Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dairy Queen Wrap Up

As September comes to a close, so does Dairy Queen month on the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog. It's been fun. I have certainly gained more evidence that Dairy Queen Code is a real phenomenon and worthy of more study on a statewide basis. According to the DQ website there are more than 50 stores in West Virginia so there is obviously a lot of work to do.

But even though I haven't proven the certainly of the DQ Code, I have learned a lot: I learned that in smaller communities it is often the DQ that has the best dogs, whereas the DQs in the larger towns and cities usually stick closer to the lackluster franchise model. I've also found that in spite of paying exorbitant franchise fees that some DQs eschew the DQ Coney Sauce in favor of real hot dog chili.

While I did make it to all of the local Charleston DQs I didn't get the chance to visit and document all the ones I wanted to. The Eleanor and Montgomery locations were just too far off the beaten path for me this month. The Teays Valley location didn't get a review, but was the neutral ground where my historic meeting with Chris James took place when I talked him into becoming the Huntington agent for W.Va. Hot Dogs. I'll leave the honor of reviewing their hot dogs to him if he chooses. I visited the Hurricane location months ago and was so disappointed by their hot dogs that I didn't even write it up. And that, as they say, is that.

But of the ones I did get to visit, Clendenin and Nitro were hands down the best, with Sissonville Road getting an honorable mention.

I look forward to getting back to the hunt and finding some new unexpected places to find hot dogs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Charleston Area Dairy Queen Review - Clendenin DQ

Located right on Rt. 119 North, this little Dairy Queen has been a mainstay in Clendenin since at least the 1960's. A host of restaurants have come and gone over the years in the vicinity but the Dairy Queen has outlasted them all. Every day at lunch time car loads of hungry oil and gas workers, salesmen, truck drivers and who knows who line up out front to give testimony to the quality of food that lies within. A few chairs scattered along the side of the building and perhaps the tailgate of your truck are the only options for eating on the premises: This is definitely a take out place.

I've been by the place several times since I started this blog but always just passed by because I always assumed that a DQ dog is pretty much a DQ dog wherever you go. But my recent thoughts on the subject and a note from a reader who raved about the hot dogs at the Clendenin DQ made me decide to pay it a visit the next time through town. Well, today was they day I was through town (actually I was only as far as Elkview but decided to journey the extra six miles so I could check out the DQ. It was worth it.)

The first great thing about the hot dogs is that they wrap them up nicely in wax paper. A great start, but I remained skeptical until I unwrapped it: I could tell instantly that this WVHD was made with pride. No ordinary DQ dog, this one. A huge mound of finely chopped coleslaw with equally finely chopped onions let me know that this was different. When I poked around under the slaw to check out the chili I was delighted to find it to be nearly perfect in texture and color.

As soon as I bit into the hot dog I realized that beauty, in this case, wasn't just skin deep. The slaw was as sweet and tasty as it looked and the chili had a tangy flavor that was just fanatastic. No coney sauce - this is hot dog chili at its best. The wax paper treatment had softened the bun perfectly and the weenie was nicely cooked. My second bite confirmed what I thought about the first: This is a great hot dog - a potential Weenie Award winner for sure.

Clendenin is about 20 miles from downtown Charleston, which puts it pretty far out to be included in the "Charleston Area Hot Dog Joint" category, but two things cause me to categorize it as such: 1) I think Clendenin folks identify with Charleston pretty much as the closest city, and 2) I would definitely make the drive to get these hot dogs!

My eternal thanks to the reader who suggested the Clendenin DQ. I seem to have lost the email but I remember that she said people who have left the area always go to the DQ for a hot dog when they visit. I can understand why. Heck, I could even understand somebody moving to the area just to be close to these wonderful things.

One final note to travelers on I79 who want to try an authentic W. Va. hot dog: Take the Clendenin exit and go about two miles to Rt. 119; turn right and go about 100 yards. Five minutes off the interstate is more than worth the experience.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Interesting List

Over at Epicurious, a great food site, they published this list of America's ten best hot dogs. While I am glad that a West Virginia hot dog joint made the list, I am surprised that it is one about which I have received not a single email or comment since starting this blog.

