Friday, June 29, 2007

Dunbar HDJ Review - Cock of the Walk

Cock of the Walk is a brand new restaurant that specializes primarily in hot wings. It shares space (but thankfully, not breathing air) with a mini-casino and seems to have the same owners since the two businesses co-exist so closely. I noticed that food orders were even delivered through the door that separated the two.

One of the many signs outside told of daily lunch specials and used other words to indicate that wings were not all they served inside, and even though hot dogs weren't explicitly mentioned, I thought the place had the look. I was right. Hot dogs hold a special place on the menu. And not just any hot dogs, "Almost Heaven West Virginia Hot Dogs" is what the menu claimed. Count me in! I was told, fittingly, that "everything" was mustard, chili, slaw and onions.

While I waited on my order I looked around the place at the bright and colorful decor. Cock of the Walk is a very nice place with the configuration of a classic bar and grill but much cleaner and more sophisticated looking. The menu seems to be well though out with a smattering of basic bar and grill specials along with some things you wouldn't expect to find, like roasted corn.

When my hot dog arrived I noticed it was served on a grilled English bun and was beautifully presented with a a nice head of slaw. The slaw was finely chopped and very, very good. It covered chili that was also very, very good and they tasted like they were meant for each other.

Now the thing about a hot dog on an English bun is that it is more voluminous than one made on a basic bun. The bigger bun allows for more toppings and the bun itself has more oomph to it. I don't see how people eat two of these. One sure does it for me.

But when I finished my hot dog at COTW, I confess, I really wanted another one because it was so good. My belly said "no" but my tastebuds cried for more. Belly won.

I've not given a Five Weenie rating to any HDJ that uses an English bun, and I'm not going to start now, but Cock of the Walk gets a strong Four and Half Weenie score.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Charleston HDJ Review - Hillbilly Gourmet

Good news travels fast.

Yesterday a new hot dog stand opened for business in Kanawha City. This evening two people emailed with the news, but they were too late since a co-worker had already told me about it this morning!

Hillbilly Gourmet is a HDJ on wheels that sits on the sidewalk outside the Division of Motor Vehicles entrance of the Kanawha Mall. They serve hot dogs, chips, soft drinks and I'm not sure what else. They plan on being at this location all summer and they plan to be open 9:30-6 every weekday. Weekend hours might be in the offing as well.

The two young college students running the stand said it was for them a summer job. They told me that the cart was home made and that there was another one at the Kanawha City pool. The cart has everything you need to serve up some scrumptious hot dogs and comply with the health department rules. It looks nice and seems functional.

When I heard that the man who owns the stand makes chili and slaw fresh every day, I was really eager to sink my teeth into this review.

Of course, hot dog carts have natural limitations: You really can't steam buns and unless you have a really, really deluxe cart, you can't grill the weenies. But there's no reason you can't have a pot of great chili and a nice cool bucket of slaw, so I had hope for this little HDJ even though an "everything" dog included ketchup.

But in spite of the ketchup (which I deleted from my order) right away I could tell that Hillbilly Gourmet was serious about hot dogs when I saw the slaw that the weenieista dished out. It was finely chopped and looked like grandma made it. Tasted like it too. Fantastic! Sweet, flavorful and absolutely perfect texture. The only quibble I had was that the portion was a bit small and didn't cover the chili completely.

The chili, while not being spicy or very complex tasting, was as deliciously meaty as any I've tasted. You folks who like all chili and no slaw; this HDJ is definitely for you. Great flavor and texture. The chili is runny enough to soak into the bun nicely, too.

Weenie-wise, this dog was larger than normal and tastier than normal. Good all-beef weenie that seemed to have been kept hot with dry heat rather than sitting in a pot of water. The bun was a bun and the onions were tasty.

The natural limitations of a portable stand notwithstanding, this is a great HDJ. I am tempted to award a Five out of Five Weenie score, but without steamed buns it just doesn't seem right. But then again, the Hillbilly Gourmet deserves at least a half point for being the ONLY hot dog stand in all of Charleston, so a Fiver it is! Congratulations Hillbilly Gourmet, you truly do have "food worth feudin' for!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

Humbled is not the right word for how this makes me feel. Humbled Squared maybe. The bloggers extraordinaire over at Hillbilly Savants have published their list for The Thinking Blogger Awards. Who would believe that anyone's list of "five blogs that make you think" would include a blog about hot dogs? I sure wouldn't have guessed it, but I am very proud. Especially coming from the guys and gals at Hillbilly Savants, whom I consider blogger royalty, this is an honor.

