Monday, August 31, 2020

Charleston HDJ Review - Cook Out

While we typically shy away from reviewing hot dogs from chain restaurants unless the chain is West Virginia based, we are making an exception for Cook Out. Read on to find out why.

Cook Out is based in North Carolina and has over 25 locations throughout the southeast. Recently it has moved into West Virginia and now has locations in Charleston, Huntington and Beckley. All of the W. Va. Cook Out restaurants occupy buildings that were built and formerly run as Bojangles Fried Chicken franchises. 

And can we take a minute and talk about Bojangles? Of course they had no hot dogs, so we won't take up too much space here, but man, what a meteoric ride that was! Some will remember the news stories that went viral about the traffic nightmares that were created when Huntington Bojangles first opened in April of 2016, and similar problems occurred in Cross Lanes and Charleston. Three years later, by June of 2019, poof, they were all gone.

Bojangles' boom and bust was a boon for Cook Out, which moved into these abandoned shells like hermit crabs and began selling chargrilled hamburgers, chicken, BBQ, milkshakes and hot dogs. 

One of the hot dogs on the menu is the "Cook Out Style" and it is the reason we have decided to break our "no chains" rule. This hot dog, as if placed here by divine intervention, has toppings listed as "homemade chili, slaw, mustard and onions." Just the way God intended hot dogs to be prepared. How could we not review it?

Now it's not surprising that a chain based in North Carolina would have have slaw on its hot dog. On this blog we've documented the migration of the Chili/Slaw hot dog from West Virginia (where it originated in the 1920s) to North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s. It's so prevalent there now that younger North Carolinians have come to believe it is their state's invention. We know better, and we're happy our prodigal hot dog has found its way home.

When we opened the black coffin in which our hot dog was delivered, it looked right. A good helping of slaw covered everything and the size and heft seemed good. At first grab, however, it was evident that the bun was either stale or slightly toasted and pretty stiff. 

The slaw looked like standard food service issue, too coarse and fairly tasteless, but the chili was several cuts above the ordinary. The color of the chili was deep brown and its texture was perfect. The taste was complex with just a little chili powder-induced spiciness. 

Overall a pretty satisfying hot dog for a chain. We'll give it a 3 1/2 Weenie Rating. If not for the hard bun we could have gone 4. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Charleston HDJ Review - Hot Dogs R Us

We've long maintained that the fancier the Hot Dog Joint, the worse the hot dogs will be. It's been a rule that has held up for the 13 years this blog has been around. Oh, of course, there has been the occasional exception to the rule and once in a while a nice bistro or sports bar will have a tasty WVHD, but those HDJs who consistently have great hot dogs are usually very basic and make hot dogs a real priority and not just an afterthought menu addition.

Given the durability of this rule, we were pretty encouraged last week when we saw just about the plainest sign ever that had popped up on the side of the convenience store at the corner of McCorkle Avenue and 50th Street in the Kanawha City neighborhood of Charleston. It was a white banner with bold black block letters hanging in the window with no further explanation than "Hot Dogs R Us." This spot recently held a sub shop that sold okay hot dogs and at first we thought it was just a promotional sign for that business, but then someone informed us that the sub shop had closed and that this new business was now occupying the adjacent space that formerly was a frozen yogurt store.

So we stopped in to check it out and found that the HDJ is even more basic than the sign would indicate. Hanging over the counter was another sign, equally as basic as the one in the window, except for the twin Pepsi logos that adorned it, and some hand-written signs with prices and available toppings. A pair of household crock pots were on the back counter keeping the weenies and chili hot and a a tray of condiments sat nearby. Since we were getting ours to go, we ordered two with chili, slaw, mustard and onions (as God intends hot dogs to be prepared) and two without onions. While we waited on our order, we noticed that Hot Dogs R Us really means what they say: Hot dogs R all they do. No BBQ, hamburgers, chicken nuggets or anything else to get in the way of their specialty. You can get a bag of chips, but nothing else is prepared here. That, our hot dog loving friends, is the kind of dedication to ones craft it takes to achieve greatness, 

Our order came to $10 even, and came quickly. Before we knew it we were out the door and on our way home with our delicious-smelling cargo

The first thing we noticed when we opened the lid of our to-go styrofoam box was the dark, dark brown chili. Almost black, this chili has been cooked for a long, long time and something magical happened while it cooked. It is delicious. It is more sweet than spicy, but wonderfully complex and hearty. It was applied in a generous amount and topped with some of the finest-grated slaw we've ever seen. The slaw's texture and taste was as near perfect as we've found in a long while.