Can anyone up there in the Clarksburg shed light on Ritzy Lunch?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Charleston Area Dairy Queen Review - Sissonville Drive DQ

For 20 years or more this DQ has been doing battle with Skeenie's Hot Dogs, which sits about 500 feet away and across Rt. 21. I have heard from fans of both HDJ's and both have their staunch supporters. Dairy Queen Month has given me a reason to pass by Skeenies (which is difficult) and check out the competition. I was not surprised by the result.

For Hot Dog Joints to co-exist in such close proximity each must offer something different in order to lure their audience away from the nearby competitor. In the case of the Sissonville Drive DQ, that something special is a really meaty chili. It seems to me that they have taken the regular DQ coney sauce and added meat - a lot of meat. The overall flavor of the chili isn't much different from a standard DQ but the texture sure is. The slaw was served in too small a portion to know for sure, but it seemed to be tasty and its texture seemed about right. Like Skeenies, the DQ dog was loaded with finely chopped onions. Overall a nice hot dog. Nearly on par with Nitro DQ. It certainly offers a choice for Rt. 21 travelers who want their hot dog with more meaty chili than Skeenies.

To find both Skeenies and this Dairy Queen, you can either drive west on Washington Street until you intersect Rt. 21, Sissonville Drive, or you can take the Edens Fork Exit off I77 proceed to Rt. 21 and turn left. From either direction it is about a mile on Rt. 21 to this little double dose of good W.Va. Hot Dogs.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Huntington Hot Dog Joints-The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts at Hillbilly Hot Dogs-Downtown Huntington.

When I first heard about Hillbilly Hot Dogs a few years ago, I have to admit that I was quite appalled. My initial gut reaction was to cringe at the thought of someone moving to the area to open up a Hillbilly-themed restaurant that mocked the culture from which I was reared. I kept thinking that this place must be a mere step away from Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben. I mean, how would people in Washington feel if I moved to Seattle and opened up the Pretentious Yuppie Sushi Bar and Coffee House.

After a year or so of principled boycotting of the new establishment, some friends finally nagged me into checking out the joint. They assured me that Sonny was a local boy and not from California as I had heard and that Hillbilly Hot Dogs is more of a loving tribute cultural perceptions of Appalachia rather than a hurtful attempt to cash in on Hixplotation and mean-spirited stereotypes.

While I have been a fan of the Route 2 location (which I will get around to reviewing eventually), I was never thrilled with the prospect of driving 25 minutes into the middle of nowhere just to get a hot dog. I was, therefore, tickled pink when I found out that HBHD was going to put a location near Marshall’s campus in downtown Huntington. After initially looking into the former Calamity Café (a sorely missed treat for dining and boozing by students and faculty alike), the owners settled on the former Subway about a block west of campus on Third Ave. I give them kudos for remodeling a bland cut-and-paste building that everyone could tell was built for a Subway into a one-of-a-kind structure. But enough with the Horatio Alger crap, lets get to the experience of eating a dawg at HBHD-Downtown, shall we?

One of the firs things that hit you when you enter HBHD-Downtown (well, after the outrageous décor) is the fact that this is a hot dog stand that is managed like a restaurant. Patrons are seated and given menu’s by the wait staff and the order is taken at the table by a proper waiter or waitress. I am especially fond of this method since I follow the mantra of Steve Martin’s Vincent Antonelli in the highly underrated comedic gem My Blue Heaven: “It's not tipping I believe in. It's overtipping.” It is also of note that the owners are often at the establishment and go out of their way to make you feel at home.

Their menu features numerous variations of hot dogs, ranging from a standard sauce dog to pizza dogs to the ginormous Homewrecker. They also feature such classic West Virginia fare as a fried bologna sam’mich, which my father commented was well worth the price, so they get bonus points for variety.

