickey D's and BK and a shipload of people with WV tags at Tudor's.

In addition to God's own breakfast biscuit, Tudor's also serve lunch. As is the case with any self-respecting West Virginia establishment, hot dogs are among the items on their after-breakfast menu. While the biscuits are pretty uniform from Tudor's to Tudor's, these dogs can vary greatly depending on the franchise owner. For example, this site reviewed a Tudor's in Charleston a few months ago that had relatively pathetic dogs. And then there is the Teays Valley Tudor's.

Judging from the previous review, I really wasn't expecting too much from this dog. Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise.

I walked into the restaurant and noticed right away that the hot dog with "chili, slaw, and onions" was $1.49, a bit on the pricey side for a WV hot dog (though not as overboard as The Hottest Dog a few miles up the road in Hurricane). However, as soon as I placed my order, my spirits were lifted as I saw the kitchen staff go to work creating my dog. They were toasting the bun and grilling the weenie when I was distracted by someone carrying a tray that had a pigsworth of bacon. By the time that I regained my bearings, my dog was ready. So far, I am impressed by their service and thoughtfulness.

While I consider bun-tasting to be a somewhat extraneous endeavor, I am by no means opposed to the practice. It did make for a nice highlight flavor for the dog's overall taste. Same goes with the grilled weenie: unnecessary but appreciated. My main concern is that the bun and the sausage are of a particular quality, and I must say that both were superb on this particular hot dog ad get a 4 weenies score.

The slaw, on the other hand, was just barely not awful. It was very dry and neither sweet nor zingy. While it turned out to be quite photogenic and appetizing in appearance, it was basically just a heaping mound of finely chopped cabbage and carrots and tasted as such. It only gets 2 weenies.

Fortunately, the sauce/chili saved the day and erased any thoughts of the boring slaw. The sauce had the texture of a finely seasoned pile of ground beef with just enough liquid to keep it moist. The flavor was spiced, but not spicy, with all of the taste and aroma of a good bowl of chili. There could have been a bit more salt in the sauce, but that is my only complaint. I don't know if this would win the weenie award for best sauce, but it should at least be nominated. 4 weenies.

Overall, I give the hot dogs at Teays Valley Tudor's 4 weenies. The chili sauce and the quality of the bun and weenie more than make up for the crappy slaw. If you are from the Northern Panhandle or Fairmont and do not do the whole slaw thing, then this might be a good option for when you are travelin' through the area. Just ask for a dog with no slaw.

I can't guarantee, however, that you won't hear the cashier yell "one Yankee dog."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Chili" vs. "Sauce" Chapter IV

A reader who grew up on the west bank of the Ohio River but has lived in disparate places in Ohio and WV wrote with an interesting observation about the whole Sauce/Chili semantic wars. He writes:

"I've found that "chili" is the preferred phrase in the interior of both OH and WV while "sauce" is the word in the Ohio Valley proper."
This would explain why Huntingtonians call it "sauce" but does not account for Fairmont and Marion County. But as I wrote in the Yann's review, the stuff that Yann's puts on hot dogs really does not resemble chili at all, neither in appearance or in taste. It has a much finer texture that any chili sold in the Charleston area and the spice is so complex that chili powder is the least noticeable ingredient.

This might call for a Chili/Sauce map to go along with the Slaw Map. Maybe Professor Film Geek can assign the research to one of his classes. Just an idea.

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.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Huntington Hot Dog Joint: Far from Great Dogs at Farley's--Barboursville

Those who have taken Route 60 between Barboursville and Huntington have certainly noticed Farley's Famous Hot Dogs, a long-time roadside tradition for many in Cabell County. Farley's is located in an orange building that looks rather similar to the Stewart's Original Hot Dogs location on 5th Ave. This is due in part to the fact that Farley's was once affiliated with Stewart's, but severed their relationship when Stewart's stopped making their own root beer (apparently, Farley's still makes their own).

While I did not have any of the root beer, I did try their hot dogs with an order of crinkle cut fries (which are rapidly becoming my deal breaker between a merely good and a really great hot dog joint).

I wanted to like their food. I really really really did.

The place is so cool and nostalgic. The service is so great. The whole place represents survival of a mom 'n pop joint in the face of global multi-nationals and even against larger regional chains like Stewart's and Sam's Hot Dog Stand.

But, alas, this was one of the worst hot dogs that I have had since I began reviewing local joints.

No, the worst.

Well, at least the bun wasn't bad. But it totally goes downhill from there.

The wiener was not the quality that is typical of a Huntington HDJ. It had sort of a government-subsidized flavor and tasted, well, cheap. I guess if you must cut corners, it is better to do so with the weenie than the sauce or the slaw, but this particular frank was two steps below my minimum passible grade for a rating of "adequate."