The bun was wonderfully soft (probably helped by the steamy confines of the styrofoam container and the longish car ride home) and the weenie was plump and delicious. The onions were finely chopped and nicely applied.

Then there's the mustard. A nice little wavy line of mustard was artistically applied on top of the slaw.  This always causes a stir on our Facebook page because some purists want their mustard against the weenie and under the chili, but we like the topside application because it confirms that this very necessary condiment - the only acceptable condiment, really- has not been forgotten in the preparation process. You complainers, get over yourselves. It tastes the same regardless of where it located.

So we're going to give Hot Dogs R Us our highest rating of 5 Weenies, recommend it to everyone who live in the Kanawha Valley and to those passing through. This is a perfect example of why WVHDs are so great: It is simple, basic food that is best when it is made and served in completely unpretentious settings like this. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fayette County HDJ Review - Skyline Drive In (Hank's Last Stop)

Most people in West Virginia know the story of Hank William's death: That he was discovered dead on New Year's Day 1953 in the back seat of his Cadillac when his driver stopped in Oak Hill; about that there is no dispute. But in Oak Hill, there are a lot of opinions about exactly where this final scene of the singer's life played out. Most reports say it was at the Pure Oil gas station on Oak Hill (that station no longer exists), but persistent local rumors say it was just outside of Oak Hill, at the Skyline Drive In located at Hilltop. The little diner has had many names over the years, but no matter how many times they change the name on the sign, almost everyone around here calls it "Hank's Last Stop." It recently reopened and the new owners have smartly reclaimed the name and added the nickname, so it is now known as "Skyline Drive In - Hank's Last Stop."

Now we're here to review hot dogs, not get into a revisionist history debate, but we would like to point out one key and seldom reported factoid that would make it more likely that the diner was the place: His driver -- when he discovered the lifeless body in the back seat--said that he was told that there was a hospital "6 or 7 miles down the road." If this had been the old Pure Oil station, that hospital would have been only a half-mile away, not six or seven. Most people around here say he stopped at the gas station to get directions to the hospital. But enough about that.

We made the trip to the newly reopened Skyline Diner recently because a recent newspaper article listed hot dogs as their specialty. Indeed their menu is very limited, but we didn't care at all. When asked what "everything" was, the server said confidently, "chili, slaw, mustard and onions" and then added "and I make my own slaw every day." Sold.

While waiting on our hot dogs we took in some of the Hank memorabilia that adorned the walls. There is far less of it than you might expect since they embrace their HDJ's history with a subtitled sign out front. A couple of album covers and a little shrine of sorts is all there is. You can't help but think that if they would go all out and make the place a kitschy roadside attraction that they would have a flood of cars pulling off of Route 19 to see it. If it were ours, we'd have an old baby blue Cadillac sitting in the lot and Hank Williams hits playing from speakers both inside and out. We'd have Hank Williams Karaoke, Hank Williams trinkets and tshirts, and maybe some Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie and Filet Gumbo on the menu. Son of a gun, we'd have big fun at The Skyline.

But what do we know? We just review hot dogs. Oh, and that reminds us:

When our hot dogs came we could immediately confirm that the slaw was homemade. You just can't get slaw from a tub that looks like that. And the first bite told us that it was good: Flavorful and creamy but not too runny. Slightly sweet. Unfortunately, the bun was a bit crusty - almost stale - but fortunately, that was the only negative we found. The chili was wonderfully complex and went well with the slaw. The weenie was big and beefy and the overall heft of the hot dog was great.

Skyline Drive In earns a 4 Weenie rating. It was a steamed bun away from being a 4.5, pushing a Five.

It's definitely worth a stop. Just hopefully not your last one.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Charleston Area HDJ Re-Review - Hot Diggity Dogs

Last year we were excited when a new HDJ opened in North Charleston and reviewed it a few weeks after it was opened. You can read that review here. We were not impressed, mainly because of the slaw.  Hot Diggity Dogs offered then and still do two kinds of slaw: Regular and Yellow. We found the both of them to be lacking and mainly because of that we only gave them a 3 Weenie ranking.

