Thursday, March 29, 2007

Charleston Area HDJ Review - Lil' Huskey's Ice Cream Shoppe

Don't you just love Spring? The trees begin their budding and the mild temperatures make outside the place to be. And then there's the re-opening of those certain roadside ice cream stands that have been closed down since just before Thanksgiving. And whenever there is a roadside dairy bar there is a pretty good chance there are good hot dogs, too.

I first tried to visit Lil' Huskey's in Cross Lanes last November to no avail. I wasn't sure when to go back because the sign only said "Closed 'till Spring." Well, according to the calendar it is now Spring, and the weather sure fits, so I thought I'd check it out again. This time I was greeted by a neon "open" sign.

I think that I read that Lil' Huskey's is somehow familially connected with Huskey's Dairy Bar in North Charleston, but certainly Lil' Huskey's is much newer and nicer than its city cousin. It has a nice little dining room where 20 or so diners can sit and a couple of umbrella shaded tables outside for those who prefer their hot dogs alfresco.

The hot dogs are fairly reminiscent of the other Huskey's, though, and that would be a good thing.

The Hot Dog: Chili, slaw, mustard and onions are standard equipment at Lil' Huskey's. My bun was fresh but not steamed. The slaw was great: Fine cut, creamy and nicely sweet. The chili had a great flavor with just a little spicy kick; the texture was nice. The onions were nicely chopped but seemed to be a bit stronger than they needed to be. Overall, though, this is a darn good hot dog. I'll give it a 4.5 Weenie rating, the same rating as the other Huskey's earned last year.

The service was friendly and the ice cream treats on the menu are tempting. The hours are posted as "Monday-Saturday 11AM to PM" with the PM number conspicuously missing, so call ahead (304- 776-2561) before making a special trip late in the PM.

Lil' Huskey's is a quarter mile down Little Tyler Mountain Road (Washington Street West or Rt. 62 if you are looking at a map) from "The Stoplight" in Cross Lanes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Charleston HDJ Review - Sam's Hot Dog Stand - Hale Street

The now former radio talk show host, Jerry Waters, told me at our recent rendezvous at Chris' that he preferred Sam's Hot Dogs on Hale Street to any HDJ in town. I told him that I have never had a really good hot dog from there and he implored me to try again. So I did.

This time I opted for the "hot" version. It was much better than any I had eaten there before. The chili has a nice little kick (although nothing like what Marion Countians call a "kick") and the slaw is creamy and a little bit sweet (although nothing like folks in southern WV call "sweet"). The bun was lightly steamed (although nothing like what folks in central WV called "steamed") and pretty fresh (although nothing like what Huntingtonians call "fresh").

The one thing that remained exactly the same, though, as on my previous visits was that the weenie was completely waterlogged. This was my major complaint with this Sam's location before and I have since found this same trait at other Sam's locations.

But in spite of the waterlogged weenie I will admit to Jerry that this hot dog is a couple of cuts above the average. If the weenie were better I'd give Sam's Hale Street another half-Weenie, but a 4 Weenie rating is all I can earnestly award right now.

Sam's Hot Dog Stand on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Charleston HDJ - Diana's Capitol Street Cafe

Last June I panned the hot dogs sold in a place called Diana's Snack Bar. In that review I noted the futility of selling hot dogs next door to the Swiftwater Cafe. Someone must have agreed because in mid-January Diana's pulled up stakes and moved about a half block East and a half block to the South on Capitol Street.

The new place is much larger, brighter and roomier with seating for 12 people or so.

I know that I often insist on a steamed bun, and that is my absolute preference to be sure, but I can also appreciate a grilled New England Style bun or an oven-toasted bun like they serve at Diana's. My bun was definitely right out of the oven and was just about perfectly toasted. The dreaded hot dog coffin it came served in kept the toasted bun in good shape. The chili was decent, nothing to write home about, but not bad. The slaw was sweet and creamy. The onions were finely minced and piled on in a large helping, but I couldn't help but think how much they looked and tasted like the reconstituted onions that McDonald's puts on their regular hamburgers.

Now in case you don't remember, the last hot dog I had at Diana's didn't even get a rating. But in their new location, Diana's gets a solid 3 1/2 Weenie ranking. Definitely a candidate for the most improved hot dog. With better onions and a little more interesting chili it could easily get another half Weenie.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charleston HDJ Review - OH! Grandy's Deli

An alert reader sent me a message about a new hot dog joint, Grandy's Deli, she had read about in the Kanawha City Consumer Guide. I was doubly surprised because I had never heard of the publication before and I hadn't heard of any new HDJs opening up.