The sauce was actually quite good, as the spice level was just right and there was a nice balance of ground beef-to-juice. However, there was just a smidge of it on the dog. It was almost like they were running out and were trying to save the last little bit until the next batch was heated up. The sauce was tastey enough that it alone could have sort-of saved the dog, but skimpiness doesn't cut it on a West Virginia hot dog.

Regulars of the site will note that onions are rarely commented upon in reviews unless they are particularly good or totally wrong. In this instance, the latter was the case. The onions were not diced or even chopped, but rather chunked. Furthermore, they were not sweet but rather the strongest, cheapest white onions this side of Aldi.

Now for the slaw. I've been pounding my head on just how to describe how bad it was, and this is what I came up with: imagine really bad instant grits that were made too runny and waaay too salty. Now imagine they were made for a diabetic. Now substitute the hominy for diced cabbage. Next, slop it all on a hot dog. Bingo.

In plainer words: Worst. Slaw. Ever.

To add insult to injury, the crinkle cut fries were soggy and completely unsalted (I guess they used all of their salt making the cole slaw). The final kick in the ribs was the fact that they serve Hunt's ketchup instead of Heinz. Unless it is 2004 and you are trying to make a political statement, there no rhyme, reason, or excuse to not serve Heinz ketchup with your fries. None. Serving anything else insults both the customers and the fries.

The sauce and the service both get 4 weenies, but that is it.

Everything else pulls it down. Way way way down.

Overall score: 1.5 weenies.

I will go back to try their root beer and get a bowl of the hot dog sauce (served as chili in a bowl). I'll probably have to wear a disguise, though.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Hot Dog Joint Review - Eleanor Dairy Queen

Eleanor, West Virginia (named for the patron saint of yellow-dog Democrats, Eleanor Roosevelt) is a very typical West Virginia town. The main street is the state highway that connects it to a half-dozen other small cities along the river, it has a Dollar General, a Rite Aid, a couple of gas stations and of course, a Dairy Queen.

Having received several email recommendations for the Eleanor DQ I was eager to try their hot dogs. Readers have been spot-on with their DQ recommendations in the past and I had confidence that it would be worth the drive to sample these dogs, so off I went.

The DQ sits right where you'd expect it, along the main road about halfway through town. It has decent parking if you want to eat in and a drive thru if you don't. I was in a hurry so I got mine to go, but I parked and went inside to check out the place. It was standard DQ, through and through.

"Everything" means chili, slaw, mustard and onions. The very first thing I noticed is that the chili and onions were on top of the slaw: An interesting twist. Since the slaw was covered by a layer of chili it was difficult to sample it apart from the rest of the hot dog. The chili tasted like it was standard DQ coney sauce that had been doctored to have more flavor and a touch more spice. It was pretty good, but not great.

All together, the hot dog was very good, but the bun seemed to be straight out of the plastic bag with no steaming, toasting or grilling of any kind. This speaks to a lack of great care in preparation that sort of defined the whole dog for me. It seemed to be an attempt to have a hot dog that was a cut above the average DQ dog, but fell short of those offered at the Clendenin or Nitro locations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Huntington Hot Dog Joint: Sufficient Sustenance at Stewart's--Huntington Mall

Between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, the Huntington Mall in Barboursville becomes a hyper, hectic, and hysterical shirne to everyday capitalism at its most fevered pitch. Shoppers push, pull, tug, and trek to get the best holiday deals on toys, clothes, collectibles, and fine-ish jewelry.

Last weekend my wife and I decided to get it over with before that final push of steel---the proverbial Pickett's Charge---in the last couple of days before the 25th so that we may enjoy our son's first Xmas with minimal shopping-related violence/injuries/misdemeanors.

In order to fuel up for the marathon of value that awaited us, we decided to stop by the Stewart's Original Hot Dogs located near the center of the mall.

After waiting in line for quite some time (more so the result of a large crowd than poor service), we received our grub and dug into what is voted year after year as Huntington's favorite hot dog (if the Herald-Dispatch is to be believed, anyway).

I got a dog with sauce, slaw, onions, and mustard (the ususal) and a root beer. As is always the case at Stewart's, I got my hot dog wrapped in a napkin with the toppings placed under the weenie. In my opinion, this inverted fixins approach is a recipe for a soggy mess of a dog. It isn't so bad if you are going to eat the sausage immediately, but even putting off your meal for the duration of a trip back to the house or work can result in mushy mayhem.

As far the dog's components go, the bun was fresh, even for a Huntington dog, and the weenie was a tasty Cavalier frank, which means that is likely has never been frozen. So far, so good.