For my meal, I ordered two dogs with sauce, slaw, mustard, and onions (one to pick apart for the review and one to just enjoy) with a side order of crinkle-cut fries. As is always the case with a proper H-ton hot dog, the bun and wiener were helluh-fresh and tasty. The weenies at HBHD are supposedly deep-fried, and it gives them a nice taste that I am sure would make any Cardiologist worth their salt cringe in horror (I’m not sure if my dawg was fried, but my wife’s was and it was quite awesome. The bun was nicely steamed in the aluminum foil wrapping that comes with every dog (props for not cutting corners and using a damn napkin) and had the right balance of firmness and gooiness.

The sauce was above average, if not my favorite. Ground beef was the dominant texture and flavor and you could tell that they did not cut corners in the prep of said sauce. There was a gentle taste of chili powder, too. I’m not sure if it was the “spice that’s nice,” but it wasn’t shabby either. I am also thankful that they put the sauce and all other toppings on top of the weenie (hence, toppings) where they belong, unlike Stewart’s Original and Frostop. My mother also gave it high marks for tasting like the sauce served by the drug store in her hometown of Smithers when she was a young’un.

As to HBHD’s slaw, this might be the most controversial topic among Huntington hot dog connoisseurs behind whether Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs are the best or worst hot dogs on the planet. Their slaw has a firm, fresh, slightly chunky texture that is held together with a creamy base, which is a must for any good dawg slaw. As far as taste goes, however, I must concede the point to the couch-burning hillbilly, Stanton, and his hypoglycemic taste in cole slaw. I would venture to say that there is little to no sugar in the slaw, and it suffers for it. The dominant taste in the dog is black pepper, which works on some level, but isn’t necessarily for me. I do give them credit for adding a touch of carrot for color (but not enough to interfere with the taste) and for not being afraid to pile it on high and thick.

I know that they are quite proud of their slaw and would likely not want to change the recipe, but they should perhaps consider following in the footsteps of their rivals over at Sam’s (which serves both mild and spicy sauces) and offer up a sweet variation as an option for its customers. Just an idea.

As far as the sides go, the crinkle-cut fries were somewhat overdone and kind of disappointing and the beverage options were just your basic soda pop/tea selection, although a friend of mine claims that he once heard Sonny (The Weenie Man) say that he would not object to a patron brining with them a Frostop with them, so I may have to test that out sometime.

And now to the ratings:

Atmosphere/service/menu: 5 weenies.
HBHD-Downtown is, quite simply, a fun place to enjoy a variety of Appalachian foods in a location that will delight both families and kitsch-oriented college students.

Sides: 2 weenies
But that might have been just a bad batch of fries, who knows?

Hot Dog: 4 weenies
This is something of a paradox. The sauce and slaw are, by and large, only average and would pull in ratings of 3 weenies on their own. When combined, however, something odd happens. The flavors blend into a taste that can best be described as “creamy goodness.” I’m not sure why, but it works. Maybe we can get someone from the MU physics dept. to look into it. Still, a touch or two of sugar in the slaw would see the score bumped to a 4.5 weenies.

Overall score: 4.5 weenies
Next year, if Stanton lets me give out Weenie Awards for the H-ton area, HBHDs may be the odds-on favorite for Best Hot Dog Stand (although I am not sure if it would win any other awards). For some reason, the combination of good service, good dawgs (with ok sauce and slaw), and a really cool atmosphere combine to form a great hot dogs stand. Hence, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Now if they would only sweeten the slaw.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Charlotte, NC Hot Dog Review - Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs

'Twas the last of my journey
I was on my way home.

I was weary from traveling,
too tired to roam

Through the halls of the airport
that smelled lovely from food.

I had to have something,
and it had to be good.

There wasn't much time,
my flight would leave soon,

But my body was hungry
and I felt I would swoon.

I ducked into the men's room
to freshen a bit

And then off I would go
to find grub and to sit.

