Saturday, July 29, 2006

The W. Va. Hot Dog Festival Happened

So, the long-awaited Second Annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival took place today at Pullman Square in Huntington. It was a fun little event, well organized and jam-packed with stuff to do or observe. A 5K "Run for the Bun", a car show, kiddie rides, a pie contest, a hot dog-eating contest, a dog parade (the kind with four legs), musical entertainment and lots of other stuff made it the place to be in Huntington.

I only counted eight hot dog vendors. I thought there would be many more. The ones I recognized were:

  • Stewarts Original Hot Dogs
  • Hillbilly Hot Dogs
  • Sam's Hot Dog Stand
  • Bowincal's
  • Cowboy Catering
  • Frostop
  • Johhny Dogs
  • M&M Dairy Bar

Since there were only eight I was able to at least sample all of them, except for M&M which I boycotted because they were from Ohio. First, I have to admit I found it very difficult to order a hot dog because I would ask for "chili, slaw and mustard" and they would say, "You mean sauce, slaw and mustard?" Then I'd have to remember that I was in Huntington and apologize for asking for chili. But when I ordered at the next place I would ask for chili again. I could not get myself to say "sauce, slaw and mustard," the words just wouldn't form on my lips.

Of all the hot dogs I found Bowincal's to be the best. Their slaw was the only one that didn't taste like it had been made last year at a factory in China, but it was served very sparingly.

The prize for the biggest disappointment has to go Sam's Hot Dog Stand, who didn't even offer slaw as a topping. I was told that "it is too hot" for slaw, but that was a poor excuse; Everyone else had slaw, and the temperature was quite mild (upper 70's) most of the day. I'm sorry but having no slaw at The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival is akin to having no barbecue sauce at the Texas Rib Festival.

Cowboy Catering is noteworthy because they offered a giant-size dog in addition to their "dollar dogs," which is what they called their regular hot dogs. They also had a large selection of sauces (the kind that come from a bottle, not the stuff that's supposed to be called "chili") that you could dress your dog with.

Or course, Hillbilly Hot Dogs went to great lengths to bring their special unrefined atmosphere to the festival and had the best variety of hot dogs. Sonny, the Weenie Man and Sharie, the Weenie Wife were both there to work the stand.

Proceeds from the event go to the Joan C. Edwards Cancer Center, and the organizers and sponsors should get high marks for the effort they put into this event that benefits such a worthy cause.


Is this the best that Huntington can do as far as hot dogs go?

Without trying hard I can name eight or ten hot dog joints in Charleston and other parts of the state that sell better hot dogs than ANY of the dogs I had today. My previous encounters with Huntington HDJ's have left me as equally underwhelmed. This leaves me with two different thoughts:

  1. It is just not right that Huntington hosts the West Virginia Hot Dog Festival. The hot dogs in Huntington are not West Virginia Hot Dogs. They are "Huntington Hot Dogs", or maybe "Tri-State Hot Dogs" but they bear little resemblance to the hot dogs eaten by the vast majority of West Virginians. Of all the hot dog joints in Huntington only Hillbilly Hot Dogs sells a true W.Va. Hot Dog, and they even call it by name on their menu. I know, I know; the Huntington folks took the initiative to create this event, and for that they should be congratulated, but they should consider renaming their festival and/or giving the name rights to someplace more appropriate.
  2. Perhaps it is folly to continue to try to compare West Virginia hot dogs with those served in Huntington. I am beginning to wonder if anyone in Huntington even knows how to make a decent hot dog. Perhaps they have never tasted a properly dressed West Virginia hot dog. I can think of no other explanation why this city that seems to pride itself on its hot dogs have such poor ones.

With so much strife in the world today I certainly don't want to add to it by causing even more discord between Huntington and Charleston, but they started it. They started it by presuming to have some superiority in the realm of hot dogs. They started it by having the audacity to host "The West Virginia Hot Dog Festival." It's just not right.

So I give up. No more comparing apples and oranges. I have recruited a Huntingtonian to do reviews of Huntington Hot Dog Joints from now on. I hope to have him set up to post soon and then he can judge Huntington's dogs based on Huntington criteria and Huntington taste buds. I'm sure he'll provide a perspective that I can't. Perhaps he can help to bring peace to our warring cultures.

This experience makes me wonder if this hot dog difference is perhaps some kind of indicator, some kind of other manifestation of the animosity that has existed between Huntington and Charleston for as long as I can remember. We in Charleston always thought it had something to do with the WVU vs. Marshall thing, but perhaps its actually something much greater.

Perhaps it's weenie envy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

2006 Weenie Awards - Best Hot Dog Joint? It's Chris'

When it's all said and done, Chris' Hot Dogs is the only place in Charleston that you can:

The list really could go on and on, but suffice it to say Chris' deserves this award. If you are a hot dog fan and have never been to Chris' you should absolutely make it a point to get there.

