Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Collegiate Hot Dog Essay

As I told you before, a certain professor at Marshall University has offered extra credit to any student who will write an essay about the regional differences in hot dogs, and bonus points for getting it published here. Here's the latest effort, by Tasha Lefevers: A Southern Girl’s Perspective on the WV Hot Dog I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky and Tennessee. We liked hot dogs there. They are definitely a cookout necessity in the South and are also a common menu item at fast food places. Despite the hot dog’s popularity down home it could never compare to the insatiable desire West Virginians have for them. I’ll illustrate some of the differences I’ve observed concerning general hot dog preferences between these two regions of Appalachia. There are an unbelievable number of restaurants right here in the Huntington area whose main dish is the hot dog. I couldn’t name a single operating hot dog stand anywhere near my hometown. I visited New York City as a teenager before ever coming to West Virginia. I was excited to get my first NY street vendor hot dog of movie and television fame, but was quite disappointed to learn that no one puts chili on a hot dog in the Big Apple. Sauerkraut was the only topping available besides the usual mustard, ketchup, relish and onions. Here in the Mountain State cole slaw seems to be the favored topping of this sort and ketchup and relish are rarely used. Slaw is an important aspect of a WV hot dog but it is rarely used in the southern states. In the South, chili and cheese, and I mean real chili, with whole beans, tomatoes, onions and meat sauce are regular toppings for a dog. In Huntington, chili on a hot dog is more commonly referred to as sauce. If you use Stewart’s hot dogs, a long standing Huntington institution, as an example, their topping is almost a paste. Sam’s and Hillbilly Hot Dogs’ both have a meatier sauce but sauce it is. While West Virginians are perfectly willing to top french fries with chili and cheese there seems to be some aversion to the application of both to a hot dog. A former boyfriend of mine, a Huntington native, would eat a hot dog with cheese alone or one with chili and slaw but never chili alone or chili and cheese together. This may have been just a personal preference but friends from the area have expressed similar tastes in hot dogs. The final major difference I see lies in the bun. Down south you just get your standard hot dog bun. I never had a New England Style bun before I came here. The buttery, toasted deliciousness of the New England Style bun is not to be missed. I am surprised that it hasn’t become a more popular hot dog practice in other areas. I think it might be just too much trouble for those who don’t love a hot dog as West Virginians do. Hot dogs are obviously treasured in our area. We support many businesses in which hot dogs are the top seller. New hot dog stands crop up all the time and a lot of the other restaurants always have them on the menu. Toppings and bun styles seem unique to the West Virginia, some of which are clear improvements over more northern and southern varieties. Who wants beans or kraut on a hot dog anyway? I’ll take one on an New England Style bun with sauce, mustard, and onions- West Virginia style, but no slaw please; I’m still a southern girl at heart.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Huntington Area Hot Dog Joint: Austin's Home-made Ice-cream

One of the fixtures of Appalachian cuisine is the family-owned dairy bar. Many of these locations make their own ice cream, have a walk-up window instead of interior seating, and are open only during the spring, summer, and early fall. Fortunately for weenie wonks, many of these locations serve hot dogs that feature signature sauce/chili and cole slaw.

Ceredo's Austin's Home-made Ice-cream is no exception. In addition to about eleventy-billion flavors of small-batch ice cream, they serve up hot dogs that my friend's from Westmoreland and C-K insist are some of the Trisate's best. The flurry of suggestions from my friends, as well as some light nagging from another blogger made a review for Austin's a no-brainer as soon as the warm weather returned.

I had a good omen as soon as I got to the window, as the cashier was perhaps the single most attractive weenie-ista that I have encountered since I started reviewing for An even better sign was that "everything" meant sauce, slaw, onions, and mustard.

As for the dog itself, the best description that I can think of is "an interesting experiment in Huntington-style dawgs." The sandwich was wrapped in expensive parchment paper, which indicated a commitment to quality. The bun and sausage were fresh if unsteamed (the former) and boiled (the latter), but still pretty good.