But walking out of the restroom
I was delighted to see

A Nathan's, who sells hot dogs
so famously!

I knew in that instant
my search had its end,

That I could not pass up
this chance to pretend

That I was in New York,
or Philly, or a town

Or a really big city where
Nathan's are found.

So I studied the menu
and much to my pleasure

There it was: Cole slaw!
The wonderful treasure!

So I ordered one up
with slaw and some chili,

And whilst people ran for their planes

I stood by the wall
and wolfed down that ol' dog

I'm sure that to many
I looked like a hog,

But I didn't care
I was lost, deep in thought

About the big hot dog
from Nathan I'd bought.

And what did I think
about the hot dog that day?

I liked it, not loved it,
but I do have to say

That the weenie was great
(about that I can't lie)

But the chili had beans
and the coleslaw was dry.

The bun was toast-crunchy
and a little bit hard;

The onions were tasty,
as was the mus-tard.

Overall a good dog
not the great one I thought

I'd find there at Nathan's
when at last one I got.

By dubyavee standards
it's not all that tasty

Though in its defense
I ate it quite hasty.

I'll give it three weenies
but most for the sake

Of the awesome frankfurters
than Nate's Famous make.

So how do I bring end
to this rhyming review?

I really don't know,
I haven't a clue.

I could think of something clever
like "Happy Hot Dogs to All!"

But that would be too cheesy
and as for minded, too small.

So instead I'll note it's good
to be back in West Virginia

Where people make a dog
that's proper to put in ya.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Charleston Area Dairy Queen Review - Charleston Town Center DQ

If you have a hankerin' for a hot dog in the Town Center Mall there's no use going to the food court, no one sells them there. To slake your hot dog craving you have to go to the second floor on the J.C. Penney end of the mall to find the Dairy Queen. And I am happy to report that like most DQ's in the area, they serve a true WVHD. I've had many people write to tell me that they liked the hot dogs they serve at the TCDQ and I can see why. They are pretty good. The slaw could use some work (a little coarse) and the chili is standard DQ corporate issue but they do go the extra mile and serve it on a nicely grilled New England Style bun. Overall a pretty satisfying hot dog in a convenient HDJ. But I'd like to deviate from my typical subject matter and tell you about a new DQ delight I have found. They call it a Moo-latte and man oh man is it good. It's one part milkshake, one part Blizzard and one part espresso. The only problem is that a "small" is big enough to kill you on the spot. And don't bother trying to not eat the whole thing. I've tried. It can't be done. The only hope you have is to not get one in the first place, but then you will die without ever tasting this amazing creation. So since you're gonna die anyway, go ahead and get one. They come in several flavors. I got the hazelnut and I can't wait to try the others. YUM! Sorry for the short-shrift given to the hot dog review. My sense of taste was distracted.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Charleston Area Dairy Queen Review - St. Albans

St. Albans and Nitro are sometimes called "Twin Cities" because they sit on opposite banks of the Kanawha River and are roughly the same size. Just like human siblings there is often a competitive spirit between the two towns, so I wondered which town's Dairy Queen had the best hot dogs and took it upon myself to investigate. The St. Albans DQ is on Sixth Avenue, caddy corner from the IGA and just down the street from Mayberry's. It is an old restaurant that has been added on to several times, but the original tiny walk-in counter area is still where you place your order. The menu board has three hot dog choices listed: Steamed, Toasted and Super Dog. I asked the difference and the very friendly lady behind the counter told me that "steamed" was a regular hot dog, "toasted" was a grilled New England Style bun (she didn't elaborate on the "Super Dog", I assume because it should have been self-explanatory). With visions of Timmy's Snack Shack dancing in my head I ordered the "toasted" version with everything (except, of course, ketchup). Well, I can report that Timmy's bun has nothing to fear from this version. It was not carefully grilled to a perfect brown color like Timmy's. It didn't taste as freshly prepared as Timmy's. It wasn't crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside like Timmy's. It made me wish I had ordered a "steamed." The chili was standard DQ, the slaw was hardly there at all. The weenie was way overcooked. The onions were chopped into huge pieces. Not a good effort. Not a good hot dog. So Nitro easily wins the DQ hot dog competition over its twin city. Not even close.