As penance for my selection I have the awesome responsibility of publishing my own list. How can I pick only five? Oh well, here goes:

1. Hillbilly Savants - I didn't see anything in the rules about reciprocity, but there is not another blog I read that makes me think nearly as much as HS. As I read the stories of my homeland, Appalachia, I often feel homesick even though I haven't left.

2. The Film Geek - TFG doesn't review movies as much as comments on how he feels when he watches them and how they affect him. Motivational speaker Charlie "Tremendous" Jones notes that you will be the same person in five years, except for the people you meet and the books you read. TFG affirms Stanton's corollary to Jones' law: "And the movies you see."

3. s.m. ART -
Sharon is the best writer I have ever read in a blog. She takes my breath away on a daily basis. I am still waiting for the book.

4. A Star From Mosul - A young Iraqi girl writing about her life during wartime. No news reports can compare with the coverage of the war this blog provides.

5. Charlestonian - Another too infrequent poster, the usually light-hearted Charles has the ability to go deep when something matters to him.

Second Chance Review - Swiftwater Cafe

Despite winning the Weenie Award for having Charleston's best weenie in 2006, Swiftwater Cafe in downtown Charleston only merited a 4 Weenie rating on its overall hot dog. Since Swiftwater is convenient to my office I stop in frequently and I noticed the overall quality has been getting better and better. Owner Teddy Queen also emailed me last fall and told me that he had a new slaw recipe and invited me back for a taste.

Recently I met another blogger at Swiftwater for lunch, and since it was Second Chance Month I thought I'd go ahead and give it an official re-review:

The Boar's Head weenie is still great. The chili is meaty and has a nice flavor, but lacks in the spice department; not unlike most Charleston HDJ chili. Too bad, because the new slaw recipe would really be dynamite on top of some really spicy and complex chili. It is nicely sweet and has a great texture and color.

Steamed buns would be nice, but I've at least never had a cold or stale tasting bun from Swiftwater.


While I have no data to back it up, I get the feeling that Swiftwater dogs are a bit healthier than most. The weenie tastes more lean than most, the chili doesn't seem to be excessively greasy and the slaw doesn't seem to be loaded with fatty mayo. The whole thing just seems a little fresher that any other hot dog available in downtown Charleston.

I feel I need to bump Swiftwater a half-point to 4 1/2 Weenies.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The HDJ Formerly Known As Midway Set To Return

I was cruising through west-central Huntington today and snapped this photo:

(Thanks for the heads-up, TFG)

For those who do not remember, Midway Drive-in was a popular hot dog joint in the area of the old glass plant. It closed recently when delinquent taxes caught up with the owners and they had no choice but to shutter the place. The building was recently purchased by a new owner and they look to open up soon.

I, for one, can't wait to try 'em out.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The W.Va. Hot Dog Festival is Coming!


The organizers of the Third Annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival have got a brand new website with all of the information on this year's festival in Huntington. Check it out.

One word of advice: Mandate that all hot dog vendors have slaw. Either that or change the festival name to "The Huntington Hot Dog Festival".

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Elkins Area HDJ Review - Bob's Hot Dogs

I've been getting mail about Bob's for a long time and I was glad when a recent trip to the mountains afforded me the opportunity to finally check it out. While some folks told me that they had great hot dogs, the main thing I heard about Bob's was that they have an incredible selection. This last assertion is not in dispute: There are well over a hundred combinations on the menu board that takes up an entire wall of the roadside stand. In fact, one of the non-standard hot dogs on the menu was the reason I made Bob's a mandatory stop on this trip. As I approached the Norton turnoff on Corridor H, I was already salivating over the prospect of the treat that awaited me: A combination of the two most scrumptious food items in the state: Ramps and Hot Dogs. But when I got there I quickly found out that Ramp Dogs were out of season.

I opted, instead, for a customized version of their "Slaw Dog" (I only had to ask for onions and mustard - it included chili) so I could give Bob's an apples-to-apples comparison with hot dogs from the rest of the state.

