Friday, November 09, 2012

Charleston West Side HDJ Death Match Round 4 - The Smokehouse vs. The Grill

Let's wrap this up, shall we?

After struggling to find HDJs on Charleston's West Side, I have given up trying to find lesser known contenders and just moving to the final, some might say, marquee pairing The Smokehouse vs. The Grill.

Since it's been so long since we reviewed The Grill, here is some background:


The Grill, on Washington Street just west of the Interstate, is one of Charleston's most unique eateries. It is delightfully understated (even that might be an understatement!) decor-wise but the food is great and the service is like family. The menu is eclectic and regulars know what they are having before they walk through the doors. This week's and next week's specials can be read about in advance on the dry erase menu board behind the counter. I know people that plan their weeks around the specials, which it seems are the same 12 items recycled over and over again. I can personally attest that most of the specials are very good, and anecdotally that the rest of them are good as well.

In the back room you will often see some of the most influential politicos in Charleston having lunch together. Men in expensive business suits sit in old wobbly booths that looked like they were there before the building had a roof. The four TV's tuned to sports and news channels compete for wavelengths in the audible spectrum above the din of the diners. The walls are covered with 1970's wood paneling, Pepsi signs and the autographed pictures of celebrities both major and minor. 


Now that description of The Grill was written in 2006 for our first review of the place. Every word of it still fits. It is as if time marches on and only The Grill remains unchanged.

But fortunately, the hot dogs have changed.

We've received a lot of email and Facebook comments from fans of The Grill who love their hot dogs. I was perplexed by this because I never found them to be very good, but while I wasn't paying attention they improved. The slaw, while still not very finely chopped, is now very creamy and delicious. The formerly stale buns are now nicely fresh and soft (made even softer by the foil wrapping on "to go" orders). The chili is still good. The onions could stand some more chopping, but overall I have no complaints about The Grill's offering. But is it good enough to dethrone The Smokehouse?

It really comes down to one thing, and that is which restaurant cares the most about hot dogs? The Grill's Utilitarian Dog was thrown together (I watched from the counter) in almost haphazard fashion. There was very little effort given to ensuring a consistent quantity of toppings from one hot dog to the next and consequently one of my hot dogs had an enormous amount of mustard and very little slaw compared to the other. The Smokehouse's Genteel Dog seems to be extremely carefully assembled and is therefore remarkably consistent. This alone would not be enough to crown one the winner over the other, though.

No, where the real difference lies in these two hot dogs is the intention revealed in the preparation of the weenie - The Grill's weenie had been soaking in a hot water bath while The Smokehouse heats their high quality weenie on a grill and it therefore retains a lot of its flavor.

So by the narrowest of margins, The Smokehouse wins the West Side HDJ Death Match and claims the title of The West Side's  Best Hot Dog 2012.

Congratulations Smokehouse!


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