The next day I was sitting in the waiting room of a local governmental agency and I spied a copy of the aforementioned guide sitting on the table, complete with a large color photo of a genuine looking WVHD on the front page. I decided that this was a sign that I needed to high-tail it on over to Grandy's.

When I arrived at the address my reader had sent me, I was somewhat surprised to find that it is the former site of Mr. C's Hot Dogs. I say "somewhat surprised" because even though I had predicted last year that Mr. C's was on its way out, but I was not aware that anything had taken its place.

The name in the window reads "OH! Grandy's Deli". Inside the place looks like it's been painted and a few little decorative touches have been added, but overall it looks pretty much the same as Mr. C's. The menu is much the same, as best as I recall, right down to the optional yellow slaw. I was eager to see if the hot dogs were as tasty.

Everything includes chili, slaw, mustard, onions and (sigh) ketchup. I opted for no ketchup, of course. My dog came wrapped in aluminum foil even though it was an eat-in order. The bun was not steamed, but it was warm. I couldn't tell if it was warm from being wrapped in foil with the weenie and chili or if it had been warmed before it was put there. The bun was OK. The chili was pretty good; faintly spicy and with good texture, but it could stand to be cooked longer or hotter. The slaw was coarsely chopped but had enough dressing to make it almost runny. It tasted great; very sweet and a little tart. Maybe a hint of peppers in there somewhere. Next time I think I'll try the yellow slaw.

I'm going to give Grandy's hot dogs a 4 Weenie rating.

Overall a nice little corner HDJ in an upper Kanawha City neighborhood that needs a little eatery. Their current hours are 10-4PM, but I'm not sure about weekends. They can be found at 660 MacCorkle Avenue SE, right across from Galaxy Lanes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Marmet HDJ Review - Sam's Hot Dog Stand

I erred when I wrote that the Malden location of Sam's was the furthest eastward outpost of this chain. Marmet is across the Kanawha River and few miles further east. I stumbled across this Sam's on the way back from Drawdy and I thought I should stop to see if the diversity we have found at Sam's locations would be continued here. It is.

The building is tiny and cramped, made even more so by the existence of a gambling room behind a smoked glass door (this is the second Sam's location that has a backroom gambling room. Interesting combination, hot dogs and video lottery) .

The first thing about this Sam's that was different was that they have only a "Hot Dog" listed on the menu. No "English Dog." No choice of mild or spicy chili. No "healthy dog" choice. Just a hot dog. I must observe that this chain is way more varied in its locations than any other franchised restaurant I've encountered.

But the "Hot Dog" was OK. Actually, it was better than OK, it was quite good. Compared to the Malden location, the weenie is better (not as waterlogged), but the chili isn't quite as good. As a result we're going to stick with the 4 Weenie rating for the Marmet location.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Welcome, Logan Banner Readers!

The Logan Banner has a story in today's edition about, and more particularly our review of Morrison's Drive Inn .

Thanks to author Martha Sparks and the rest of the Logan Banner folks! Check out the paper's website; it's first-class.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Boone County HDJ - Shirley's Pioneer Drive In

It was last Summer I got the first email suggestion to try the hot dogs at Pioneer Drive In in Drawdy. I had no idea where Drawdy was, so I wrote the reader back and asked her. She said it was just a hoot and a holler from Peytona. I had heard of Peytona, and I was pretty sure I had been there, but once again, I needed clarification: "Peytona is just a little piece from Racine," was the reply. Oh, I know where Racine is. It's just over Len's Creek Mountain from Hernshaw, which is just out Rt. 94 from a few miles from Marmet. Everybody knows where Marmet is.

It took a while to carve out the time for a trip over to Drawdy, but I got several more emails about it in the mean time, and my interest - and my hunger - was piqued. I finally made the trip.

Now I gotta admit, when I heard "Pioneer Drive In" I had wondered what kind of drive in there would be on Rt3 clear over in Boone County. I couldn't imagine a place with curb service that far off the beaten path (heck, I couldn't imagine a place with curbs that far off the beaten path). Still though, when I finally made it to Drawdy and rounded the curve nearest the Pioneer, I actually zipped right by the place because it doesn't look like a drive-in whatsoever. What it looks like is a typical roadside beer joint. It is a white cinderblock building with peeling and fading paint and a line drawing of a Conestoga wagon on one side. Two signs give conflicting information about the name of the place: One hangs from the side of the building and says "Shirley's Bar and Grill" and the one in the wagon drawing says "Pioneer Drive In." So for the record we'll call it "Shirley's Bar and Grill at Pioneer Drive In" (ala "Oriole Park at Camden Yards" or "University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field"); "SB&G@PDI" for short.