Not a lot to say about this hot dog: The bun was OK, the weenie was OK, the slaw was not too good. The most remarkable thing was the chili: It was the most perfect texture I have ever seen. It was meaty but the meat was so fine that the sauce was liquid enough to be poured over the top of the dog. It tasted good, but it was the texture that I'll remember most.

I'll put a note on my calendar to head back to Bob's in the springtime, but the modified slaw dog only rates a 3 Weenie rank.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Second Chance Review: Hillbilly Hot Dogs-Lesage

Last month it was a bad encounter at this HDJ that gave the initial inspiration for second chance month at WVhotdogs.com. I have eaten here dozens of times and had always enjoyed my experience, that is until it actually mattered. When I went for the review, I caught them with their pants down, so to speak. The bun was stale and the service was crap and they only racked up a 3 weenie rating.

This time around, things got back to normal right quick. The first good omen was that Sharie was present and took my order (neither her nor Sonny was around the time that they bombed). If there are two business people in West Virginia that are more committed to ensuring that their customers have a A++ experience every single time that they patronize an establishment, I haven't met them yet. Unlike the notoriously grumpy Yann or the silent weenie artist at 8th St. Sam's, the owners of HBHD genuinely give a damn about their customers feelings. These two embody the idealized notion of the friendly, warm-hearted Appalachian and should be given honorary MBAs from the Lewis College of Business at Marshall University for successfully applying this outlook to a business model.
As for the specific bun issue, that didn't seem to be a problem. They apparently tied up the bags the previous night and the bun was Huntington-fresh, as I always demand.

The slaw was the same ol'HBHD slaw, which isn't my favorite (I've called it "left-coaster rabbit food" in the past), but for whatever reason, it works well with the sauce and, in Huntington, its all about the sauce as much as it is the slaw.

Speaking of the sauce, it seemed just a notch spicier today. The chili powder-tastic concoction was super beefy and probably helluh-expensive to make. Although I am on record as a total mark for Sam's Hot Dog Stand's sauce, this batch of HBHD sauce really has me pondering my weenie convictions. It really went well with the peppery slaw and, as noted in my earlier review of the downtown franchise, created a situation where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

The crinkle-cut fries were really good, too. They were freshly prepared when I made my order and were neither soggy nor overcooked.

This specific experience, coupled with 97% of all of the other times that the James family has ventured up WV 2 to Lesage, earns the original HBHD's a weenie rating bump. A big bump, as a matter of fact. They now join M & M Dairy Bell as only the second Huntingtonland HDJ to earn a much-coveted 5 weenie rating. Seriously, this is a can't-miss spot for anyone visiting Moneyton and a great place for locals to take visiting in-laws, college professors, and clients.

Congratulations, Sonny and Sharie, your countless hours of toil and sweat have paid off, big time, and Huntington is a better place for it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Second Chance Review - Skeenies Hot Dogs

Skeenies Hot Dogs was one of the very first HDJs that was reviewed on the WV Dog Blog. It scored a 4 Weenie rank, primarily because you don't want to give the top score to the first competitor in case someone later has an unexpectedly flawless performance. So I've always felt a little guilty about giving Skeenies, a place I always has thought was a superior hot dog joint, a 4 Weenie ranking. I was glad when Second Chance Month came around so I could give them a fair shot at glory.

Tradition holds that real West Virginia Hot Dogs were born at the Stopette Drive In on Rt. 21 just outside the Charleston city limits. The Stopette, it is told by sages, was the very first place to put coleslaw on top of a chili dog sometime in the 1920s. Well Skeenies is located just a stone's throw from the site of the old Stopette and one can't dismiss the possibility that there is a cosmic connection or some good hot dog karma has lept through time and into Skeenies hot dogs. There's got to be some reason for how good they are.

Sitting alongside Rt. 21 where it has been since the 1960's (or earlier), Skeenies hasn't changed one iota in all these years, nor have their hot dogs. The chili is still wonderfully spicy, complex and perfect in consistency. Skeenies slaw has always been among the best ever and is a perfect match for the chili. The buns are still perfectly steamed and the hot dogs are still served in a wax paper sleeve so they stay soft and wonderful. Onions are plentiful and weenies are tasty and well prepared.

