Thursday, November 29, 2007

Classic Weenie Commercials: Ball Park Franks.

Thanks to the magic of youtube, we can now relive some of the most memorable hot dog commercials of all time. Today we will look at a couple of adverts for Ball Park Franks.

First up, here is one from the 1970s:

And now the 90s:

Check back soon for more retro goodness.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bridgeport HDJ Review - Maple Valley Meats

Maple Valley Meats reminds you a lot of those general stores/restaurants your find in some of the West Virginia state parks in terms of the appearance, layout, and type of food offered up. They seem to do a little bit of everything here, from meat processing to a restaurant to a mini grocery store. Maple Valley Meats offers up daily meal specials that bring in a steady crowd from the nearby industrial park as well as other business in this area near the Harrison/Taylor county lines on Route 50. The home cooked food is terrific, but the hot dogs here are not as good as they could be.

The hot dogs chime in at $1.50 a pop, which is a little high, but considering the rising cost of just about everything these days I would say it's to be expected. They come in what I call "bare minimum" format: chili, mustard, and onions. Slaw is available only if you ask for it, and then it costs about .25 cents extra.

The real problem is in the slaw --labeled as "Amish Cole Slaw"-- which by itself isn't bad at all. Personally, I happen to really like just about anything carrying the "Amish" moniker (namely macaroni salad). The cabbage has a medium coarseness, as do the slivers of carrot mixed in. The dressing of the slaw is rather sweet, with only a trace of tanginess. The dressing is overly in runny. By itself, it's delicious. Put it on a hot dog, however, and your WVHD just became a pile of mush.

The chili has the pronounced taste of a tomato base, most likely ketchup. The color leans a bit on the reddish side, which would be a give away to even the most novice hot dog enthusiast. The ground beef is of a medium texture with an overall flavor that tastes okay at best. The chili sauce is --like the slaw dressing-- runny. Accompanied with the water logged weenie, the buns fall apart along the bottom. It may be a result of the overload of toppings, which can kill a good WVHD.

I did order some fries with my order, which were your typical frozen shoestring fries. What I was a little more surprised by was that I was given packets of Hunt's ketchup, versus Heinz that you seemingly get just about anywhere else. In my personal opinion I don't think there is anything that compares to Heinz ketchup.

Maple Valley Meats is a fine establishment for anything but hot dogs. I'll have to rate it at two and a half weenies. They definitely need some attention to detail in the hot dog area, but I think they have more irons in the fire than to worry about establishing themselves as a HDJ.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grafton HDJ Review - Hometown Hot Dogs

There are some hot dog chains/franchises that have become the accepted standard bearer for hot dog quality in their respective localities. While most of their respective HDJs will keep the quality at a acceptable level, there are those black sheep --the weak links of the chain, if you will-- that bring shame upon the good name of their respective namesakes. On the other hand, there are those few outlets that wind up being the "poster boys" for the rest of their peer stores to follow. Case in point: Hometown Hot Dogs in Grafton.

I had embarked on a quest to review as many of the known HDJs in the Grafton area. While I didn't hit every single mom-and-pop restaurant, I found that most of the stands offering up hot dogs were somewhat lacking. It appeared as though Grafton could only hope to languish in WVHD mediocrity, at best. That was until I made the stop at Hometown Hot Dogs located at the foot of the bridge on U.S. Route 50 where it meets Main Street.

The building itself appears to have at one time been a part of the Fetterman church located next door. The gravel parking lot is usually full at lunch time. With five booths and three stools at the counter, seating is at a premium. The interior is very bright and clean, making for an inviting place to have lunch. I was initially taken aback by the fact that this may be the only HDJ I've stepped foot in that didn't have either a radio or TV playing. Fact of the matter is, there is simply too much business for the employees to stop and even think of turning one on. Since this is probably THE place in Grafton to get a great hot dog, most of the local hot dog fans are too busy to carry on their own conversations to bother paying attention to a radio or TV anyway.

The menu is relatively simple, with fewer offerings than the Fairmont or Clarksburg locations, but this works in favor of WVHD fans. A hot dog with chili, onions, and mustard will run you $1.00 (which includes tax), and .20 cents more get you a heaping helping of some of the best slaw around these parts.

Let me start with the slaw. I don't know what to say makes it so special, but it is nothing short of heavenly. It has the perfect sweet/tangy balance that makes your taste buds dance around. The finely chopped cabbage has a slight but delightful crunch which blends well with the creamy dressing. The chili has the typical finely ground beef with a meaty gusto that carries the spice and flavorings to a flood of fun. It's not really complex, but the simplicity of the recipe is what makes it work. Never overcooked and never flat, this chili in either its mild or hot format will please just about anyone. The remainder of the ingredients are well-prepared, as the wieners are always cooked suitably and the finely chopped onions play well with the rest of the toppings. The buns are flawlessly steamed to the point where they can absorb the sauces, but not overdone to where they will easily fall apart.

Hometown Hot Dogs in Grafton earns a well-earned five weenies. Any WVHD fan travelling through the area should make a point to stop in and pick up a couple. Or at the minimum, have one and enjoy the conversations with a neighbor.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Parkersburg HDJ Review - Judy's Famous Hot Dogs

A while back an AP article aired in several small town WV newspapers about and this blog. It spawned a lot of suggestions for reviews in places we don't get to regularly but they get added to our "to do" list and we try to get to them whenever our travels take us there. When that article hit the Parkersburg newspaper we immediately were inundated by suggestions for Judy's Famous Hot Dogs. This place has a loyal fan following and I was eager to see why. I finally made it to Parkersburg this week and Judy's was first on my list of places to visit. I found the tiny hot dog joint sitting just where I was told I would find it, in the plaza that contains the local Big Lots as well as the Parkersburg Gabriel Brothers location. I'm not sure what this plaza is called, but it's near the toll bridge and almost to the Vienna city limits.