Well, there you have it! The Weenie Awards for 2006 are in the books. Thanks to everyone who sent emails and left comments. Your encouragement, tips and suggestions helped more than you know. We look forward to expanding the search next year to other areas of West Virginia and we'll need even more help, so keep those cards and letters coming!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Charleston's Best Hot Dog Joint? Deliberations Continue

There really are a lot of variables to consider picking the best Hot Dog Joint.

One way to look at this problem: If one were to go up to Timmy's Snack Shack and get a bun, then proceed to Swiftwater Cafe and have them slap a weenie on it, mosey over to Chris' for a bunful of chili, then high-tail it over to Romeo's for some slaw then you would have in your hand the best ringer hot dog you could assemble in Charleston. But where then, would be the best place to eat said hot dog? Where is the best atmosphere? Where is the hot doggiest decor? Hmmm.

Or rather should we consider the HDJ award in the same manner that we judged the best hot dog, looking at the overall experience and weighing the positives independantly? Wouldn't this method skew the results toward those places that have already won an award? Would that be a bad thing?

I am suffering, I tell you, suffering over this decision!

Friday, July 21, 2006

2006 Weenie Awards - Best Hot Dog

Romeo's Grill Wins Charleston's Best Hot Dog for 2006!

It was close, very close indeed, but Romeo's deserves this years top dog award because of their overall committment to excellence. The winning combination is:

  • A great chili recipe handed down by the late Pete Romeo, still cooked every day by long time Romeo's employees Jennifer Maxwell and Chuck Young. It has a unique taste and while not real spicy, it makes its presence known.
  • Even better slaw made fresh every day by Jennifer and Chuck.
  • Buns that are steamed to order right before your eyes.
  • Finely chopped onions applied in the exact right proportion.

All these things work together for an authentic West Virginia hot dog taste that is the creme-de-la-creme of hot dogs in the Charleston area and perhaps the whole state.

Romeo's is located right across Seventh Avenue from the Mound in South Charleston, near the corner of Seventh and "D" Street. It is a bar and grill where smoking is allowed and practiced, so be ye warned.

Honorable Mention - Chris' Hot Dogs

I would be remiss if I were not to mention, very honorably, Chris' Hot Dogs who made it a real race to the finish on the strength of their incredibly great chili. In the end it was the slaw that beat them. If they had Romeo's slaw it might have turned out very differently. As I have been known to say, it's all about the slaw.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

National Hot Dog Day

I knew that July was...

But I only recently became aware that Friday is

National Hot Dog Day!

Sounds like a perfect day to give out the final two Weenie Awards: Charleston's Best Hot Dog Joint and Charleston's Best Hot Dog.

In many ways the best hot dog award is easier that the best hot dog joint. It quite frankly comes down to only two different hot dogs - I won't divulge which two just yet. The best hot dog has to have more than one excellent element. You can't win this award with just great chili or great slaw. And the the winner won't have any lackluster bun or weenie either. No, this award requires each element to be good or great.

I do think that there is room for improvement in Charleston's hot dog offerings. In doing this final evaluation I come to the conclusion that there is not one HDJ that has THE Chili and THE Slaw and THE weenie and THE bun. Maybe someone out there is a restauranteer who wants to strive for the perfect W. Va. hot dog. I think it is achievable. If you decide to go for it you know where to find me.

But I digress. The Hot Dog Joint award is tougher because there are so many more variables. One place in the running has great dogs, great decor, great seating, a great location but is is way too smoky for me to recommend. Another place is way cool in its decor, comfortable and relaxed but the dogs aren't quite up to snuff. Still another place is the friendliest place in town with dynamite dogs, but has short hours and a serious shortage of seating. I'm tellin' ya, this is gonna be tough. I would welcome input from the readership.

So maybe I can't come to a decision on the best Hot Dog Joint by tomorrow. Maybe it will have to wait, which is OK because there's still another week left in

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Charlestonian Blog Reborn

My original blog, the Charlestonian Blog, is open under new management. My old friend Charles wanted to try his hand at blogging, so I asked him to blog-sit for at least a while. I think you'll find his view of Charleston very interesting and humorous. He is one of the most hyperobservant people I know.

Monday, July 17, 2006

No Mo Bad Dogs Fo Me (Fo Now)

I'm telling you people right now: I have had it with lackluster, mediocre or bad hot dogs for a while. With all of the reviews I have done since I started this site in January I have eaten more than my share of bad hot dogs. Reviews are going to take a hiatus until I have properly recharged my hot dog batteries by eating some good ones.