After one bite I realized I had made a mistake last time: This hot dog is definitely more than a 4. After eating two hot dogs, I am ready to make it official: Skeenies is as good as any hot dog in town, county or state. It certainly deserves a full-fledged Five Weenie rank.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Not Exactly a HDJ Review - Kruzer Dogs

"You've gotta come to the cruise-in this weekend and try our Kruzer Dogs" said email after email. The Klassy Kruzers Car Club has roving "cruise-ins" all summer long during which they sell, according to members, some of the best hot dogs around. Apparently a few of the women in the club make the chili and slaw and they sell them as fund raisers at each cruise-in. We normally don't review such ad-hoc hot dogs (like those at church hot dog sales and other such events), but since cruise-ins happen all summer long and Kruzer Dogs will be available at all of them, I figured I might as well go ahead and rate 'em (and I knew the club members were going to keep hounding me until I did).

I finally was able to make a cruise in held at the Dunbar McDonalds parking lot in early June and had myself a Kruzer Dog. The very first thing I noticed was it was cheap. $1 each. I got a hot dog and a can of pop and it was $1.50. "I thought this was a fund raiser" I said to the lady taking the money. She said I was correct, that it was a fund raiser. "This is way too cheap!" I said. "You could charge a lot more and make a lot more money." She just smiled and shrugged as if to say "it's not my department" and took the next customer's paltry payment.

The chili on my Kruzer Dog was thick and chunky. The flavor was OK but lacked complexity.

The slaw was very good, plentiful and very pretty. Sweet and creamy and very nicely chopped.

Overall, just a decent hot dog, but when you can eat it standing next to a 1964 Shelby Cobra it certainly adds a level of ambiance that you can't get just anywhere. We'll give Kruzer Dogs a better than average 3 1/2 Weenie score.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Second Chance Review: Frostop

Actually, this is a third chance review. A while back, Stanton gave the restaurant that arguably has Huntington's most iconic and memorable landmark (the spinning mug o' root beer) on it a lukewarm review. In my first ever review for WVhotdogs.com, I was even less kind to Frostop. While I praised them for everything from bbq sandwiches to root beer to crinkle-cut fries, I ripped them a new one in terms of hot dog quality.

In order to help me give them one last reprieve from weenie purgatory and an outside shot at a weenie award, I enlisted The Film Geek, a local independent blogger (when did that term stop being an oxymoron, by the way?) and good friend of WVhotdogs.com, who is on record as being a big fan of Frostop's hot dogs.

The original plan was for TFG to explain to me what Stanton and I were missing about the wiener offerings at the 'top while I snarled unconvinced at both he and their soggy upside-down dogs (they put the sauce under the weenie).
Things did not go as planned. TFG didn't have to say a word to sell me on the fact that Frostop was actually capable of making a good dawg when they put their mind to it. The weenie spoke for itself.
It turns out that one of two things happened: either we caught them on bad days last summer or they actually have made an effort to improve the quality of their hot dogs (I guess and hope that the former is the case).

The sauce, while still awkwardly placed directly on the bun, seemed thicker and seasoned with more salt and chili powder than last time. A bit mild for my tastes, but a noticeable improvement from last year.

The bun and weenie were good 'n fresh, as is expected for all Huntington dogs.

The biggest miss last time around was the cole slaw. In '06, it tasted of something that was made in Carolina for a barbeque sandwich, put in a cracked Coleman cooler, and driven to Huntington via back roads and two-lane state highways. My wife, who is in possession of a very acute palate, speculated that the slaw was probably old and was about ready to be chucked. This time around, however, the slaw was very good. It was rather tart (with still with hints of Miracle Whip), but sweeter and creamier than before. I'm tempted to---as an experiment---get a slawless Sam's spicy sauce dog and put some of this slaw on it to see what happens when tart meets heat (sounds like hot dog blog fodder for a slow month this autumn).
Overall, I'm going to bump Frostop up to a 3.5 weenie rating based on the overall vibe of the joint and the improvement of the product. If this had been the only review, It might have gone as high as 4.5, but consistency is a must for a truly great WV hot dog and, unless my next few visits are great, Frostop has to remain a B-list HDJ for the time being.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Buckhannon HDJ Review - T&L Hot Dogs

A brand new building: Something that usually doesn't shout "great hot dogs here!" As a general rule, the best WVHDs are found in buildings with peeling paint and faded signs. It's as if they put their money into the hot dog and instead of the building. So I was skeptical when I was told that there was a brand new T&L Hot Dogs in Buckhannon and wasn't in a big hurry to get up that way to check it out. But I finally made it.

