Monday, February 26, 2007

New Name, Same Taste - The Hound House in Culloden

A coworker told me about a new hot dog place he'd seen over the weekend. He said it was on Route 60 in Culloden and it was called "The Hound House," so off I went thrilled to find a new HDJ in Culloden that could apply some market pressure on Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

You see on my previous visit to the Culloden location of the Lesage/Huntington based Hillbilly Hot Dogs I found that there was precious little to be thrilled about. The hot dogs were dull, the chili was weak and the slaw was uninspired. The decor was cool but the food was not. So I am thinking that another HDJ in the area, if it offered quality hot dogs, would force Hillbilly to step it up a much needed notch. Competition is usually a good thing.

But on my way through Culloden when I came to the place where I last saw Hillbilly's, instead I found The Hound House! I found out from the new owner that Hillbilly's has been out of business for quite some time, and that there have been two other HDJs in this building between Hillbilly's and The Hound House.

So, is the Hound House an improvement over the past tenants? Well, it's different, but I'm afraid it's not better. The slaw is a little better than Hillbilly's, but the chili isn't quite as good. The bun wasn't steamed or heated. The weenie was unremarkable. The decor that was so fun and irreverent as Hillbilly's is now just lifeless.

The Hound House does offer entertainment in the form of pool tables in the back room ($1 per game). Other than that, there's really nothing much to report about this little out of the way HDJ. As for a rating, well, since Hillbilly's garnered 3 Weenies and since The Hound House is pretty much the same, we'll leave the 3 Weenie rating in place.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Jerry Waters Radio Talk Show in Charleston

On Friday two of our local bloggers, Jackie Lantern and The Film Geek, where guests on a local AM talk show. The discussion was heavy about this blog and Charles live-blogged the show here.

After the show I took Jackie and The Film Geek to lunch at Chris' and they brought their new friend Jerry Waters and his producer Andy Albertini along. Now Jerry is an old Charleston boy and knows what he likes on his hot dogs and is pretty particular about how they are served. To say he didn't care for Chris' is an understatement. He railed about how the toppings didn't cover the weenie and how the bun wasn't steamed and how the onions were too hot. Regular listeners of Jerry's show know that he's not too quick to dole out compliments. 'Nuff said.

Well, in spite of Jerry's complaining about what I know is a first-class hot dog joint, I still found him to be a good guy and I really appreciated him promoting blogging and especially promoting this blog. I was eager to check my sitemeter today to see how all of the publicity had affected my traffic. Unfortunately there was no appreciable bump. I guess both of Jerry's regular listeners must've been at the doctor.

But thanks anyway, Jerry. It was fun.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hope for the Future?

Our Fairmont Weenie Wonk, Kevin, has stumbled upon two different of HDJs in his area that offer slaw as an easy option. This is significant news because he's not been seeking out HJs that are out of phase with Marion County norms. No, this is a random sampling of Fairmont area HDJs, and while he's not found any that have slaw as a standard topping, it's a start.

If the anecdotes are correct, slaw as a hot dog topping began in the 1920's near Charleston. By 1960 all southern West Virginia HDJs were putting slaw on their hot dogs. Forty years later slaw is at least optional on hot dogs in 47 of our 55 counties. That is remarkable growth by any measure. It also reasonably predicts the certainty of an eventual statewide slaw coup.

The exception might be the panhandle counties. The Northern panhandle is a lost cause, and frankly a loss that the rest of us aren't terribly concerned about. Except for Cabela's, most West Virginian's really don't give much thought to what happens north of the Mason-Dixon line. And the Morgan, Berkley and Jefferson tri-county area might as well be its own soverignty, and probably could be with the incredible amount of tax dollars it gets from all the rich DC folks that have flocked to the area in the past ten years. With this population has come a complete corruption of any trace of West Virginia food culture that might have existed there before the exodus.

But with the panhandles excepted, the recent cracks in the Marion County anti-slaw armor identified by Kevin have given me hope that I very well might see a unified state hot dog culture in my lifetime.