Before I handed out each of the four Weenie Awards last week I sampled the fare one last time just to make sure the award was deserved. In each case it definitely was. And with each sampling I was surprised by how far above the competition each of the winners were, and it made me really want to eat more good hot dogs. So I decided it's time I rewarded myself for all my hard work in the hot dog trenches. So for the next week or two, no new hot dog joints for me. I'll no doubt have to kiss a lot of toads when I go to Huntington for the W.Va. Hot Dog Festival on July 29th, but until then I am on strike, review-wise.

There are still two Weenie Awards left to hand out, though, so stand by.

Friday, July 14, 2006

2006 Weenie Awards - The Way WV Hot Dog Slaw Ought to Be!

Romeo's Grill wins 2006 Weenie Award for Charleston's Best Hot Dog Slaw!

According to Lance Moore, the new owner of Romeo's Grill in South Charleston, the slaw and chili recipe came with the place when he bought it last October. Two of Romeo's long-time emloyees continue cooking with the same recipes that restaurant founder Pete Romeo taught them many years ago. I can attest that I have been eating Romeo's hot dogs for at least 15 years and they have been consistently excellent all that time.

Pete Romeo died about six years ago but his family kept the businees open for several years until it finally closed in 2005. It had been closed for five or six months before Lance recognized an opportunity and bought the building. He re-hired some key Romeos employees and re-opened it under the old name. It seems to be doing well under the new management and the dogs are as good as ever.

As for the slaw, this is as close to perfect hot dog slaw as I've tasted. It's not the kind of slaw you'd eat as a side dish with some fish and chips; it's sweet, creamy to the point of being runny and a perfect offset to the lightly spiced chili that Romeo's sells. There are, for this slaw lover, simply not enough adjectives to describe how good it is. It is the clear winner in this category.

Congratulations, Romeo's, and please keep making your delicious slaw. And special thanks to Romeo's waitress Ashley for lending her photogenic presence to the award presentation!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

2006 Weenie Awards - Charleston's Best Hot Dog Chili? Where else?

Chris' Hot Dogs wins 2006 Weenie Award for Best Hot Dog Chili!

Many years ago Gus Christo received the secret recipe to his father's hot dog chili and started making some of the best hot dogs in town at his restaurant, Chris' Hot Dogs on Washington Street West. His daughter, Karen, still runs Chris' and still makes her grandfather's recipe the way her father did before her. It is very spicy and perfect in texture and consistency. It is, according to many, many Charlestonians, the perfect hot dog chili.

"All good Charlestonians know there's only one place in town to get the authentic West Virginia hot dog," wrote Rick Lee in his blog in January. Well, would you believe that when I presented the Weenie Award for Best Chili to her, Karen actually seemed surprised? How can she not know how good her chili is? But she takes no credit for it, and in fact wouldn't allow me to take her picture with her award. She said the credit is due her father, so I improvised by inserting a photo of Gus that hangs behind the bar into this shot. Sorry for the glare. Perhaps you can visit Chris' and see the real thing for yourself.

While you're at it, have a hot dog. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2006 Weenie Awards - The Weeniest Weenies

The Swiftwater Cafe wins 2006 Weenie Award for Charleston's Best Weenie!

According to Teddy Queen, owner of The Swiftwater Cafe, using premium Boar's Head Franks for his restaurant's hot dogs was the best decision he ever made. I will add my AMEN on behalf of Charleston's hot dog eating public. This is by far the best weenie in town, and therefore garners the 2006 Weenie Award for the Best Weenie in Charleston.

When Swiftwater first opened they had a "standard" weenie and offered the Boar's Head frank as an upgrade but a while back Teddy decided to use the better weenie exclusively. As a small, family-owned business he says he always strives for the best in quality and service. Anyone who has visited Swiftwater can vouch for the friendliness of the staff, and while I have only had their hot dogs I have heard they have great barbecue and other sandwiches. The huge throng waiting outside the doors to get in at lunch time adds to the evidence that this is a great downtown lunch spot. "Every day people still tell us they didn't know we were here," says Teddy. Well, Teddy, now that you are an official Weenie Award Winner maybe the downtown WVHD legions will get the word out to everyone.

Congratulations and good luck!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

2006 Weenie Awards - Timmy Has The Best Buns!

Timmy's Snack Shack receives the first 2006 Weenie Award! Althought somewhat belated, the first of the 2006 Weenie Awards was finally handed out today to Timmy Teets, owner of Timmy's Snack Shack in Mill Creek. His grilled New England Style buns win this category going away. According to Timmy, "They're a little more trouble, but they're worth it." We agree. If you haven't made it to Timmy's yet you should make it a point to do so before the end of July, National Hot Dog Month. When you drop by make sure you tell him W. Va. Hot Dogs sent you.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Weenie Awards Delayed

I had originally planned to post Weenie Award winners this week, but alas, events conspired to prevent me from getting around to the winning hot dog joints to make presentations. We'll get some posted next week for sure.

