Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Charleston HDJ Review - The Blue Moon Cafe

I walk past this little downtown cafe regularly. It sits on Lee Street, just a half block away from Capitol Street and a few doors down from The Sitar of India (yes, please). When I first started this blog I went in one day looking for hot dogs on the menu but found none. I was surprised by the lack of hot dogs because it looks like a prime suspect with funky neon decor and a laid back vibe, but I never checked back. Today was such a nice day that I decided that I needed to eat lunch outside and I remembered that I had seen that The Blue Moon had a nice patio adjacent to the shady confines of Davis Park (by "shady" I mean that it has lots of trees, not lots of shady characters - most of them are a block over at Brawley Park), and decided that it would get my lunch budget dollars for today.

When I walked in I was greeted by a happy sight: A "specials" sign that advertised "2 Hot Dogs and Macaroni Salad - $4.99"! So I got the meatloaf sandwich.

Just kidding. But it did look good.

No, I got the hot dogs and, boy oh boy, I am very glad that I did. And Swiftwater Cafe better be glad I didn't go to Blue Moon before handing out this year's awards. This is a great hot dog. I'm sure that some would like it better than Swiftwater's excellent offering, but it might not be for everyone, and here's why: It is sweet. I mean really sweet. The chili is sweet, meaty and delicious. It has a wonderful, slightly BBQ inspired flavor and is as meaty as any chili you're likely to find. The slaw is equally sweet; as sweet as any in Charleston. You might think that all of the sweetness by be overdoing it, but I'm telling you that this is a great hot dog. The weenie is great as well and the mustard was applied generously. I was amazed that this hot dog was found at a place that doesn't specialize in the genre.

On my way out I inquired as to how often they served hot dogs and was told that they have them every day. They aren't on the menu board over the counter, but they always have them. I will be going back soon to see if they are always this good.

In addition to the great hot dog, the outdoor dining space was very nice and peaceful. I would rank it as perhaps the best alfresco dining spot in town.

And I rank The Blue Moon Cafe a solid 5 Weenie HDJ!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Parkersburg HDJ Review - Tim's Root Beer

Ever since I was a wee tyke I have loved frozen root beer. After the last A&W in Charleston closed in the early 80's I went for years without the frosty mug goodness until a few imitation A&W locations opened throughout the Kanawha Valley in the late 90s. The root beer they served wasn't quite the same but at least it had the icy sludge floating in top that I remembered from my youth. There was no other root beer place around that offered this frozen goodness. In an attempt to slake my thirst for the frozen concoction I even made a trip to Huntington's Frostop Root Beer because I remembered seeing the giant mug on top of the restaurant and its representation of a head of frozen root beer, but I found out that it was only a cruel joke: Frostop has no frost on top. Nor does Stewarts. Nor does Farley's.

So when I received an email recently from a hot dog enthusiast from Parkersburg about the hot dogs at Tim's Old Fashion Root Beer I was thrilled when he mentioned that Tim's root beer was "icy". I hoped that meant that it was full of the wonderful icy sludge I had craved for so long. But enough about root beer, for now; we're here for hot dogs, right?

With some help from Google, I found Tim's easily enough. It's kind of off the beaten path, but that didn't seem to matter to the hordes of people who were there. The place is big enough to accommodate said hordes with room to spare (a large banquet room in the back could presumably be employed to accommodate an even larger horde). The place is covered with root beer signs from every imaginable brand from the past and several large barrels are filled with root beer flavored candy and other such treats. The place is nice and clean and the staff is friendly and efficient. The menu is far more diverse than I expected with several nice looking sandwich offerings as well as other more traditional family restaurant style dinners.

Being that Parkersburg is a border town, when I asked "what is 'everything?'" I got a vague answer in the form of a list of available toppings. Fortunately slaw and sauce were the first two toppings our of my server's mouth, so I stopped her there and added onions and mustard and asked for two. And a root beer, of course.