After getting a lot of mail and positive comments of HDD, we decided to give them another shot.

Not much has changed about the restaurant since the first visit, except for the large outdoor seating area that has been built. They also now sell beer. Inside, things are mostly the same. It feels clean and new, even after being in business now for over a year. That's usually a sign of good management, so kudos for that.

To find out if the hot dogs deserved kudos, we decided to order an exact duplicate of last year's order: One with regular slaw and regular chili, and one with yellow slaw and spicy chili. And of course, mustard and onions. Once we got our order, it didn't take long to realize that there had been changes in the regular slaw. Look at thee two pictures below, one before and one after, to see for yourself:

Because these two dogs are so very different, we'll rate them independently, but first we'll point out that the lack of a properly dressed WVHD on the menu gets an automatic a half point deduction. It would seem that with all of those different named dogs they could find room for one with chili, slaw, mustard and onions which we're sure is what many of their customers would order if it were easier.

On to the reviews:

White Slaw and Regular Chili

2019 - After
It was obvious at first glance that the regular slaw was not the same as last year's, and tasting it backed up the visual evidence. It was not the "cabbage chunks in mayonnaise" we reported on last year. This was very well done hot dog slaw. Finely grated cabbage with just the right amount of dressing. The taste was much improved. It went well with the savory chili. This is a good West Virginia Hot Dog. The buns was not as soft as we would like (last year we noted that the buns were very  soft), but everything else was very good. We'll rate this hot dog 4 Weenies, pushing 4 1/2. Steam that bun -- or even just make sure the buns are fresh --and it's there.

Yellow Slaw and Spicy Chili
This one tastes exactly the same as last year's, and it is uninspiring. Last year we wrote "The yellow slaw tastes like small chunks of yellow cabbage. It has virtually no other flavor. We don't even understand why it's yellow." We stand by this statement. Yellow slaw, as made famous in Marmet, had a wonderful impossible to describe sweetness and texture. This stuff has none of it. We can't understand why they go through all of the trouble to have it on the menu. We imagine its only appeal is to former Marmet hot dog lovers who are in the throes of a nostalgic escape from reality and imagine that it tastes like the slaw of their youth. The spicy chili is just okay, and while we usually recommend getting spicy chili when it's available, we found the regular to have a far superior flavor profile. This hot dog gets a 2 1/2 Weenie rank.
2018 - Before

So our recommendation is to go to Hot Diggity Dogs get the white slaw/regular chili combination. It is a very good WVHD in a nice atmosphere.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Danville HDJ Review - K-Bo's

The land that lies between the greater Charleston area and the hot dog rich land of Logan has long been barren of good HDJs. Recently we received a couple of review suggestions that gave us hope that there was a halfway outpost worth stopping for in Danville.

K-Bo's is a classic roadside ice cream stand where you stand outside and order through a sliding window. In West Virginia, these kinds of places nearly always have hot dogs and we figured that K-Bo's was no exception. We were heartened to see a sign proclaiming a "5 Buck Lunch" consisting of a hot dog, chips and drink and confidently placed our order for one of those, pausing only to ask what "everything" meant. This is where everything went horribly, horribly wrong:

We were handed a paper menu that listed all of K-Bo's hot dog offerings. At the top were "Sunny Buns." Having never heard of a Sunny Bun, I asked the order taker what it was and was told it was a hot dog on a regular bun with Mustard KETCHUP chili, slaw and onions. I looked further down the menu and was initially encouraged to see a "WV Dog" listed but then I saw what K-Bo's thinks is on a WV Hot Dog: Chili, Mustard and Onions! This is not Fairmont! This is Southern West Virginia! It was like we walked into a wrinkle in the time/space continuum or took a wrong turn somewhere.

We of course had to create our own hot dog from the offered toppings. Humiliating.

We waited patiently for our hot dog, hoping that this would be the one that would make for a good stopover on the long trip from Charleston to Logan but after seeing that all-over-the-place menu our hopes were fading faster than Jim Justice's chance of re-election.