In the meantime, check out this press release from the National Hot Dog Council. According to this study Americans overwhelmingly rate mustard as the preferred condiment for hot dogs. Notably absent from the list of toppings is slaw. Not surprising, but it makes me sad for America. They just don't know what they're missing.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

W. Va. Hot Dog Festival - New Website

Looks like the festival lost its lease on the old domain. Here's where it's parked now:

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Charleston Area Hot Dog Joints - Spring Hill Deli

I should know better, I really should. A deli inside a convenience store is not going to be a place to find a great hot dog. But I saw the sign that said "Hot Dogs" underneath a "Boar's Head Meats" sign and I thought, hey, it might be pretty good because Boar's Head weenies are excellent.

Well, the deli might sell Boar's Head meat, but I would hate to think the weenie on my hot dog was a Boar's Head product. If it was, it had been cooked beyond recognition, or left out in the sun too long, or something. It was skinny, chewy and tasteless. Other than that it was fine.

The bun was crusty, the chili lifeless and bland, the slaw was from a bulk container labeled "Chef's Pride" - I would not be proud if I was the chef.

Located at the corner of Chestnut Street and MacCorkle Avenue in Spring Hill, this might be a place to get your gas, milk, beer or even some ham and cheese but not the place for hot dogs.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hot Dogs and the Fourth of July

Perhaps there is nothing more American than the idea of eating hot dogs on the Fourth of July, but every hot dog joint I know of is closed today. I guess I'll have to revert to home made or abstain. All things considered I prefer abstinence.

An old Andy Griffith Show comes to mind: The Pickle Contest. In this classic episode Aunt Bea is determined to win the Mayberry Pickle Contest even though she makes the worst pickles ever. They are so bad that Barney and Andy go to enormous lengths to keep her from entering her "Kerosene Cucumbers" (as Barney calls the pickles behind Aunt Bea's back) into the contest. Andy makes a very wise observation about home made pickles and says he can't figure out why people go to all the trouble making pickles when store-bought pickles taste better. Home made doesn't necessarily mean better.

And so it is with hot dogs. You can make a good West Virginia hot dog at home, but it is extremely time consuming. And since the National Hot Dog Council's Hot Dog Etiquette guide says that you should finish a hot dog in five bites or less, it's hardly worthwhile to spend hours making chili and slaw just to wolf down your creation in thirty seconds.

It's also expensive to make your own: Unless you are feeding a small army the economics of buying eight buns, ten weenies, a pound of ground beef and a head of cabbage just don't make sense. A premium hot dog at a good HDJ costs about $1.50. To buy the raw materials in the minimum packaged amounts costs a good $6-7 not counting the incidentals you should have on hand (mustard, mayo, spices, etc.).

Of course there is always the possibility of reverting to the hot dogs of my childhood. There is something charming about roasting a weenie on a stick over an open fire and slapping the charred and whistling little frank onto a bun straight out of the Heiner's bag and chomping into it while it is still sizzling. No chili. No slaw. No mustard or onions. Maybe some ketchup for nostalgia's sake but otherwise plain. If the festivities today involve an open fire I just just might indulge.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's National Hot Dog Month!

In honor of Hot Dog month, I thought it appropriate to get things started by reprinting this from the National Hot Dog Council's website:

Hot Dog Etiquette
Dos and Don'ts: Everyday guidance for eating America's sacred food

put hot dog toppings between the hot dog and the bun. Always "dress the dog," not the bun.

Condiments should be applied in the following order: wet condiments like mustard and chili are applied first, followed by chunky condiments like relish, onions and sauerkraut, followed by shredded cheese, followed by spices, like celery salt or pepper.

serve sesame seed, poppy seed and plain buns with hot dogs. Sun-dried tomato buns or basil buns are considered gauche with franks.

use a cloth napkin to wipe your mouth when eating a hot dog. Paper is always preferable.

eat hot dogs on buns with your hands. Utensils should not touch hot dogs on buns.

use paper plates to serve hot dogs. Every day dishes are acceptable; china is a no-no.

take more than five bites to finish a hot dog. For foot-long wiener, seven bites are acceptable.

leave bits of bun on your plate. Eat it all.

Fresh herbs on the same plate with hot dogs are a major "

Don't..." Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable.

use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18.

Condiments remaining on the fingers after eating a hot dog should be licked away, not washed.

use multi-colored toothpicks to serve cocktail wieners. Cocktail forks are in poor taste.

send a thank you note following a hot dog barbecue. It would not be in keeping with the unpretentious nature of hot dogs.

bring wine to a hot dog barbecue. Beer, soda, lemonade and iced tea are preferable.

ever think there is a wrong time to serve hot dogs.