Alas, poor Yann...

See below for an important update/correction from a reader:

From the beginning this blog has received more comments and emails regarding Yann's Hot Dog Stand in Fairmont than virtually any other single hot dog joint. People in northern West Virginia love Yann's hot dogs. They love the atmosphere. They love having their own little hot dog version of the Seinfeld "Soup Nazi" in Russell Yann, the owner/operator. They love the chili and boast of its spicy and great flavor. Well, I'm sad to report that all of the verbs in this paragraph should be changed to past tense: Yann's is no more.

On my northern trip this week I made a special trip across the bridge into downtown Fairmont to find signs in the windows of the famous hot dog stand that say "Closed for Repairs." The signs look like they've been there a long time and it didn't look like any repairs were being made. After making some inquiries I learned that Yann's is closed for good.

The big thing at Yann's was apparently the chili. Here is a link to a chili recipe that is supposed to taste exactly like Yann's. This sauce, along with onions and mustard is the only way Yann's served a hot dog. It is said that Russell Yann would tell you to leave if you ordered ketchup, therefore the "Soup Nazi" parallel. You can read more about this quirky behavior in posts on this site.

I also heard that Lupo's, another Fairmont fave is closed down. Bad times for hot dog fans in Fairmont.


A reader who seems to be in the know wrote me with this scolding:

"Had you looked more carefully, the sign at Yann's states that he is closed for repairs ...on himself. Russell had a hip replacement. He is scheduled to reopen sometime in October but that will certainly be dependent upon his rehabilitation. "

I'm sorry if I reported the demise of Yann's prematurely. If anyone has any further information please drop me an email at "info at wvhotdogs dot com"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Charleston Area Dairy Queen Review - Nitro DQ`

I've gotten off to a slow start on Dairy Queen month, so I thought I should take a trip to Nitro, the home of the DQ about which I have gotten by far the most email. As I walked up to the window I immediately recognized that this DQ took hot dogs to a different level than any other I had visited. On their menu board they have:

  • Hot Dogs
  • Pizza Dogs
  • Reuben Dogs
  • English Dogs
  • Mexican Dogs
  • Foot Longs
I settled for a hot dog, this time. Next time I'm getting one of each.

Anyway, I was told that "everything" meant chili, slaw, onions, mustard and ketchup. I had mine without ketchup. When the friendly person inside the window handed me my dog the first pleasing thing I saw was that it was beautifully wrapped in wax paper. When I unwrapped it it was more beatuiful still. It was as photogenic as any hot dog I have ever been served (unfortunately my camera batteries picked exactly this moment to crap out completely). The slaw looked perfect. It was served in a heaping helping and was chopped much finer than the stuff most places are serving these days. The color was perfect. I quickly decided to take Rick Lee to lunch here very soon so he could properly document this work of cullinary art.

After sitting and beholding its loveliness for a few moments I put the hot dog to the real test. A quick taste of the gorgeous coleslaw made it clear that this would be no ordinary DQ dog. The slaw was sweet, creamy and almost perfect. I quickly dug down to the chili to see if it was up to the task of providing the spicy counterpoint to the chili. I was disappointed to see the texture and color looked just like regular old DQ Coney Sauce, but I realized after tasting it that the folks at the Nitro DQ had definitely doctored it up and it had a little different flavor. Not great, but good and much better than standard DQ. The bun was steamed and very fresh tasting and the weenie was above average. Overall a pretty darn good hot dog. 4 Weenies, pushing 4 1/2.

A couple of other notable things before we close the book on the Nitro DQ: First, they have the coolest outdoor dining room I have ever seen. It's as if they chopped it off the restaurant and moved it over 20 feet to make way for the drive-thru. Second, they serve soft drinks with CRUSHED ICE, which is extremely rare these days. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's nothing like a cola over crushed ice.