The sauce was a clever marriage of Stewart's bean-based sauce and the ground beef that most of the other joint's in the state. You could feel with your tongue both the texture of the bean paste and the specks of fresh beef mixed together. The seasoning was lighter than I like (although the great-tasting onions made up for the lack of chili powder) and I've never been a fan of any sort of bean product in my hot dog sauce, but I can see where the sauce is an academic exercise of sorts in seeking to make a compromise of popular chili sauce styles without anyone being able to accuse Austin's of copy-cattery. To sum up the sauce, it was not not my cup of tea, but could still be described as "quality," "well-made," and "thoughtful."

The slaw could be summed up with one word: perfect. It was very (but not too) creamy, perfectly chopped, well-sweetened with a hint of tart, and absolutely designed for hot dogs. This was the single best hot dog slaw that I have ever tasted. I smell a 2007 Weenie Award.

If it hadn't been for the slaw, this place may have been looking at a palatable-but-ho-hum 3 weenie rating. However, in the hypothetical situation that Aurthur I. Boreman, John Denver, and Randy Moss all stopped by and demanded that I show them the finest hot dog slaw in the world, I could only take them to Austin's. Therefore, on the strength of God's own cole slaw (remember, "it's all about the slaw"), I gotta give 'em a solid 4 weenie rating.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Braxton County HDJ Review - The Spot

In the midst of all of the many diverse food offerings at the Flatwoods exit of I79 sits a little sign that attempts to direct part of the voluminous traffic that exits there to a little dairy bar/HDJ a mile and a half up Rt 19. It worked on me.

Flatwods has a truck stop (which, amazingly, has great Mexican food) and all the fast food staples you'd expect (Wendy's, McDonalds, Subway, etc.) but there's not a decent hot dog joint to be found. The Spot (I know, it sounds like it's missing an adjective) is an oasis in the otherwise hot dog barren desert of the Flatwoods mini-metroplex. A nice little place that does a nice job with hot dogs.

The concrete block building is reminiscent of Kenny's down in West Hamlin, except with a little more of a country vibe (including rocking chairs on a makeshift front porch), and I found myself hoping beyond hope that the hot dogs would be as good as Kenny's. I was disappointed, but only a little.

I was glad when I saw the cook pop the buns into a steamer (a sure sign of hot dog excellence) and the slaw and chili also looked good from the distance of the drive-thru window. When I got my hot dog and opened it up I found very nice looking slaw served in a heaping-helping sitting atop an equally generous portion of chili. When I tasted the chili I could not help but notice that it looked and tasted just like that at the Gassaway Dairy Queen. It made me wonder if the two HDJs shared a common owner or at least a common vendor. The slaw, though, was different. A little sweeter and much more finely chopped. The weenie was also like the GDQ; small-caliber but tasty. Onions, if they were there, were so finely chopped they could not be detected. The whole dog was wonderfully messy, and the wax paper wrapping made it wonderfully gooey as well.

Flatwoods sits at the geographic center of West Virginia and it would have been a poetic victory if The Spot had delivered with a perfect WVHD, but it just misses the mark. Still, give The Spot a 4 1/2 Weenie rank for its obvious attention to hot dog detail (except they offer ketchup on the "everything" dog) and the quality of the product and the atmosphere of the HDJ.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Gassaway Dairy Queen

Another case of a HDJ that makes us wait until Spring, I had waited since last November for the the Gassaway Dairy Queen to reopen because I had heard from readers that is was the best place to get a hot dog in all of Braxton County. One of those readers emailed me recently to let me know it had opened and so I scheduled a trip with my wife to her favorite place, Everything Fiesta, and timed my departure from Charleston to insure I was passing the I79 Sutton/Gassaway exit just about lunchtime.

Finding the DQ is no problem. It sits just before the bridge into downtown Gassaway about 3 miles from the interstate, and it looks just like a typical Dairy Queen. Fortunately its hot dogs don't taste like typical DQ hot dogs.

My reader told me that this DQ doesn't adhere to the DQ chili norm, and that was evident from the first whiff. DQ "Coney Sauce" has a distinctive odor, er I mean aroma, and this hot dog gave off a wonderful bouquet. It was ulfactorily evident that tomatoes were a big part of this chili, and the color made it clear that it had been carefully and properly cooked. Little specks of red floating in the sauce made me think there were real chilis involved in the production of this stuff, not just chili powder. The texture and taste of the chili was as nice as the smell.