One of the most interesting HDJs I've seen, it looks like it began life as a concession stand trailer and then a small storage building with lots of windows was tacked onto the side of it. The result is actually very nice and comfortable. It only seats ten people or so on two half picnic table benches against each wall. Everyone that came in while I was there got their orders to go and I was the only one dining in. I would be surprised if many people use the tables. The rest of the interior was interesting enough to hold your attention while waiting for your order, but nothing fancy. It felt very clean and sanitary, especially considering the kind of structure it is.

The friendly people behind the counter (one of whom I recognized from a photo on the wall as Judy herself) were very friendly and helpful. I scanned the menu to see what an "everything" dog was topped with but gave up when I saw that Judy's is one of those places
that has lots of different kinds of dogs and toppings. I finally just ordered one with sauce (yes, it's sauce in P'Burg), slaw, onions and mustard. When Judy heard the order she said "A West Virginia Dog!" which made me look at the menu again. Sure enough, there it is on the menu: West Virginia Dog - just like the one I ordered.

I really hated to see that my hot dog served in a coffin, but it was so nicely steamed that it didn't matter much in the end; the bun conformed to the shape of my hand as I removed it from its styrofoam vessel.

The sauce at Judy's is about as complex as any sauce I've had. It was much more tart than spicy, but I really didn't miss the spice. The texture was on the runny side and the color was almost unnaturally dark brown. There are a lot of unusual ingredients in this stuff, and a lot of good ingredients. The overall flavor was powerful and it needed a good slaw to balance it out. Fortunately Judy is up to the task: This slaw is phenomenal! Very finely chopped and obviously fresh-made. It was just exactly sweet enough to offset the tartness of the sauce. A great combination. The weenie, mustard and onions didn't detract from the taste.

It's easy to see why Judy's has so many fans: They have one more now. Judy's is a Five Weenie delight!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bridgeport HDJ Review - Mountaineer Brunch

When T&L Hot Dogs closed and/or consolidated some of their locations in the Harrison County area, one of the casualties was the location at the Gabriel Brothers Plaza in Bridgeport. Nestled in the old-but-still-thriving strip mall sat one of what should have been one of the more busy locations. When this location closed, the owners left all of the original fixtures and decorations in place.

T&L Hot Dogs tend to feature a 50's theme in their various locations, and this one was no different. A split level seating area gave a view of the promotional flats featuring the likes of Little Richard, Ray Charles, Bobby Darrin, Sam Cooke. Life-size standees of Elvis and JFK stood watch over the black and white checkered floor tile and retro jukebox. A bust of Mr. Presley rested on top of the soda machine, keeping an eye on the door. Original magazine covers from back in the day of Life and Sport Illustrated were hung in eye-catching frames above each table and booth.

Recently, this particular location reopened its doors as Mountaineer Brunch. I had eaten in this place several times while it was still under T&L ownership, and I noted that not one item had been moved from its original place. About the only thing that had notably changed was the menu, which had been expanded to include a breakfast menu and an expanded lunch/dinner menu. Hot dogs choices had been expanded to include cheese/jalapenos and Chicago-style variations, among others. Thankfully, Mountaineer Brunch also lists West Virginia Hot Dogs for $1.50 each. A steep price, but not the worst ever seen. For those not familiar with the succulent treat, the menu board breaks down the components of each item. WVHDs are listed as "slaw, mustard, chili, and raw onions".

Mountaineer Brunch seems to have adopted at least a portion of the T&L chili recipe, but somehow loses some of the familiar T&L taste throughout the mix. On my particular order for this review, I noted a flavor similar to taco mix seasoning. It seemed to have some kind of filler in it as well, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. On the plus side, it had a good consistency. The slaw was creamy, with just a bit too much vinegar aftertaste. It didn't really work as well with the chili as it should, but it wasn't horrible.

I don't usually comment on fries anywhere, but Mountaineer Brunch makes some of the best fresh-cut fries around. Unlike T&L, these fries don't have that heavy, greasy taste. They were crispy on the outside, and went very well in the tub of bleu cheese dip I added to my order.

One thing I have to give Mountaineer Brunch a "needs improvement" mark for is the service. Not that it was bad, mind you. In fact, the workers are quite friendly and polite. The problem is that there is only ONE person ever working there during the lunch rush. On this visit, I placed my order, had a seat, and waited nearly twenty minutes as the clerk took orders while people were lined up at back to the door. Not his fault, but a bit of poor planning on someones part.

It's probably not fair to compare the present Mountaineer Brunch to the former residents of T&L Hot Dogs. Nonetheless, Mountaineer Brunch neither succeeds or fails in the hot dog arena. The expanded menu has made hot dogs less of a priority, but they are still good enough. Three weenies.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Slow October for Hot Dogs

Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.

While October was just about the slowest month on record for hot dog reviews, I assure you we haven't lost our taste for hot dogs around here. Between an incredible busy month at work for me, a new dietary ethic for Chris and Big Daddy's travel schedule, it has just been a tough month for our team. But fear not, more reviews are on the way.

I'll be in Parkersburg this week and hope to hit a couple of highly touted HDJs up that way. I'm also committed to heading to Oak Hill soon to try hot dogs from the one place that prompts more reader mail than any other these days, Tom's Carry Out.

I'm not sure what the other guys have in store, but I hope we can put together a few good reviews this month. Stay tuned.