The slaw was very good. It had a nice texture, a perfect sweetness, and that certain zingy tartness that is found only in great cole slaw (for those not from West Virginia, southeastern Ohio or eastern Kentucky, think KFC slaw, only, um, better). While there are a few other slaws that I prefer to Stewart's, the chain certainly has nothing to be embarrassed about in the cabbage 'n mayo department.

Now to the sauce. I don't know how to say this. I am worried that I will lose my Huntington citizenship and be forced to move to Charleston (gasp) with the bureaucrats and technocrats and accountants and lawyers and, chillingly, legislators if I let this be known.

OK, I'll just blurt it out. Here we go. 1, 2, 3.


Ok, I feel better. I've come out of the napkin and I'm proud (I know my friends will be supportive, but I'm really nervous about telling my dad).

Seriously, though, I really do not like the sauce. There is little to no beef in the finished product, which tastes similar to Vietti's canned hot dog chili (only with a smoother texture).

Well, I guess hate may be too strong of a word, as I am capable of eating it on a dog when I have to. I suppose that I just dislike the fact that they can pawn off a cheap, bean-based sauce on the city and that a good portion of my fellow citizens are not only pcan't get enough of it. I've even heard a rumor that the owner of one of the rival area hot dog joints is secretly addicted to the stuff (hint: they have much better hot dogs than Stewart's). But not me.

Therefore, I am going to get one of my friend's that loves the stuff to join me when I review the 5th Ave Stewart's and try to get them to help me see the error in my judgment of Stewart's Original blah dog sauce.

Overall, I give the Stewart's Huntington Mall location 3 weenies. Not great, but it works as spot to get a quick weenie or root beer (not as good as Frostop, but still very good) fix when power shopping at the mall.

More on the mystery of Stewart's love-it-or-hate-it sauce to come.

Monday, December 11, 2006

HDJ Review - Jane Lew Family Restaurant

Since I used this neat little restaurant as an authority for my slaw line research, I thought I should at least give it a quick review of its own.

As I have written before, hot dogs are and obligitory menu offering at locally owned restaurants in West Virginia. Often times restaurants that have excellent food otherwise just don't do a great job with the obligitory hot dogs. Sadly, this is the case with the Jane Lew Family Restaurant. Even though this little gem of a restaurant has great home-cooked food and a full menu of classic West Virginia comfort foods, it's hot dogs are kind of lackluster.

The slaw, while thankfully included as a standard item, is vinegary and coarse. The chili is fairly good but overwhelmed by the slaw. Too much mustard and onions that were chopped way to coarsely and of the type that are way too strong. Overall a mediocre WVHD. But that's OK because it's obligatory, right?

If you are traveling I79 and find yourself hungry around mile marker 100 or so, you should defintely stop at Jane Lew Family Restaurant for their friendly as home service and fantastic home cooked meals (they have a nightly buffet that is to die for) but just don't bother with the hot dogs.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

That New Hot Dog Smell!

I like my hot dogs to go. Almost always when I stop at a new place to pick up a hot dog to review, I get it to go. One reason is that a hot dog that is steamed and wrapped properly gets really nice and gooey during the drive to wherever I plan on enjoying it. The other reason is because you get a lot of funny looks when you eat and photograph a hot dog for a review. I prefer to make a fool of myself in private. Or at least in the privacy of my own car. But this practice has revealed yet another property of WVHDs that deserve some thought.

The other day after a double review day I picked up my daughter after school. It had been three hours since I had devoured the last bit of hot dog, but as soon as my daughter got in the car she looked askance at me and said "you had hot dogs for lunch, didn't you?" I knew what tipped her off, and it wasn't the mustard stain on my shirt. My car had that new hot dog smell.

Now for some, the odor of chili and onions lingering on the upholstery of an otherwise clean automobile might seem like a bad thing; my daughter would reside in this camp. But to some people, namely me, the scent that greets me each time I enter the vehicle is perfume and the longer it stays around the better I like it.

But I've noticed that all hot dog aromas aren't created equal when it comes to staying power. I have begun to see a pattern of which hot dog flavor qualities translate to a scent that will stick with you the longest. For example, the more onions on a hot dog, the longer the scent sticks around in your car. But there is also a correlation between staying power and how brown the sauce is: The browner the better. I'm not sure why this is.

More research is definitely needed in this area.

BTW, I posted a new, more complete slaw map over at All counties are now documented, albeit some on very little data. I'm open to corrections if you have any information on outlying counties.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hot Dog Joint Review - Winfield Dairy Freeze

When I heard about the Winfield Dairy Freeze I pictured a typical little roadside ice cream stand, the kind that sells sundaes and soft-serve cones and pretty good hot dogs. Boy was I wrong.