The slaw was rather coarsely chopped, but the cabbage was tender so it didn't matter. A nicely sweet taste was the only flavor I could detect. Pretty good, especially sitting on a perfectly steamed bun like this one.

I have to mention the weenie: It was small. The diameter was much smaller than average, but since it made room for more of the scrumptious chili and slaw, I didn't miss the heft much. It tasted fine and seemed to be grilled.

Oh, by the way, "everything" includes ketchup, mustard, chil, slaw and onions (enough with the ketchup already!).
Overall the Gassaway DQ gets a 4 1/2 Weenie rank.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Late night WV hot dogz at Sheetz

Some of you will no doubt be wondering why on earth I'm reviewing this chain when so many better HDJ's exist in North Central WV. The reason is actually quite simple: by virtue of my 'new job' I've been keeping ever more odd hours. So, I set out to see where one is to go at 2AM for a WVHD. I found out, strangely enough, you can go to a Pennsylvania based business to fill that burning desire.

For the uninitiated: Sheetz, based in Altoona, PA, is a convenience/gas store with about 300 locations in PA, OH, MD, VA, NC and WV (furthest south in WV is Weston, IIRC). They offer a variety of "Made to order (tm)" subs and sandwiches (which the customer orders by a touchscreen terminal[some locations even have order screens at the pumps!], making the items EXTREMELY customizable) as well as a large fountain drink section, coffee and cappuccino selection and, more recently, self service milkshake makers (which are surprisingly tasty).

So, what about the dogz? You can get them with an assortment of toppings, from cheese to mayo (I opted for neither, going for the traditional WVHD combination of mustard, onion, chili/sauce and slaw). The wiener was lightly browned by virtue of being cooked on one of those continuously rolling grillers. The bun was straight out of the bag and cold. To this was added mustard and onion (which tasted surprisingly fresh for 2AM) some variety of canned chili/coney sauce and a prepackaged/refrigerated slaw. Given the, apparently, standardized toppings, I imagine there is not much variation from location to location.

In the case of Sheetz' Hot Dogz this would seem to be an unfortunate thing. The wiener, while grilled, was more than a little over cooked (not burnt, but cooked to the point where it had about the same consistency of boiled shoe leather). The slaw seemed overly creamy (almost to the point of slimey) with no sweetness and minimal flavor, it offered no synergy to the experience. The out of the can chili, seemed to be akin to one of the less expensive, canned varieties, with small chunks of the meaty substance sitting in a chili-like sauce, like the slaw I found it lacking in flavor. While the dogz initially come in as some of the cheapest I've ever had at 2 for $0.99, some toppings cost extra: chili adds $0.15 per dog and slaw is $0.39, cheese is an additional charge as well, should you feel so inclined (thus removing price as a potentially pivotal purpose to partake).

While this is the only retail option I've found for a WVHD at 2AM, I have to think/hope there are other/better options for late-night sustenance. Even with 0.5 weenie bonus for being 1) a PA based company offering a WVHD and 2) having them available 24h a day, they still only manage a 1.5 weenie rating.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"What'll Ya' Have, What'll Ya' Have?" - A WV Weenie Wonk Visits The Varsity in Atlanta

When I found out in November that I would be traveling to Atlanta for a meeting in April, I immediately made my plans to visit one of the most famous HDJs in all the world: The Varsity. I intentionally arranged flight times so I could make my visit as soon as I got to town in case a second or third trip was in order. I hit town at 2:00 and as soon as I dropped my bags in my room I was off on the 2 mile urban hike to the 61 North Avenue, the site of the "World's Biggest Drive In."

Having seen The Varsity featured in the PBS documentary "A Hot Dog Show" years ago, and having seen Mathew McConaughey as coach Jank Lengyl eating a hot dog there with a recruiting prospect in "We Are Marshall", I thought I knew what to expect, but no, this place is cooler than I imagined. And bigger. The whole place still looks like it must have looked when it opened in 1928. Art Deco chrome, tile and and mirrors make the acoustics lively and tends to amplify the din of the customers and the order takers: All part of the fun. One thing that has surely been added in latter years is the gift shop where you can by t-shirts and other assorted Varsity novelties. You can even buy a coffee table book about the restaurant's history. An ice cream shop shares space with the gift shop.