As the slaw line drifts slowly north, though, I'm sad to note that the "grits line" is moving rapidly to the south. It used to be that if you stopped for breakfast along I77 anywhere south of Princeton you got grits on your plate whether or not you ordered them. Over the years I've heard reports that you now pretty much have to go well into North Carolina before you can be sure to get grits. The line is also reportedly shrinking to the north from Florida into Georgia. There are rural pockets where grits still happen, but in more populous areas grits are not standard equipment anymore. Who would have ever dreamed of a gritless south? Food trends come and go with migration, the influence of pop culture and a whole host of other factors. The times they are a changin'.

But changing for the better in West Virginia. Someday, hopefully soon, we may be able to go to Morgantown for a game and actually have a decent hotdog with slaw! Can you imagine? Or walking into Yann's and ordering a hot dog with slaw without the threat of being tossed off the bridge? Be still my heart!

I have a dream. When one day little girls from Charleston and little boys from Fairmont can meet for a hot dog in Huntington and get really good slaw on a hot dog! I see a future where "sauce" and "chili" are used interchangebly without any prejudice, and that whatever it is called it will be dark brown and spicy and not contain a trace of beans or bean paste. In that time there will be no ketchup on hot dogs, no stale buns, no waterlogged weenies! There will only be glorious manefestations of God's goodness, wrapped in wax paper and sold for a dollar a piece! Tubular manna, prepared with love. That is my dream.

Say "Amen!" somebody!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Article on M & M Dairy Bell and

In its Wednesday, February 21 edition, the Ironton Tribune ran an article on M & M Dairy Bell receiving a 5-weenie rating from my review of the hot dog joint. I spoke with the reporter over the phone yesterday and elaborated upon why I believe that M & M is the best hot dog joint in the Huntington area.

The article also gives some background and history of the establishment and their stellar hot dog sauce.

Check it out here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

WVHDs and Academia

A particular professor at Marshall University knows that the way to a student's brain is through his or her stomach. He has given students in his course on "
Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling" The following extra credit opportunity. From the syllabus, we read:

Bonus Opportunity: Many cultural differences are subtle: differences in custom, ritual and practice can occur even in small geographical areas, among groups that are otherwise very similar. West Virginia is a great example of an area where the population shares broad commonalities (in race, ethnicity, religious faith and customs and education, for example) while having very subtle—yet important—differences in language and lifestyle.
One example of this difference is how WV views the hot dog. How the hot dog is perceived as a meal and the language that is used to describe the condiments put on it are unique to the area, and may be very different according to which region of the state the hot dog is made. Those differences may well be the result of economics, heritage and familial customs or rural isolation.
Or, they may simply be because that’s how people like a good hot dog!
35 bonus points will be awarded for a three-page, typed essay on the topic:
The West Virginia Hot Dog: Regional Differences, and Why They Exist

He also promised the students additional bonus points if they could convince me to publish the essay, in full or an excerpt, on this blog. So, with that long introduction, I present to you portions of the first such essay I have received, from Donna G. Christian:

The hot dog is known to many West Virginians as a quick inexpensive meal. For others it is equivalent to a steak. If given a choice between a hot dog and a steak, many choose hot dog. Why is it this way? I will give some thoughts and history on the hot dog that might explain the why.

The reason I think hot dogs mean different things in different counties of West Virginia has a lot to do with economics, family customs and rural isolation. But most importantly they just taste good. Some say hot dogs are an everyday event while others have hot dog on special occasions. The reason there is a difference in chili sauce and sauce is what each county traditionally became accustom too. Generation after generation has served their idea of what should or should not go on the hot dog, and it has carried over with each generation in every county.
As one gets older usually their taste buds change. But most everyone still loves a hot dog and is nostalgic when eating one. In my case it reminds me of being young, having lots of friends and family over. This is what I reminiscence about when I eat my first hot dog of the season. There is nothing like a hot dog when spring first comes. Today I could buy steak, but my family and I love the taste and the feeling we get while eating a hot dog. Normally speaking we eat more hot dogs than steak.
I, for one, am very glad that the most important issues of life in West Virginia are finally being addressed by our state's higher eduction system. Kudos, Professor!

Thursday, February 15, 2007 Store is now open!

