Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fayetteville HDJ Review - Wild Flour Bakery

When we were contacted by The Travel Channel about doing a West Virginia Hot Dog segment for the "Pit Stops" portion of their New River Gorge feature, we were a bit concerned when they said we were going to film at a bakery. I was afraid that we would get there and find that they only sold this kind of hot dog. Luckily, the owners of Wild Flour Bakery are savvy WVHD aficionados and had the real deal. Very real.

I arrived a little early of the appointed time and Jennie, the production company's contact person with whom I had been communicating for the past month or so, told me to relax and she would find me when the time came for our interview. With time to kill in a bakery, it's hard not to really work up an appetite what with all of the gorgeous baked goods in the case and the lingering aroma of hot dog chili emanating from the kitchen. To make matter worse, Jennie brought out a lovely looking specimen of a WVHD and sat it in front of me and left it there for the fifteen minutes that it took the camera man and the gaffer/gopher to set up the shot. It was almost too much to stand and I am sure that I drooled a couple of times during the interview. I really hope they weren't shooting in hi-def.

So after the interview was complete I was allowed to finally taste the hot dog that I had driven all this way for and subsequently tortured with.

It was worth it. Worth the torture and worth the drive.

Now to be honest, the hot dog was room temperature by the time I got to eat it, but even tepid, this thing was great. The chili, as is usually the case with chili in Southern West Virginia, was not spicy but had a complexity to it that included a little bit of chili powder and the dark, rich taste that only a long-simmering pot of tomato and onion product can have. The onions were so finely chopped that they were almost invisible but tasty and fresh tasting. The bun was soft and the weenie was perfectly cooked. And then there is the slaw.

You know how some ice skating judges never give out a perfect score of 10 because they allow that there can always be something better to come along? That's how I am with slaw. I have used superlatives like "nearly perfect texture" or "nearly perfect flavor" to describe lots of slaws over the years; that changes today. This slaw is freakin' perfect! This might be "The One True Slaw" that I have been looking for for the better part of 7 years doing this hot dog blogging. It is PERFECT in texture (finely chopped and exactly the right amount of dressing), PERFECT in taste (sweet enough to make itself known as sweet, but not enough to cover the cabbage flavor) and PERFECTLY matched with the chili. And if that's not enough, they serve it in a very generous helping.

Without any fear of dispute, I proclaim this as a 5 Weenie WVHD worthy for consideration as one of the very best hot dogs in the Great State of West Virginia.

In a bakery. I know, right?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Salem HDJ Review Willie's Hot Dogs

Salem has long been on the list of places that was in need of a visit to research any hot dog joints that it may home too. I had already made it a point to return there in order to check out a couple of places that had been mentioned to me. Unfortunately, the heavy rains and minor flooding that came through over this past week forced me to postpone my trip by a couple of days.

Along main street sits a row of buildings that harken back to the early days of the city. Nestled in the corner of one these old buildings --which ironically sits next to a relatively new Dollar General store-- is a humble little HDJ called Willie's Hot Dogs. Willie's adjoins a pool hall right next door, and there's even an open doorway right beside the counter where you place your orders. Looking around, I don't think I saw more than two pieces of furniture that matched. Whether unintentional or by design, it actually gave the place a little charm. Don't get me wrong, the place still has "dive" written all over it, but that's all superficial when it comes to the quality of the dog.

As I walked up to the counter, I noticed a sign on the back wall that clearly stated that "everything" for Willie's was mustard, onions, and chili. Not unusual in this area, but at least they had to smarts to call it chili and not the derogatory "sauce". I'd like to contend that the belief the term "sauce" is overused in this region is nothing more than an urban legend, but I digress. I ordered one with everything, plus slaw. The nice gal taking my order didn't blink or flinch over the request for slaw, so that was a good sign.

I watched her put my order together. She was very meticulous in putting all of the components together, which I took as a good sign that I'd come across a place that actually took some semblance of care and pride in their product. Even the way the hot dog was handled while it was wrapped was convincing. While she put the second hot dog together, I strolled around looking at some of the photos and decorations adorning the walls. I noticed there were plenty of pics of a
flood from 1944. Kind of ironic, considering the bad weather that had hit the area a few days before. But what really caught my eye was the poster to the left. It seemed like a pretty honest statement.

As I started to sample the goods, I was taken aback by how much the chili reminded me of the variation that is favored in the southern part of the state. By that, I mean that it didn't have an overwhelming amount of spices. It had a terrific quality of hearty meatiness, both in taste and texture. There was just enough sauce to permeate the bun, but not enough to soak deeply into it.

The slaw didn't have a lot of the creaminess that I'm used to, but was actually a bit "drier", for lack of a better term. However, this worked out well as it did not overwhelm the other flavors of the dog, which is a frequent problem with poorly prepared WVHDs. I was pleasantly pleased that the onions were finely shredded and stirred into the slaw just before it was added to my hot dog. That was a nice touch. I've had onions in the past that were cut or chopped down to the size of thumbnail-sized Rubik's cubes. These hit the mark.

Unfortunately, there were two notable shortcomings to the dogs I sampled. First, the buns were only slightly warm. I couldn't tell if they'd just been warmed over somehow, or perhaps steamed at one point and then taken off the steam. Secondly, the weenie of the first dog was water-logged to the point of near mushiness. The second one was slightly over-boiled, but not as bad as the first. I can give the benefit of the doubt in that I was visiting in the after the lunch rush on a weekend, so perhaps the turnover of product was not what it could be. Still, these two dings would normally be enough to put any other HDJ rating down a couple of notches.

I've been wanting to get out of the habit of using "half weenies" in my ratings unless absolutely necessary. With that being said, I'm going to be generous, round up, and give Willie's a four weenie rating. Hopefully they have more consistency as far as the weenie and bun prep go during regular lunch periods. However, the chili is fantastic and the slaw is very well done.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Barboursville HDJ - Dave's

I was stuck at the Huntington Mall the other day while my car was being repaired. Since it was around lunchtime, I strolled over to the food court for some Chick-fil-A or Big Loafer. Curiously enough, I noticed a new hot dog joint open in the former Dairy Queen location. I figured it was worth a review.

The toppings list was concerning. In clear defiance of WV hot dog culture, the toppings list included "ketchup" and exotic ingredients like "jalapeƱo," "kraut," and "mayo." While slaw was free, the sauce (called "chili" despite being in Cabell County) cost an extra $.25. Very confusing indeed.

After making my order, I stood at an angle where I could watch the preparation process. For some reason, they microwave the buns, leaving them somewhat rubbery. Next, the chef de weenie took a frank from a roller (beats a water bath) & then added the toppings (including sauce from a crockpot).

The end result was an enjoyable if flawed utilitarian WV hot dog experience.

First, the problems. The mouthfeel created by the inexplicably nuked bun was downright odd. It seemed like something one would do in a college dorm, not at a hot dog stand. The homemade sauce, while thoughtful, needed a bit more salt and some sort of heat.

Now, the good. The weenie was an Eckrich frank and the onions were just the right texture. The homemade slaw was sweet, creamy, and as good as any that can be found in Huntington.

Overall, this place gets a 3 weenie rating with lots of room for improvement. A few tweaks of the sauce and a better method of bun warming and this place is easily in the 4-4.5 range. I'll give them some time for the constructive criticism to soak in and will re-review in a couple of months.