Now I know that T&L has good hot dogs from my previous experience with them. When I pulled up to the shiny new brick building I was confident that I would get a decent hot dog, but what I got was a little different than I expected.

The building is very nice and still smells new on the inside. Big for a hot dog joint, this restaurant looks like it would hold 50 or 60 diners comfortably. It felt very clean and was generally a nice place to eat.

Nice, that is if you like nearly perfect hot dogs.

No exaggeration, this is a nearly perfectly executed WVHD. The spicy chili was complex, had a great texture and was served in abundance. The cole slaw, although I had to ask for it specifically, was awesome: It was finely chopped, had wonderful texture, flavor and color. The bun was soft and seemed to be steamed, although I didn't witness the steaming, and the weenie was excellent.

The only negative thing I could say about this hot dog is that it was served in a Styrofoam coffin.
My quandary is that T&L is a chain, and I am reticent to award a Five Weenie rating to a chain since people often expect that all the locations are the same. I can't violate my own rule.

Oh yes I can.

I give T&L Hot Dogs of Buckhannon a Five Weenie rank. It comes with this disclaimer: Not all T&L Hot Dog locations can claim this rating until they have proven worthy on their own merits.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Newcastle, Australia Hot Dog Joint: Harry's Cafe de Wheels

A little known fact about WVhotdogs.com is that our corporate charter was originally drafted to closely resemble the Texas State Constitution (i.e. we copied it to a word file and used the "find & replace" function). As our Long Horned friends know, there is a quirk in the document that states that whenever the Governor leaves the state, the Lieutenant Governor takes over until his or her honor returns. Well, as Executive Vice President of the Huntington Region for WVhotdogs.com, I took advantage of the loophole to hire a foreign correspondent, cash in all of Stanton's frequent flier miles, and send her to Newcastle, Australia so that she could check out this one hot dog stand, Harry's Cafe de Wheels, that I've heard about from a couple of friends that studied abroad at a university in the suburb of Sydney.

Here is what our correspondent, Ellie Linger, had to say:

Ellie's first comment was on the eclectic nature of the toppings. While Americans are used to some dramatic weenie variations in their weenies (heck, even WVians can't agree from county to county about how to properly season sauce and slaw), I ain't ne'er heard of nothing like this before. When she ordered a hot dog with everything, here is what she got: mushy peas, garlic, onions, chili con carne (with beans, but when in Rome...), white cheese sauce, and a Thai chili hot sauce.

As for the weenie, Ellie reported that the sausage had a different taste from any that she has had stateside. This is likely due to lamb meat being used in place of beef and regionally popular spices

The overall taste of the dog, due to the Thai sauce and the seasonings in the weenie, was very very very spicy. While it was a bit spicier than she liked, she did note that it would be a great taste treat before, during, and/or after consumption of a Australian lager (or six) and the heat would have the effect of rushing sobriety-inducing endorphins into the bloodstream.

As for the cost, Ellie shelled out AUS$4.95 (about US$4), but she got her money's worth, as the weenie was the about the size of a baby's arm (likely to appeal to the dingo market). It was waaaay more food than a petite American could scarf in one sitting.

Ellie gives Harry's an honorary 4 weenie rating. She says that the first few bites were 5 weenie-caliber, but by the end it was down to 3 weenies. Hence, the law of averages comes into play.

As for Stanton, don't worry too much for him and his depleted frequent flier miles account. My guess is that by the time that he builds his miles back up to the previous level, Cuba will be once again open to tourists and space flight might even be an option, so he will have numerous options rather than that boring trip to Disney World that he had been planning for years.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Buckhannon HDJ Review - Dairy Queen


I've written before of the charming main street in Buckhannon, West Virginia. A big part of the charm of the place is the old buildings that are so unchanged by time that they could serve as a 1950's movie set with no touch up required. This is especially true of the very cool and way-retro Dairy Queen building.

There is not another old Dairy Queen I know of in the state that is as well preserved as this one. The neon sign is from the era before terms like "branding" made every DQ look exactly alike, with the big lemon-shaped red and white DQ logo. This sign is blue and white with a big ice cream cone jutting out over your head while you stand at the window to place your order. The building does has the red shingle mansard that became part of the DQ brand later on, but other than menus and interior signage none of the modern day DQ look is evident.