We would be so psyched if just one person bought one of our shirts, hats or bags!

Your purchase would help keep this blog and the website going and you will look really cool.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Your Friendly Neighborhood Weenie Wonks

Charleston Magazine features several local eateries in the latest issue. One of those is Chris' Hot Dogs. In the article they give some love to this blog, pointing out that Chris' received last year's Weenie Award for Best Chili and Best Hot Dog Joint.

"According to the wonks at" they write. Did you hear that Chris and Kevin? We are now officially known as Weenie Wonks!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fairmont HDJ Review - Something not quite right at Wright Dawgs

Following a holiday hiatus lasting far longer than I desired, I finally bring to you: Wright Dogs, the newest player in the highly competitive hot dog vending world that is Fairmont, WV.

Some of you will, undoubtedly, recognize the exterior facade of this location. For those that don't, it is located in the old Dog House abode. If you visited the Dog House, you will recognize significant changes inside. The kitchen area has been compressed to allow for a more traditional 'bar' seating arrangement more typical of hot dog stands. Where did this and other new ideas come from? New management, of course; a local husband and wife team, who have opened this as their first restaurant.

On with the dogs:

Firstly, we see that this is yet another WVHD from a Fairmont HDJ (clearly, a coup is taking place). While the slaw is not a standard topping (ie, it wouldn't come on an 'everything' dog), it is available. Sadly though, the slaw aficionados who frequent this site will be disappointed in this rendition. While the slaw is cut incredibly small (lending to a good texture), this seems to have resulted in the release of too much liquid from the cabbage. I found it to have minimal flavor, perhaps the faintest hint of sweetness present. Overall it was just too watery and bland to offer a complement to the rest of the dog.

An unfortunate truth, since the rest of the dog, while basic, was quite good. Consisting of a basic, bagged and lightly steamed bun; basic wiener; mustard; freshly chopped onion; all smothered under an adequate portion of meaty 'sauce' yielded a quite good dog (or dawg, as the case may be). The sauce was definitely harboring a special blend of spices, resulting in a taste that I can't say I've sampled previously. While I couldn't quite place the rogue elements within, it certainly agreed with my palate. Also agreeable were the fresh cut french fries. Seems like such a simple thing to do right, I always wonder why more places don't roll their own.

On a different hot dog review site, this dog would undoubtedly garner higher accolades. However, in the defining moment of becoming a WVHD, certain standards must be achieved. Wright Dawgs falls a little short of WVHD domination with a 3.5 wienie rating.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Charleston HDJ Review - The Comfort Station

So here we are at the second stop in our absolutely unintentional little tour of Hot Dog Joints With Unusual Names. If "Wal Rocks" wasn't enough, here we find a little hole in the wall on West Washington Street called "The Comfort Station."

Now in my experience "comfort stations" are not places you would want to eat. In fact, it would be just about the last place I would think of having lunch. So you wonder what the owners were thinking when they named this place. But then you also must immediately wonder what I was thinking when I went in looking for a hot dog. Let's just leave all the wondering aside for now, shall we?

To be honest, I saw the words "Hot Dogs" on the sign as I was driving by. I turned around and parked and it was only after I was at the front door that I saw the name of the place. It wasn't enough to stop me from going in, but I confess that if the decor inside had been Early American Outhouse I would have immediately turned around. Happily it wasn't. Instead it is an eclectic motif that is part "Urban Prairie" and part Southern charm. The two young ladies who were working the counter were delightful and eager to please.

It was, though, just about what you'd expect for an urban eatery in a working neighborhood. An old building, but clean. Friendly service and decent food. The menu is full of home-cookin' specialties like liver & onions, pork chops in gravy, fried potatoes and a full compliment of vegetables. And hot dogs.

The hot dogs were carefully made with obviously homemade slaw that was a little coarse but very sweet and tasty. The chili was a little bland but the bun was nicely steamed and that helped the overall texture of the hot dog. For $1 each it's hard to complain. "Everything" includes ketchup in addition to the chili, slaw, onions and mustard. We'll give the hot dog a 4 Weenie rating because of the steamed bun, the nice homemade slaw and the outgoing friendliness of the servers.