Thank you to everyone that recommended the Nitro DQ. It is a really great West Virginia Hot Dog at a really great Hot Dog Joint.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile visits Charleston!

There is little room for debate: The coolest car on the planet has to be the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. The celebrated vehicle paid a visit to our fair city on September 7 and I had the fortunate pleasure of getting an up-close look at the vehicle and talk to the two delightful young “Hotdoggers” who get to drive it around the country.

Having seen the Wienermobile as it passed by on the other side of a divided highway on a couple different occasions, I was eager to get a closer look. My previous glimpses did not prepare me for the magnitude of coolness this thing possesses. It is much larger that I thought: 27 feet long (that’s 60 hot dogs long in Hotdogger talk) and eleven feet tall (24 hot dogs). It weighs 7 tons (140,000 hot dogs) and gets about 10-15 miles per gallon. It is built on the frame of a 2004 General Motors RV. There are actually 12 of these babies driving around the country, each staffed by two Hotdoggers whose mission is to “bring miles of smiles to millions.” They were designed and built at Prototype Source in Santa Barbara, CA, the makers of the original Batmobile.

After getting over the initial “wow” of the size of the giant weenie on wheels, the next thing that caught my attention was the really sleek styling and the fit and finish. From the very stylized taillights to the custom embroidery on the leather seats, the vehicle is really well made. It has a rear video backup surveillance system, a sunroof (er, I mean “bunroof”) and a serious sound system that also handles public address duties at large appearances. It looks like it would be quite comfortable on a long trip, which is a good thing because that is what the Hotdoggers spend most of their time doing; taking long trips.

This particular team of Hotdoggers is made up of Camden Gilman and Heather Olson. They are two of the twelve recent college graduates who have the enviable job of driving around in the Wienermobile for an entire year.

“The selection process is extremely competitive and it’s an honor to be one of the twelve who made the final cut,” says Camden Gilman, a recent graduate University of Texas. “My mom’s exact words when she found out I had been selected was ‘You’re gonna be a weenie boy?’ She thought I was going to wear a hot dog suit or something.” Camden, an advertising major, attended “Hot Dog High” in Madison, Wisconsin, the home of Oscar Mayer, for two weeks to learn everything he needed to know to be a Hotdogger, including how to drive the behemoth Weinermobile. “We’re D.O.T. certified drivers,” he added.

Heather Olson is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri. As journalism major she finds the interaction with the news media to be excellent real-world experience to go along with her degree. She says she never tires of meeting people and she has had many wonderful experiences on the road that she cherishes. She is quick with the many slogans and puns that are necessarily part of her job (“The Wienermobile gets 10-15 miles per gallon of high octane mustard!) Her friends and family all think she has the most interesting job in the world. “When I talk to my friends they only want to talk about my job. I have to force them to talk about theirs,” said Heather.

Heather and Camden agree that the Wienermobile is a little tough to drive, especially when it comes time to park. “You have to be very careful about people who are trying to get a closer look,” says Heather. They have to fill out a log book and have restrictions on how many hours they can drive just like a big-rig truck driver. How does the Wienermobile handle? "It's like driving a bus," Camden says. At 7 tons you could imagine that it probably doesn't like hills. Heather said that on the trip to Charleston from Atlanta she had it to the floor on some of the long hills on I77 and it still was slow going.

The two young Hotdoggers are knowledgeable about Oscar Mayer’s product line and our discussion eventually came around to hot dogs. They talked about FastFranks and the cheese dogs and the footlongs. I asked them if Oscar Mayer had a premium grade of hot dog and Heather quickly informed me that they felt all of the Oscar Mayer offerings were premium grade (good answer). When I shared with them how we West Virginians dressed our hot dogs I got a mixed response: Camden said, “As a Texan, having hot dogs, chili and coleslaw sounds like a trifecta!” Heather said, being originally from New York, that slaw sound “unusual.” I pointed them in the direction of Romeo’s just in case they wanted to try a real WV Hot Dog before they left town.