Let me begin with the end and tell you right off that Tim's hot dogs earn a solid 4.5 Weenie score. They are very good, nearly excellent. But the reason I wanted to start with the score is because I can't really understand why they are so good: The sauce is only good, not great. The slaw is not particularly outstanding. The weenie was odd tasting and waterlogged soft (almost like a vienna sausage in both taste and texture) and the onions were so mild that if they hadn't been on top I wouldn't have know they were there at all. The bun was nicely steamed and soft (some might say too soft, but not me).

But in spite of all of the mediocrity of the individual parts, the whole was great. Tim's has redefined the word "synergy ": This hot dog is far superior to the sum of its parts.

Oh yeah, then you get to wash it down with some really good root beer with a frozen icy head, just as I hoped I would find. And lots of it: Tim's does not let your mug run dry. I drank so much root beer that I sloshed as I walked to the counter to pay.

My only regret is that Tim's is 75 miles from Charleston and with $4 a gallon gas, a good root beer and a hot dog will set me back a good $25. It is almost worth it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Weston HDJ Review - Ice Cream Barn

Weston isn't exactly a hotbed of hot dog culture, but if you're driving into town headed east you'll see this charming little red barn right along Route 33 beckoning you to stop in for a visit. I think Ice Cream Barn may win the record for the widest hand written menu posted by the window. Plenty to choose from here if you're hungry, but make sure you've got a some time to spare. Everything aside from the ice cream is made fresh to order.

I was kindly offered to take advantage of the bargain of a hot dog special, which included two dog, fries, and a drink for about $3.39 or so. I was in a little rush, so I passed on the fries this time out. No slaw here, which was a little surprising. Lewis County HDJs typically offer slaw as a standard item, making Ice Cream Barn is one of the exceptions.

I though the chili was hearty enough, but subtle in both the flavor and spiciness realm. The beef wasn't ground as finely as in other chilis found in this region, but the meaty taste was still there. The sauce was just okay, but tasted pretty fresh.

The bun and weenie were suitable enough. The whole concoction was totally overwhelmed with rather chunky cuts of onion that didn't serve to help the presentation. I'm okay with lots of onions, but this was a bit too much.

Overall, Weston's Ice Cream Barn is a nifty place to grab a dog once in a while. Go out of your way for it? Probably not. But if you're in the neighborhood and need a chili dog fix, give this three weenie rated family-friendly place a try.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Clarksburg HDJ Review - Toni's Ice Cream

Ask anyone in the Clarksburg area to name a place to get good ice cream, and you'll likely hear Toni's Ice Cream mentioned more than once. When I was a kid, it was an absolute treat for me and my sisters when Mom and Dad put us in the car to go get a black raspberry cone or shake. No matter what time of the evening you went, there was always a line of customers either at the window or going through the drive-thru. Nobody really seemed to mind because the wait was worth it. To this day, I haven't found anything that comes as close to the sumptuous black raspberry ice cream they serve at Toni's. But in all the years that I've visited there, I never once ordered any of the burgers, hot dogs, or other hot foods they served up.

When I finally got around to getting over to Toni's this summer, I found that the hot dogs come standard with chili, mustard, and onions. Sadly, there was no slaw available. A let down for sure, but I'm no stranger to slawless dogs in this region. My order was served up in a styro-coffin, which didn't serve to make me feel any better.

I found the dog to actually be acceptable for what it was: a simple no-frills chili dog, albeit a little on the scrawny side. The wiener was of the standard bulk food variety. The buns were suitable in both freshness and steaming. The chili had a nice, full texture to it. I found the sauce mixture to be rather basic yet inundated with black pepper. This concoction at least satisfied the need for spiciness without overdoing it.

I'm going to give Toni's a three-and-a-half weenie rating. While the hot dogs themselves seemed to be prepared well enough, the effects of not having a good slaw really weighs down the overall satisfaction factor. Still, Toni's strength lies in the ice cream side of the house. I'll testify to the pleasure of washing down a hot dog --or anything else for that matter-- with one of their black raspberry shakes.