This is not your ordinary glass and aluminum drive up. It has a full eat-in dining room and a menu with items you would not expect at a place called "Dairy Freeze". I would imagine that the place was originally a little drive-in and it has evolved into its present form over the course of many years. It was probably the only fast-food place in town for decades and probably expanded its menu to satisfy hungry locals. It apparently has the nickname "The Freeze" and you can buy a shirt that proves it.

I've received a bunch of emails about The Freeze and decided it was finally time to try it out. I was warned to go during the day when the owner because she makes the dogs and "does them up right." Well, I can issue my own warning about going in the daytime: It's really hard to get in the door at lunchtime. The drive thru was just as crowded. People obviously think The Freeze is the place to be.

Once I made it inside I found a quaint dining room decorated in a 1950's Rock and Roll and Muscle Car motif. Seating for 30 or and clean as a pin. The menus on the walls were full of great sounding items and the place smelled wonderful; nothig like your typical dairy bar greasy smoke smell.

Everything on the hot dog, I was told, included chili, slaw, onions, mustard and (sigh) ketchup. I told them to hold the ketchup. When my to-go dog arrived it was wrapped nicely in a wax paper sleeve. When I opened it up I felt the distinctive warm softness that told me this bun had been well-steamed. The weight of the hot dog was excellent and it smelled great.

Inside the bun I found a great tasting weenie and classic tasting Southern W.Va. hot dog chili with a little spice and a whole lotta taste. The slaw was a little coarse but tasted great. The onions were plentiful and pretty strong; their aroma lasted a long time on me and in my car.

This hot dog is very, very good. It is classic in its presentation, taste, smell and tactile properties. It is virtually a clone of a Skeenie's hot dog. It is a great specimen of a WVHD.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bad News for The Hot Dog Barn

A Morgantown reader sent along this news:

"Sad news. I went to the Hot Dog Barn today in
Morgantown and she will be going out of business 12/8.
Turns out the City of Morgantown sent her a letter
stating she must put her "barn" on a permanent
foundation or apply for a pedlers license. Problem is,
with a pedlers license, she must move the "barn"
everyday, which is impossible. She has 15 days to
comply. Therefore, she must close. What a crock! Just
when Mo-Town got a pretty good HDJ! They also want her
to repair the sidewalk."

If there are any readers out there with any pull with Morgantown officials, please try to intervene! This is a Five-Weenie hot dog joint and small business that fills a niche in your town. Let's pull together hot dog fans!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fairmont Hot Dog Joint - Hometown Hot Dogs

South of Fairmont in the area known as White Hall, just across from the Middletown Mall, just down old Route 73 sits Hometown Hotdogs. This HDJ is usually mentioned in the same circles as Yann's and Lupo's and since it is by far the most accessible, it gets to the be the first of the Fairmont HDJs reviewed by

Hometown Hotdogs is, like most good HDJs, an unassuming looking little place. It is a hot dog joint in every respect but it also has on the menu that other Fairmont favorite, pepperoni rolls. There are other things on the menu like nachos, stuffed baked potatos, sandwiches and the usual side items like fries and onion rings.

Sine this is after all, Marion County, I went in fully expecting to being forced to eat a hot dog with no slaw (I don't subcribe to Chris James' old "when in Rome" thing, at least when I have a choice). Imagine my surprise when the menu offered slaw as the first item in the optional topping list! I really hope the Marion County coleslaw cops don't find out about this.

With a renewed optimism I ordered up not one, but two with chili (OK, sauce), slaw, mustard and onions. When the dogs were presented I was surprised again with a nice helping of slaw on top. "Strange things are afoot," I thought. I thought about going to the car and checking a map to make sure I was still in Marion County. But after tasting the sauce/chili I was brought back to reality: The "medium" sauce I ordered was plenty hot enough for my southern W. Va. taste buds. And it was very good. It had a wonderful flavor and perfect texture. But the slaw, well, it looked pretty good and had decent texture, but I found myself wishing it were sweeter to offest the spicy sauce/chili. But it wasn't bad for contraband.

Weenie was OK. The buns could have used a good steaming and the onions were coarse, but overall the dogs were pretty good.

I really think I should give extra points for the bravery exhibited by the owners for having slaw available. Maybe I can coax other Marion County HDJs to follow suit by bribing them with the promise of a 5 Weenie rating and thereby help move the slaw line north. I'm torn between my responsibility as a journalistic soldier in the new media and my fervor to be a bearer of the good news of slaw for all God's children!

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