We've been getting email from people who love the hot dogs at the Hinton Dairy Queen practically since WVHotDogs.com has been in existence. I've heard about the grilled English buns and the crazy way they put the chili on top of the slaw. I've heard about the dining room with the great view of the New River and I've heard about the hordes of people who show up there for hot dogs. And after hearing this for so long, I finally got a chance to see for myself.
Now, it's not that I haven't eaten at this Dairy Queen before; I have. I have spent quite a bit of time in Hinton over the years beginning in about 1970 when Pipestem State Park was under construction and my dad's company was a sub-contractor on the project. I actually stayed for weeks on end at the Sandman Motel which sits right next door to the DQ. So I have eaten there many times, but not in the past few years and certainly not since I've been doing hot dog reviews.
But for those who haven't been there, let me tell you a little about it: The major feature of this DQ is the really nice two-tier dining room that looks out over the New River. The lower level is not more that ten feet above the water's surface and faces what could either be called a small rapid or a large riffle. Whatever it is, it gives diners a little bit of white water to look at while they eat (incidentally, just a few yards down the river is raft company outpost where you can embark on a pretty tame whitewater adventure on a stretch of river suitable for smaller kids). Upstream you can see the confluence of the New and the Greenbrier River, and just up the stream from there is the massive Bluestone Dam which holds back the waters of Bluestone Lake.
The New, in Hinton, is wide and shallow. It is not unusual to see hip-wader clad anglers in the middle of the river hunting smallmouth bass. The view across the river from the DQ is one of complete natural Wild Wonderful West Virginia, except for the McDonald's golden arches sign protruding up obscenely from behind the tree line and a lone cell phone tower on top of the high ridge beyond the riverbank.
With its view of the river, trees and mountains this little dining room rivals any I have seen for sheer atmosphere. A full size fireplace at one end of the room belies the fact that this is a fast-food joint. You might expect to be served by a tuxedo-clad waiter in such a aesthetically pleasing place as this.
Ordering your food, though, will quickly bring you back to reality. One must speak one's order through a window to one of about five or six cute teenage girls who busily scurry about the back and call the order numbers out to the waiting patrons. Mine was number 171.
The first thing I noticed as soon as I pulled the dog out of it's wrapping was the aforementioned upside-down chili presentation. I had been warned, but seeing it in real life was a bit disturbing. I quote from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council's Hot Dog Ettiquette web page:
Condiments should be applied in the following order: wet condiments like mustard and chili are applied first, followed by chunky condiments like relish, onions and sauerkraut......and I will add, coleslaw.
Putting hot chili on top of cool slaw means you have cool chili and hot coleslaw. This is an abomination.
But I got over it.
One good thing that comes of the upside down presentation is it gave me a chance to really taste the chili with no interference from mustard or slaw. So I can tell you exactly what it tastes like. It tastes exactly like ground beef. Exactly. Nothing else, just ground beef. My wife said she tasted a hint of chili powder, but I'm not so sure that wasn't just the power of suggestion: It is called "chili" after all. The texture of the chili was nearly perfect, but the taste was simply beefy. Not that it wasn't good, mind you, but it lacked flavors you'd expect to find in hot dog chili.
But as accessible as was the chili, the hidden slaw was as difficult to isolate for a proper taste sampling. What I could taste seemed very good, but a little chunky maybe.
The grilled English bun was tasty and satisfying, but we know the place of English buns in the West Virginia hot dog world, don't we? They're kind of like Grandma's good china: a good change of pace, but not for everyday use.
Coming up with a Weenie Rating for this HDJ was not easy. I had the whole drive back to Charleston to mull it over and still am not completely satisfied, but here it is: Starting with 3 Weenies, just on the merits of the dog, and adding a half point for atmosphere isn't quite enough. At least a quarter point is demanded by the overwhelming support of its fans. We'll round it up to 4 Weenies.
I know this is going to disappoint a bunch of loyal supporters who have repeatedly emailed trying to get us to Hinton. But this hot dog lacks anything really special like over the top great chili or amazing slaw that would put it into the upper echelon of WVHDs. Except for the upside down presentation there is nothing extraordinary about this hot dog.