Inside, the SB&G@PDI is much more interesting. It has a few tables, a big screen TV, a pool table and a full bar. A hand written mixed drink menu on a piece of poster board hangs from the refrigerator in the bar that lists prices for White Russians, Pina Coladas, Fuzzy Navels, Sloe Screws, etc. Delightfully unrefined and unpretentious. On each table sits a galvanized bucket of peanuts. Another menu board on the wall lists the food items, chief among these, and in first position on the board, are hot dogs.

I wasn't surprised to find that "everything" means chili, slaw, mustard, onions and ketchup. I have really had a run recently of ketchup laden HDJs. I opted out of the red stuff and ordered two hot dogs with everything else. It took quite a while to get my order, but it was worth every second of the wait.

When my dogs arrived they were warm, soft and wrapped in wax paper. The buns were so nicely steamed that the actually conformed to the shape of my hand when I picked them up.
Unwrapping the first dog, I was treated to a marvelous bouquet of "Essence of WVHD" that made my mouth water. The first bite made me realize why readers had pointed me in this direction. Every part of the hot dog was great and nearly perfectly executed. The only thing I could possibly nit-pick would be that the chili could be a little more spicy and complex, but it tasted fine and was perfect in texture. The slaw was very, very good and served in a heapin' helpin'. The onions were sweet and carefully chopped. A great hot dog.

I'm going to give the SB&G@PDI hot dog a 4 1/2 Weenie rating. The dog is not quite a 5 on its own merits, and the place doesn't really make up for the difference with its atmosphere. But a 4 1/2 is nothing to be ashamed of. So far it is the best hot dog I've found in Boone County.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Putnam County Hot Dog Joint: Hittin' the Ground Runnin' at Sam's Hot Dog Stand--Teays Valley

A little taste of Huntington has recently opened in a strip mall along Teays Valley Road: a new establishment that is a franchisee of both Monty's Pizza and Sam's Hot Dog Stand. While I will pass on Monty's Pizza (give me Pizza Hut, Hussons, Lorenzo's (RIP soon), Graziano's, or Gino's first), I am a complete mark for Sam's hot dogs, so I knew I'd have to check this place out at some point. I have heard that individual Sam's locations can vary dramatically in quality, especially the further east one traveled, and I wanted to see if this location was more 8th Street or Charleston.

Much to my surprise, Sam's-Teays Valley is doin' right by the Sam's Hot Dog Stand brand.

I was taken aback at first by the $1.49 per dawg price point. That is about a quarter more per weenie than usual, but nothing too shocking like over at The Hottest Dog.

The friendly dog jerk (or is it dog tender? or maybe dog artisan?) got right to work on the assembly station and insisted on making me another dog when I commented to myself that I had forgotten to ask for spicy sauce. Friendly service is always a great way to win repeat customers (and brownie points from weenie critics).

The dog had all of the usual components of a Sam's dog: the spicy sauce, the uber-chopped (if slightly dry) slaw, and a Huntington-fresh bun. However, it can be said that ol' boy hooked me up, big time. He added sauce and slaw by the shovelful, really piling it on. Lots of great tasting toppin's also make me happy. While I'm not saying that this guy is quite up their with Yann and the guy from 8th St, but he sure knows how to dress a dog.

The atmosphere was pretty cool, too. It was kind of cramped, but it was arraigned much like many of the cramped restaurants in small towns throughout West Virginia that have served up some of the best fast food anywhere. Furthermore, the fact that the place is also a pizza joint helps sell a trip to get some great hot dogs to those that are insisting on something other than good hot dogs (ie Northern Panhandlers).

While I reserve the right ot re-review this joint after it has settled in for a few months, right now I have to give this place 4.5 weenies. It is the single best example in terms of atmosphere and toppin's-hookup at a Sam's Hot Dog Stand (my favorite chain) and should be honored as such. Hopefully, they can keep it up.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Huntington Hot Dog Joint: 5th Ave. Dairy Queen

As Stanton so thouroughly proved last September, many Dairy Queens in West Virginia put their own unique spin on their hot dogs by peppering up their coney sauce, grilling the weenies, or doing something to distinguish their dawgs from the DQ five miles up the road.

The Dairy Queen on 5th Ave in the Highlawn neighborhood of Huntington is not one of those DQs.