Even though I had only a few minutes to spend with the Wienermobile and Hotdoggers I left with a smile on my face and that little Oscar Mayer hot dog jingle on my lips. A visit from the Wienermobile is a big event wherever it occurs and the company has covered every detail (even down to the cell phone ring tone that interrupted our conversation: “Oh I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener…”). The Wienermobile and the Hotdoggers are a real treat for the public and a really positive image for the company. They really do bring miles of smiles.

Note: The Wienermobile will have one more local appearance at the Elkview 7-11 on Friday (Sept. 8) then it's off to a refresher course at Hot Dog High in Madison WI!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Weenie Mobile Is Coming!

I 've not been able to confirm anything but I heard on the radio that the Oscar Myer Weinermobile will at some local 7-11s on Thursday and Friday. I understand that it will be at the 50th Street 7-11 in Kanawha City on Thursday and the Elkview 7-11 on Friday. I'm not sure what time yet, but I'm goin'! If anyone has any hard information on the schedule please post it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Major Weenie Upgrade

I don't share Chris' interest in trying to put together a great hot dog at home. I haven't found an out of the box chili or slaw that suits me and to make a batch of quality homemade takes way too much time and effort. But my wife brought something home that might change my mind.

I've heard of Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs for years, mostly from Yankees from New York that say that if you've never had a Nathan's you never had a real hot dog. I've always dismissed it as just brash New Yorker BS. That was before I tried these:
Nathan's Famous all beef skinless. Oh my, but they are good. They are better than good, they are awesome. They might be the best weenies I have ever, ever eaten. I mean it folks. And this is after they've been packaged and shipped through who knows how many warehouses and distribution centers before they end up in the refrigerator case at Kroger. I can't begin to imagine how good they would be if you got them here. Of course I'm sure you couldn't get them there with chili and slaw, so it would probably be a wash. But if you are looking to make some home made WV Hot Dogs you would do well to splurge ($4.29 a package) and try these.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Building the Perfect WV Hot Dog, Test 1

Over the past several decades, Huntington has been a city in transition. The Rust Belt town of yesteryear has downsized drastically and is inching ever closer to becoming a full-fledged university town (rumor has it that there was even a couch burning last year). During this change, however, the city’s economy has been hit hard. In fact, there is but one thing that kept Huntington afloat over the past two decades: the thousands of dollars worth of hot dogs that I have purchased from local hot dog stands.

Fortunately, Huntington has seemingly turned a corner: Pullman Square has brought a sense of place back to the downtown region, Marshall’s administration seems to be focused on the academic end of things, and government officials finally seem committed to combating the supply of (if not the demand for) crack cocaine.

Anticipating an upswing in the city’s finances, I have deemed it safe to embark upon a money-saving adventure in home hot dog economics. As part of an ongoing series on the blog, I will assemble homemade WV hot dogs using ingredients available from local grocers. I will then analyze the dog and its components for quality, balance, taste, texture, etc. in order to see just how close it comes to being a great WV dog and where and if the individual ingredients merit inclusion in the ultimate home-assembled WV dawg.

For my first ‘speriment, I am basically using the stuff that I have around the house. This dog will be made from Heiner’s Sunny Buns hot dog buns, Ball Park beef franks, Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili, French’s Yellow Mustard, and Ballard’s Farms Amish Sweet Slaw. No onions or ketchup this time (more on that in a bit).

With a Heiner’s bakery located in Huntington’s Old Central City district, a week-old package of buns in a Tri-State kitchen are fresher than those in shops in other parts of the state. Additionally, Sunny Buns are Heiner’s premium product with a light touch of honey and generally cost about 20¢ more per package (money well spent to a hot dog aficionado). The bun was perfectly baked, tasty, and fresh, of course. 5 weenies.