The service is old school, too. The young ladies that were working the day I stopped by were delightfully helpful. They cheerfully told me that "everything" was chili, slaw, mustard, onions and took my order enthusiastically. As I left with my order they seemed to earnestly mean it when they told me to enjoy my hot dog. When they asked me why I was taking a picture of their workplace I didn't tell them about this blog, but I did tell them that their DQ was one of the coolest in the whole state. They seemed to be pleased with my answer and said lots of people took pictures of the place but they could never figure out why.

But as neat and different as the restaurant is, the hot dog was fairly predictable and fairly average. The chili tasted like regular DQ Coney sauce with extra meat added. The slaw was the same kind of lowest common denominator food service slaw that most mediocre HDJs serve, with big, chewy chunks of slaw with not much flavor. The bun wasn't steamed and the weenie seemed like one of the small caliber type that I have encountered before in central WV HDJs.

Style points for the HDJ itself pushes the rating to 3 Weenies. It's one of those cool little places I would go for atmosphere and endure a lesser hot dog.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Second Chance Review - Romeo's


When we came up with the idea to make June "Second Chance Month" it was primarily to give those HDJs that just missed a second chance to be included in then running for next month's Weenie Awards. Romeo's didn't miss last year. It was a double award winner, including taking home the Weenie Award for Best Hot Dog. But I have heard stories lately, that Romeo's wasn't living up to the hype that we created. So I had to go check it out for myself.

Let me just, right off the bat, put the rumors to rest. The hot dogs I had on this trip to Romeo's were every bit as good as before. But since it's been a while, allow me to describe just how good they are using the "Chris James Rating Method":

Bun - 5 out of 5 Weenies- Romeo's steams each bun to order. They have this old school steamer that looks a little like one of those old school steam irons you used to see in laundries. The buns are placed inside, the lid is closed and the operator pulls down a lever that creates a hiss and wisps of steam sneak out around the edges. When the top is opened you have perfectly steamed buns.

Weenie - 4 out of 5 Weenies - I'm not sure how Romeo's prepare their weenies, but I've never had a weenie that tasted waterlogged or over cooked. The quality of the meat is good, but not great. This just proves that, on a WVHD, great toppings can more than compensate for mediocre meat.

Chili - 5 out of 5 Weenies - Dark brown, perfectly texture and a wonderfully complex taste. Not terribly spicy, but it makes up for it with a tart sweetness that is simply amazing.

Slaw - 5 out of 5 Weenies - Absolutely perfect in taste and texture. Just a slightly sweet flavor with a little black pepper thrown in for good measure.

Onions - 5 out of 5 Weenies - Perfect size chunks of perfectly sweet onions.

Romeo's is still one of the best, if not THE best hot dogs around Charleston. A Five Weenie Classic that doesn't need a second chance.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

DogCast 3 is now available!

For your listening pleasure, our June DogCast is now available for download. In this edition:

  • Chris James talks about the whole "sauce" vs. 'chili" war of words.
  • Reader mail from Hawaii.
  • Free Advertising for Bud Lite
  • Hot Dog music!

Enjoy!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Buckhannon HDJ Review - Barnyard


If I were doing reviews of West Virginia towns instead of West Virginia hot dogs, I would give Buckhannon a Five Weenie rank. It has everything you need in a small town: a courthouse with a tall spire that can be seen for miles, a picturesque main street with quaint little shops and restaurants and flowers hanging from storefronts. On this Main Street is a restaurant called C.J. Maggies, the original location of what has developed into a small regional chain of excellent restaurants with impeccable atmosphere, service, selection and food quality. If I ever found myself on death row awaiting a last minute pardon from the Governor, their New Orleans Shrimp Pasta dish is what I would order as my last meal.

So what would happen if the people behind a great gourmet restaurant decided to open a Hot Dog Joint? Barnyard, that's what.