The restaurant is cut up into several sections and dining rooms. Some have TVs, some are designated non-smoking rooms and some are for the fast eaters who just want a place to sit their Coke while they eat their hot dogs standing up. The main ordering area for inside dining is at a counter that is probably 150' long, behind which are the order takers who whenever they make eye contact with a customer shout "What'll Ya Have?" If there is not an immediate response (and I mean immediate) then the order taker shouts louder "WHAT'LL YA' HAVE, WHAT'LL YA' HAVE!?" If this happens to you I dare you to not be intimidated into ordering whatever pops into your head.

Now one thing the varsity is famous for is "Slaw Dogs." Of course, slaw dogs are what a lot of people incorrectly call West Virginia Hot Dogs, so I was eager to come down and set the record straight on the difference. So when the order taker asked me "What'll ya' have?" I didn't hesitate long enough to get the second level request, I confidently said "Two Slaw Dogs with chil, mustard and onions - and a Coke." (It's Atlanta, ya' gotta have a Coke or they run you out of town.)

When I got my Slaw Dogs they looked really good: Piled high with gorgeous slaw and heavy with chili. I couldn't wait to find a table and photo-document my order so I could dig in. When I did finally dig in I was surprised. I had always imagined slaw this far south would be very sweet, but it is just barely. The chili had a really interesting flavor; kind of complex but barely spicy. The weenie was very good, kind of red like a Chicago dog but smaller, and it had a good flavor. I couldn't tell how it was cooked but I'd imagine lightly grilled from the taste of it. The bun was soft either from light steaming or because it was very, very fresh. But the mustard is what is really different at The Varsity.

Wow, this stuff is tart! And instead of yellow, it has a brown tint to it. It is served on the table in squeeze bottles that must hold nearly a half-gallon of the suff. I think they are proud of it, but to my West Virginia tastebuds it overpowered the whole hot dog so much that wish I'd had ordered without mustard.

So what's the difference between a Varsity Slaw Dog and a WVHD? Primarily it's all about attitude: A real WVHD has slaw on purpose, and a properly executed WVHD has slaw that is intentionally complimentary of the chili, not an afterthought. But The Varsity has done a pretty good job acheiving this complimentary relationship. Overall, if this place was back home and I was giving it an official Weenie score, I think I'd give it a solid 4 Weenie rank, maybe 4.5 including points for atmosphere.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's not a Podcast, it's a Dogcast!

Never one to buck a fad or a trend, I have decided that this blog needs to do a podcast. What could be more fun than a podcast about hot dogs? Nothing! So click here and listen to the very first Dogcast: Fifteen minutes of pure infotainment!

In this edition:

- Hasil Adkins

- Reader Mail
- Sarah from Slawless Wheeling (oh lighten up, it's a JOKE!)
- Ralph from Florida (Chris' and Bowling Alley Hot Dogs)

- A Classic Hot Dog Jingle from Yesteryear

- A hat tip to our statewide Weenie Wonks, Chris and Kevin
(with a quick revisit Stanton's view of Yann's)

- A couple of new reviews - audio version

Let us know what you think! email us: info at wvhotdogs dot com

(if you require an mp3 version, right click and save this link)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Fairmont is where its Att's

Many Fairmont locals will, no doubt, recognize this eatery. If not now, since it has changed hands, then perhaps when it was B&L Hot Dogs(I believe I am recalling the name correctly) Located across from what was previously East Fairmont High School, it once served as a popular lunchtime location for the students (East Fairmont HS was probably one of the last schools to have an open campus, thus affording students the opportunity to eat somewhere other than the dreaded cafeteria). The current occupant of this location is Att's Place. The interior is largely as I remember it. Though now it is stylized with NASCAR decoration. There is table seating for about 18 and bar seating for 6 or so.

Offering an assorted menu of road foods including hotdogs, hamburgers, bbq, nachos etc. The primary focus of this eatery is true to the location, hotdogs. Att's serves them up with an assortment of toppings, from the usual fair to the nacho dog. So as to not impose on the nachodog review site, I will keep our attention focused on the WVHD offerings.

The construction of this dog follows the familiar Fairmont formula: basic, boiled wiener+steamed bun+Mustard, onion and chili/sauce. As seems the new trend, it should come as little surprise that Att's serves up a WVHD, slaw is a little extra, but is an option nonetheless. While it seems hard to go wrong with such a combination, with most other HDJ's having a near identical methodology, it puts greater weight on the toppings to set the various vendors apart.