The weenie, however, did not live up to the quality expected of a good Huntington/West Virginia dog. While I give high marks to Ball Park brand franks on the national scheme of things, they just cannot compare in freshness to the locally-made dogs of Cavalier Meats. Even after boiling them to soak out some of the preservatives before giving them a quick skillet grillin’, they were still a bit salty and lacking in a fresh beef taste. In there defense, however, they did cook up plump and were not bad for a wiener brought in from outside of the region. 2.5 weenies.

The sauce, Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili, is a commercially-available, small-batch sauce made in Webster Spring, West Virginia (arguably as West Virginia as West Virginia gets) was an excellent topping for the weenie. The sauce was sweet, with a notable taste of onion up front. The beef was not heavily seasoned, but has a nice taste in and of itself. Ketchup is one of the main ingredients and gives the sauce a nice finish. Available in the meat section of area Wal-Marts (and possibly other stores), this is by far the best ready-made hot dog sauce that I have run across. This rings especially true for fans of a less-sweet slaw (a vinegary-peppery slaw in particular would great with this sauce) or those that enjoy ketchup on a dog, but are too embarrassed to use it in polite company. I would, in the future, not shy away from the onions next time, as the onions in the sauce act to flavor the chili alone and do not act as a substitute for chopped un’juns. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to lay on the mustard with this sauce. 4.5 weenies.

Ballard’s Farms Amish Sweet Slaw, while fresh, was not the best fit for the dog. While the sweetness of the slaw did clash with the sweetness in the sauce, that was not the main issue. Nor was the well-diced and creamy texture. The problem, I believe, was in the cabbage. Maybe it was stale or maybe they used the whole cabbage, stems and all. I’m not sure. Something, however, was amiss. Next time I will stick to Ballard’s original slaw and not get so cutesy at the dairy isle. 2 weenies.

Overall, the dog made for a nice lunch for this West Virginian hot dog connoisseur. They were notably sweet and would be particularly appropriate for a fan of the sweeter sub-variation of the WV dawg, (Stanton, this means you). The sticking points were the low-quality slaw and the freezery-tasting frank from God knows where that brought the overall taste down and my misguided belief that onions wouldn’t be necessary this time around. The highlights of the dogs were the delicate ballet of sweet ‘n sour deliciousness that was danced between the sauce and the mustard and the tastiest bun this side of…well, anywhere.

Final score for test dog 1: 3.5 weenies.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Parkersburg HDJ Review - 7th Street Dairy Queen

As I was leaving Parkersburg after a meeting recently I spied the familiar DQ sign along my route and decided to begin my DQ research here. It was also the first Parkersburg HDJ I've officially visited so I wasn't at all sure what I would find as far as toppings on an "everything" dog. I thought that maybe I might find the same mongrel dogs as in Huntington and I'd have to alienate another city along the Ohio River. I was quite relieved to find that Parkersburg has decided to be included as a full partner in good standing with the rest of the state: Chili, Slaw, mustard and onions are standard. No asking for a "slaw dog" in P-burg (which means we can now fill in Wood County with light green on the slaw map). They also have footlong versions of both their regular hot dogs and that DQ specialty, the chili cheese dog.

Unfortunately, despite finding the right ingredients on the hot dog, they weren't very good ingredients. The chili was the basic DQ Coney Sauce that has a bland taste and no character to speak of. The slaw was the regular food service kind with gigantic pieces of cabbage and virtually no taste. The bun tasted kind of old and seemed to be a little stale. Interesting since the Heiners truck was just leaving as I walked in (I must have gotten the last of the old bag). The service was very friendly and I really wanted to like their product, but it just falls short.

Now that I have verified that Parkersburg is part of the W.Va. Hot Dog universe I look forward to going back and trying some other local offerings but I don't think I'll go back to this DQ again, at least not for a hot dog.

I've been getting a lot of good emails from people telling me about their favorte Dairy Queen locations and I am hopeful that I am going to find some really good hot dogs as in the weeks to come as I try to hit as many DQs as I can. Keep those cards and letters coming!