Our hot dog arrived in a styrofoam coffin, and upon opening the lid we immediately saw the too-large diced onions crowding the top and completely covering the coleslaw. We were able to excavate a little slaw to sample it but found it pretty tasteless and dry. The chili, likewise, had a flavor that resulted from browning the meat and onions --and maybe a slight taste of chili powder -- but nothing else. If not for the mustard, this hot dog would have been virtually without any flavor at all.

So we'll score K-Bo's a generous 1 1/2 Weenies and continue our search for a stopover HDJ on the road from Charleston to Logan. Maybe Chapmanville?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Richwood HDJ Review - The Chill Out Grill

During the recent heat wave we decided to head for the cool Pocahontas County mountains for a

respite, which gave us a chance to stop in and check out this relatively new HDJ in Richwood. We'd received a couple of suggestions from fans that said we should review it, so we timed our trip to make sure we were there at lunchtime. 

The Chill Out Grill is located inside a building that looks a reclaimed Dairy Queen and sits on Edgewood Avenue, just off the main flow of traffic for passer-through like ourselves, but it wasn't hard to find. Navigating the menu was pretty easy too because right there at the top were the objects of our interest.

But also right at the top of the menu was a very bad sign: Ketchup was listed as the first topping. And when asked what "everything" was, the order taker included the red stuff in her answer. Half-point deduction.  

The rest of the toppings were correct, though, so we pressed on. Two different chilis were listed, one homemade and one spicy. We got one of each, but it made us wonder; is the spicy chili not homemade? 

Our order was served fast and friendly. The hot dogs looked pretty good, with really dark chili and slaw that was a good texture. The buns were a tad crusty, like they had been dry-warmed. 

The flavor of the "homemade chili" was a little bland, lacking any discernible spice and almost no flavor other than onions and well-browned ground beef. The "spicy chili" seemed to have even less flavor, but did have a slow burn spiciness that probably comes from cayenne. 

The slaw was a good texture and had a decent flavor. It deserved a better chili.

Given the uninspiring chili, the sparse slaw, the presence of ketchup on the "everything" dog and the crusty buns, The Chill Out Grill gets 2 1/2 Weenies. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Morgantown HDJ Review - Haught Diggity Dogs

Last year in a review of a new Charleston HDJ named Hot Diggity Dogs, we erroneously wrote that the phonetically similar HDJ in Morgantown called "Haught Diggity Dogz" was defunct. In our defense, we seem to have been partially correct, since according to the WV Secretary of State, the LLC that owned "Haught Diggity Dogz" was terminated in 2013.  But as a recent visit confirmed, there still a hot dog joint of the same name (albeit in Westover, not Morgantown) and they are selling very good hot dogs. We're not concerned with the legalities.

We are concerned with quality, though, and it seems that Haught Diggity Dogz shares this concern. But before we tell you about that, let's talk about a matter that has caused great controversy over on the Facebook Page recently.

Three kinds of "Chili," not "sauce."
We'd like to address this to all of those people who say that "nobody calls it chili" and insist that calling it chili is wrong and/or a southern WV thing. Please note the accompanying photo of Haught Diggity Dogz menu board. Here, just 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border, it is chili. It doesn't have beans in it and it is not eaten out of a bowl with a spoon. Now will you all please shut up?

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about Haught's hot dog. It's good. It could be great with some very small adjustments.

First, the good things: The bun is awesomely soft. It didn't appear to be steamed, nor did it need to be. We'd love to know the brand of these buns so we could recommend them to other HDJs. It was slightly different in shape than the Heiner's product that is ubiquitous n the southern part of the state, and softer than any of those even at the HDJs in Huntington where they are sure to get the freshest ones.

The chili is fantastic. We got the medium and the flavor and spice was nearly perfect. Complex, meaty and just the right consistency. The slaw is good too, but had maybe a bit too much mayo and was served a bit too sparingly.

But the onions. Here's where we need some work. They were simply chopped too coarsely for a hot dog and there were too many of them. Most of them fell off the dog as soon as it was lifted from the tray.

Haught Diggity Dogz also gets a half-point deduction for not fully embracing WVHD culture, as exhibited by its failure to have a stated "everything" dog with all of the required elements. This is not unexpected this close to the northern border, but rules are rules.

We're going to give HDD a very respectable 4 Weenie score.