The Comfort Station is open Mon-Saturday 11AM to 9:00 PM. It's located at 1819 W. Washington Street just down the block from Pile Hardware.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Charleston Area Hot Dog Review - Wal Rocks

Don't ask me. I have no idea why it's called "Wal Rocks."

This little hot dog joint sits near the intersection of Rt. 60 and Witcher Creek Drive just east of Belle. It is inside a large metal building that also houses a grocery store. A sign on the outside lets you know that they sell food inside, but the name of the establishment is nowhere to be found. If I hadn't seen an advertisement in the local shopping guide that gave the address of Wal Rocks I would never have known what the place was called.

Inside there are a couple of pool tables but for the most part looks like it is still under construction. A beverage cooler along one wall has the name of the former tennant emblazoned proudly on the wall above it, but the cooler is empty and dark. The cavernous interior is devoid of anything of interest. I had intended to eat there but the atmosphere insisted I get my dogs to go.

The same advertisement that rought me to Wal Rocks also claimed that it had been voted to have "The Best Hot Dogs up Witcher." Not a surprising claim since they are only hot dogs up Witcher unless you count the ones that Esta Memorial Baptist Church sells once in a while at fundraisers. But when I arrived and saw the sign I found out that they also claimed to have the "Best Hot Dogs in Town." Technically they aren't in any town, but since they are closest to the Town of Belle, we'll assume that's what they mean. Since I could not find any other HDJ in Belle then I guess they might be right on that count as well.

But as I've said before, if you advertise you have the best hot dogs in town, you better by golly make a good effort or is going to judge you very harshly. With this in mind, let's see what Wal Rocks has to offer.

"Everything" I was told in a very unsure manner, includes chili, slaw, mustard and onions; Ketchup if I wanted it. I didn't.

The chili smelled good and had a good flavor, but lacked any spicyness whatsoever. The slaw was fine and creamy but completely lacked sweetness. The bun was straight out of the Heiners bag and fresh enough, but no steaming or other heating. Onions were a little strong - probably from being chopped for so long before serving.

Overall a 3.5 Weenie rating is all this hot dog earns.

Friday, February 02, 2007

"What is everything?"

That's what I always ask when I order a hot dog at a new place. At first the reason I asked was to ascertain the ingredients that the HDJ felt were proper to put on a hot dog for the purposes of writing the review. But after a while a pattern began to develop that has now given me a different reason altogether to ask: The response and the manner the response is given is a very good indication of how good the hot dog is going to be.

And I don't mean that if the right stuff is included then I know it will be good, because that is simply not true. Chili, slaw, mustard and onions (the only correct way to top a real WVHD) are all subject to being really bad individually and therefore the potential for bad hot dogs that are technically correct is great. No, what I mean is that the way the question is answered - the conviction of the response - is very telling about how serious the HDJ is about hot dogs.

When I ask "what is everything?" and the response is authoritative in its tone, it doesn't matter what the words are. If the matter has been thought through properly and the ingredients have been proven to be complimentary of each other then the reply will come with great confidence. The confidence of the reply is nearly always in direct proportion to the quality of the complete hot dog. Whether chili or sauce, whether slaw or no slaw, even if they say"ketchup", the hot dog is going to be be better because of the intention behind it.

Any wavering or indecisiveness in the face of the question means that this is not a serious hot dog joint, it's just a place that sells weenies on buns with chili and slaw and maybe ketchup or mustard and possibly onions. The chili is probably poorly prepared and the slaw, store-bought. No thought is given to the quality of the weenie or the bun. It is nearly always a terrible hot dog.

Now sometimes a good HDJ can have people working the counter that lack the experience or knowledge to confidently say what "everything" means. Maybe the high school kid that works the evening shift, or the extra lunchtime help hasn't been properly trained. No matter, it's still a good indicator. If the HDJ has a great product and is intentional about providing its customers a consistent experience then they will be committed to having their order takers on board with the vision.

So, pay attention all you hot dog sellers. Get your people on the same page and decide in advance what you put on my hot dog when I ask for everything.

I am listening.