Honestly, I was tempted not not write a review at all for the joint and instead just list some links to past reviews of sub-standard DQ dogs and let our smart and savvy reader base figure out what I was trying to say. But, after checking my contract, I learned in the fine print that if I should ever write a half-arsed review I would have to wear a T shirt that reads "Charleston deserves 7 delegates and Don Nehlen doesn't eat only apple sauce while playing Scrabble because he has absolutely no problem with choking during games." In order to avoid breaking the 9th Commandment (8th in Catholicism) and to get paying for all of that lettering, I will instead give a real review a go.

Basically, the dog suffered from having the same corporate-issued weenie and sauce that DQ imposes on its franchisees. Although the 5th Ave DQ advertised a new all-beef weenie that was 25% larger than before, the upgrade was barely noticeable at all. I guess if anything, it was like getting a hot dog from the Phillips Academy cafeteria instead of Richwood High School's lunch room (props to Oncee). Industrial grade all the way. Same for the sauce: you could almost taste the aluminum from the freshly-opened can that it had been resting within for months.

All was not lost, however. The grilled New England-style bun was a nice touch and the slaw was actually quite good, if not entirely dissimilar to Ballard's slaw.

Overall, the 5th Ave DQ gets 3 weenies. Not too bad if you are already going there for Blizzards and Moolattes, but not by any means a destination dog. This rings especially true considering that Stewart's Original is three blocks to the west and a Sam's is two blocks to the east.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charleston Hot Dog Joint Review - The Blossom Dairy

It's probably near criminal to call The Blossom Deli a Hot Dog Joint. And it's also probably just as criminal to compare the hot dog they sell with those found at places like Dairy Queen, but hey, it's my blog.

The Blossom Deli, in it's current form, opened in 1994 when owner Bill Sohovich moved back to Charleston and decided to open a restaurant. Thousands of happy diners are even happier that he did. It is consistently one of the best restaurants in Charleston and Bill's other restaurant, Soho's, is one of the other best that Charleston has to offer.

The Blossom is a little bit schizophrenic. Each day the lunch crowd jams the Art Deco booths and bar stools. The beautiful old marble-lined walls and domed ceiling tend to amplify the din of the diners until it reaches a point that makes interpersonal communication nearly impossible. The menu consists of a nice selection of impeccably prepared sandwiches and salads, a Soup du Jour and an honest to goodness Blue Plate Special. The prices are quite reasonable and the whole place just seems to have a casual elegance that makes it a really nice place to have lunch.

But when the sun sinks low in the sky The Blossom really puts on The Ritz. The white linen table cloths come out, as do the flower vases and candles on each table. No one sits at the counter, and no one sitting at tables wear blue jeans. The chatter is much more subdued, allowing the cool jazz playing in the background to come through loud and clear. Seafood and pasta take the place of sandwiches and the price of your visit goes up substantially.

But whatever time of day you go, you will find out that Chef Bill knows his stuff. He also knows his clientele. And that is where we begin with our hot dog review.

Bill is a native Charlestonian, he is a fabulous gourmet chef and he makes hot dogs: You can do the math and figure out what a Blossom Hot Dog must be like. But for those who are mathematically challenged, allow me to interpret.

First of all, it's big. The weenie is one of those Chicago Big Red style all-beef versions that requires a bun much larger than a typical WVHD to contain it. If you eat normally order two hot dogs at your favorite WVHD Joint, you will only need to order one at The Blossom. This is a good thing because at $3.50 it is more than double the price of a typical WVHD. Now some gourmet chefs might take a big ol' hot dog like this and cover it gourmet toppings to make it a little more, well, gourmet. But not Chef Bill. No, here is a native Charlestonian that hasn't lost touch with his culinary roots: What is "Everything"? Chili, slaw, mustard and onions. But like the rest of the hot dog it is served in large portions and like the rest of The Blossom's offerings, it is unbelievably good.

The chili is thick & meaty and loaded with a rich chili powder-induced slow burn. The slaw is nothing terribly fancy but very good and served in proportion to the rest of the giant dog. The only thing that tips you off as to the "gourmet" nature of this dog is the very pretty minced Red Bermuda onions that add a colorful touch to the presentation and a little more spice for the taste buds.

Put it all together and you have a big hot dog that looks great and tastes as good as it looks. It is a satisfying meal by itself and the atmosphere of The Blossom makes all the more satisfying. I am going to give this hot dog a Five Weenie rating, but it really should have an asterisk that alerts people to the fact that this is not a typical WVHD or a typical WVHD Joint. On flavor alone, it wouldn't quite make a Five. But still, it's a unique WVHD experience that you really should try if you have the opportunity.