The sauce/chili at Att's seemed uninspired to me, lacking in complex or interesting flavors. Complete with what seemed to be a faint taste of tomato product, most likely due to a 'quick' preparation method. This taste would most likely be blended sufficiently with the other ingredients to be unrecognizable in more simmered sauce. The slaw here seems to have been made more for the purpose of a side dish rather than as a WVHD topping. While the size and texture was proper, it lacked any notable sweetness and had an over abundant portion of carrots; such that when tasted alone, the carrot taste was distinctly evident. The onions were fresh and, like the mustard, were applied in an appropriate amount.

Given that slaw doesn't seem to be a 'normal' topping here, some day to day variation is to be expected. The same may be true for the chili as well, but.... In the end I can only review the sample I have. Which I find unfortunate, as incremental attention to topping details could easily make a respectable WVHD. Att's brings home a 2.5 Weenie rating.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Ramps and Hot Dogs

First, you've got to check out Charles' post about ramps over at the Charlestonian Blog.

Have you read that? OK, then. Last year I joked about coming up with a recipe for ramps on hot dogs. Little did I know it had been done. I got a photo from a reader yesterday of the menu board at "Bob's Hot Dogs" near Elkins and lo and behold, there on the menu, among a myriad of special hot dogs, is a "Ramp Dog."

As Charles writes, ramps really have a bad reputation and I agree that it's totally undeserved. Yeah, they stink a little, but they have one of the best flavors of any onion-like plant I've ever tasted. I am making plans to head to Bob's for a Ramp Dog. Anybody with me?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Couple of Charleston HDJ Items

Today's Gazette has an article about the closure of the 2nd floor snack bar at the Judicial Annex. It seems that some want to replace the snack bar with vending machines. I don't have a dog in the fight, but elected officials need to pay attention: Don't get between a West Virginian and their hot dogs. This snack bar has some very good hot dogs and there will be a backlash if it goes away. You have been warned. Of course, people in the Annex can always go across the street for a hot dog.

In other news, WCHS TV has had an ongoing series about restaurants that have received bad ratings from the health department. "Behind the Kitchen Door" as the segment is called, takes great pleasure in drawing attention to those restaurants that are caught with unsanitary conditions. There are, evidently, a lot of them around.

With this in mind I want to draw your attention to the fact that one of our best HDJs recently scored a perfect rating from the health department: The Swiftwater Cafe on Washington Street. Congratulations, Teddy & staff!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Charleston Hot Dog Joint Review - The Chop House

Ask anyone where the most expensive restaurant in Charleston is and they are liable to tell you it's The Chop House, and they are liable to be right. This extremely hoity-toity restaurant located in The Town Center Mall is known for its $30 appetizers and $40 entrees and pricey sides like $8 steamed broccoli. It is a fancy eatin' place if ever Charleston had one.

So imagine my surprise when I went out for a nice birthday dinner and found on the menu a real, live West Virginia Hot Dog. The "Haughty Deauxg," as it is called, has a typically Chop House sized weenie that weighs in at a hefty 1 lb. 4 ounces (before cooking) and a bun that is nearly the size of a small loaf of Wonder Bread. On top of the weenie is a huge helping of great tasting chili (only they call it "sauce de' chili") and a big serving of "Koohlsla"(which tastes exactly like slaw to me). A mustard-like substance and onions that had been shaved into little curly-cues finished it off perfectly.

Now I had my tastebuds set for some filet mignon, but after seeing the Haughty Deauxg on the menu I simply had to try it. I'm glad I did. First of all, it tasted great. It was so big that I ate half of it and took the rest home for lunch the next day and I didn't have to order anything else to complete my meal. At $22.50 it is certainly the most expensive hot dog I have seen but it was truly worth it. And it was much cheaper than the $35 filet I intended to order.

I really wish I had brought my camera because this thing has to be seen to be believed, but alas, you'll just have to take my word for it or go try one yourself. Easily a Five-Weenie rating for this fantastic hot dog that is absolutely worth getting dressed up for.

If you're going to The Chop House, make sure you have reservations. They are especially busy most holidays, especially April Fools Day.