Located right across the street from C.J's, Barnyard (official name: "Barnyard - Cows - Chicken - Fish -Dogs & Pigs") is full of the same attention to detail that I love about C.J. Maggies Everything about Barnyard, from the neat little outdoor dining area to the overalls and straw hats worn by the wait staff is well thought out and well executed. The interior decor is Urban Prairie meets Hee Haw, complete with old washtubs as light shades and wrought iron slide-bolt latches on the restroom doors. The old plaster on the walls has been chiseled away to strategically reveal the old tile block underneath. The effect is really nice. Hands down, this is the coolest hot dog joint in the state.
And make no mistake, this is a hot dog joint. The menu sports 6 different hot dogs, from the "Chicago Dog" to the "Puppy Dog". One of the offerings is a "West Virginia Hot Dog" which includes a Nathan's Famous weenie (yum!) on a premium bun, chili, slaw, mustard and onions. Sounds good, huh? It's better than good, it is a great, great sandwich. But it's not a great WVHD; in fact, it isn't a WVHD at all.

You see, the first thing that you notice is that the thing is huge! The bun is giant, like a large hoagie bun only softer and tastier. The weenie is split down the middle and grilled to utter perfection (and a perfect Nathan's weenie is out of this world good!) The chili is not very spicy, but very complex and delicious; I kept thinking how great it would taste over a mound of spaghetti. The slaw was a little coarse, not sweet at all but very tasty.

With apologies to Burger King, it takes two hands to handle this whopper, and even then it's hard to eat without getting really messy. But don't worry, the mess is well worth the taste. Just a really tasty sandwich. Just not an authentic WVHD for the following reasons:

1. Size - Way too big to compare.
2. Weenie - The great tasting Nathan's Jr. sausage is prepared in a manner that is totally incomparable to any other WVHD.
3. The Chili and Slaw - If this chili and slaw were on a regular WVHD it wouldn't fare well. It depends on the weenie for taste support, which the weenie does well, but like Chris pointed out in the last review the point of WVHD is to make something cheap taste great.
4. Price - at $3.75 it costs as much as 3 normal WVHD's.

So I am not going to try to give an official Weenie ranking to Barnyard's hot dog because it wouldn't be fair. Suffice it to say this is a very nice place to eat in a very nice small town. I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Second Chance Review: The Hottest Dog

At WVhotdogs.com, June is a month of second chances.

One HDJ in particular has shown a willingness to take constructive criticism from a bad review and attempt to improve the quality of their West-by-God style dawgs, The Hottest Dog. Since it is located in Hurricane (ie the halfway point 'tweenst Charleston and Huntington), Stanton and I agreed to meet at THD and see how they have been progressing.

Weenie: actually too flavorful. The sausage had an overpowering flavor of high-quality beef. What's the problem? Well, one of the things that makes a WV dog distinct from those offered up in NYC and Chicago is our focus on the toppings, and not the weenie, as the centerpiece. WV hot dogs developed out of a need to make a cheap, low quality protein stick taste like a million bucks rather than an effort to enhance the quality of a well-seasoned frank.

Slaw: dramatic improvement, but like a Sophomore in college, there is still much work to be done. It was kind of creamy and kind of sweet and kind of chunky. Just not a whole lot of anything, including flavor.

Chili sauce: First of all, since the sign behind the counter says "sauce" and the cashier said "chili," the diplomatic way to approach this highly sensitive issue is to say "chili sauce" and take the beating for being a fence-riding wussy.

That being said, the chili sauce was not very good. I believe it is the standard-issue Coney sauce from corporate HQ in Portland. The best way to describe is as being very similar to DQ's industrial grade chili/sauce only with real beef, instead of the Queen's synthetic meatfoam.

Onion rings: Pretty good, although portions were small. I also am not a big fan of mandatory side dishes (the side is included in the price of the dog). Sometimes I want a dog and nuttin' else.

Price: They try to spin it by pointing to quality and volume, but charging $4.25 for a WV hot dog is the sort of sin that, if done in Old Testament times, would have resulted in a steady shower of fire and brimstone. Basically, you end up getting two or three hot dogs worth of hot dog for the price of...three hot dogs. Too bad I usually only eat one dog at a time.

Last time, Stanton gave them a harsh-but-fair 1.5 weenies, and that score does improve by a bit due to their taking of slaw criticism to heart, but not much. They now earn 2.5 weenies and absolutely no nominations for the upcoming Weenie Awards.

Go there to get that specialty dog that you fell in love with when you went to college in Chicago, lived in New York, or studied abroad in England, just don't hit the Hottest Dog expecting a great WV-style dog, because you simply will not find one there. Unfortunately, that is exactly what most people in the area are going to want---nay---expect. And that, coupled with the high prices, may be why Stanton and I only saw a couple of customers during our hour there during peak lunch time.