Friday, January 05, 2007

Marion County Hot Dog Review - Hank's Deli

Hanks Deli occupies an inside corner location in the, now largely defunct, Middletown Mall. It has a rather unassuming styling and decor, with a fair amount of seating available for eating in. Today's time sensitive visit, however, required a to-go order. Hank's Deli, as the name would suggest, is a deli style restaurant/menu. As one would expect from a deli, there are a number of assorted sandwiches, about ten in total; most with names like "The Blue Ridge" and "Gone Turkey" all of which are served with Pickle and Chips as standard. However, deli sandwiches are not the task at hand. We're here to find out how the deli can compete with the more traditional HDJs in the world of West Virginia Hot Dogs.

As the friendly city resident reviewer, I've never really considered slaw to be essential to the Hot Dog experience. Undoubtedly, this is much the same for other Fairmont residents, as the appearance on slaw as a hot dog topping option on the menu is as rare as finding hen's teeth. Predominantly, the HDJ's in Fairmont serve up cheap dogs with mustard onion and the HDJ proprietor's rendition of what chili/sauce should be. Most locales employ a similar formula to ensure a relatively low cost: a basic packaged bun, cheap wiener simple menu and speedy service all serve to work towards the ability to turn over untold numbers of dogs in short order.
A quick read over the menu at Hank's Deli quickly portrays the differences between Hank's and the other local HDJ's:
First up comes the sticker shock. With little fear of being corrected. I dare say, on the surface, these are the most expensive in north central WV (coming in at about $5 for my pair of hotdogs). Not to be unfair, they are apparently only available served with the standard pickle slices and chips that come with the other deli sandwich offerings. Next up comes the real shocker. Reading down the different dog options (of which there are six, if you count the "tally dog", a pepperoni roll available with chili) with their "deli names" I spot "Messy Dog". Reading across we learn a "Messy Dog" is one served with "Ann's Chili" AND "Hank's Slaw"(I half expected this to be served on the side, ala DJ's Diner, however, this slaw is actually ON the dog!). This certainly marks the first occasion I can recall seeing WVHD's in Fairmont. I proceeded carefully, as I thought surely there would be booby traps waiting to ensnare me on my (Holy Grail) quest for the first 'true' WVHD on record in Marion County. Alas, no traps and no ticker tape parades ensued, just fast, friendly counter service.

As mentioned previously, this trip was for a to-go order. At first, I didn't think anything out of the ordinary about the large Styrofoam container (like what you would get to take home leftovers in from a restaurant) the dogs were handed to me in. Upon opening it, however, it becomes obvious that deli presentation is an important consideration here. A few pickle slices serve to add colorful garnish. Also present alongside the dogs is an ample portion of the aforementioned 'chips' (which I had expected to simply be "out of the bag chips", in fact turned out to be of the fresh, 'deli made' variety, a welcome surprise.) The dogs were placed on individual paper trays and they were indeed messy. Ample portions of both chili and slaw were piled high and virtually flowing out of the ends on the slightly grilled/browned wiener nestled in a faintly toasted bun (just enough to warm it and very lightly brown a few spots). Carefully picking up the "messy dog," I was somewhat unprepared for the heft present of a WVHD. It seemed even heavier than I remember at Romeo's in South Charleston (which I had opportunity to visit recently). The first bite certainly took me back to Romeo's as well. The slaw is carefully and finely cut to ensure a tender consistency and comes in as being quite sweet and creamy. Decidedly unlike the slaw I often find served on the side at most restaurants in town. At first, the chili, while served in ample quantity, seems almost lost under the mountain of slaw. Carefully tasting it, it seems at first to just be a simple, sweet tasting chili. Another tasting elicits some underlying complexities and a faint tingle. Though, the taste is far more subtle than you'll find in most other Fairmont HDJ's (No Yann's for you!). The chili's sweetness and slight spiciness complements and blends very well with the sweet and creamy slaw, it is clear that these two components were well planned to work together.

So how does the first WVHD located in Marion County rate? With a slightly toasted bun, a lightly grilled wiener, sweet and spicy chili all smothered under a tastefully tender, sweet and creamy rendition of WVHD slaw; all served with a side of fresh made chips. I can't help but give it a full 5 weenie rating. Hank's Deli is definitely a hidden gem and a welcome addition to the Fairmont HDJ family.

No comments: