Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Charleston Hot Dog Joint Review - Murad's

Sitting at the foot of the 35th Street bridge, Murad's was Charleston's first real sports bar, and remains arguably the best such joint in town. Before the new ball park was built, Murad's was the place to be before and after Alley Cats, Wheelers, or Charlies games since it was a short walk from Watt Powell Park. These days most of its sports appeal is because of the couple of dozen TVs scattered throughout the dining area where you can catch ESPN, ESPN2, Golf Central, Fox Sports Channel and a couple of them are even tuned to CNN. The main problem at Murad's is parking. There is never enough, though it is especially problematic during the playoffs or March Madness.

I could go on and on about the atmosphere and menu at Murad's but that's why not why you are reading this, is it? But I would like to take just a moment to explain why it's taken me so long to review Murad's: You see, last year Murad's made a public announcement that they were going to go out of the restaurant business, due to the Kanawha County smoking ban, and just remain in the bar business. This would have precluded them from selling hot dogs. For the better part of a year I have labored under the assumption that they had indeed quit selling food and so I never bothered trying to get a hot dog there. But over the weekend I received a direct mail piece that trumpeted a "Family Size Pizza Deal." I have never heard of a "Family Friendly" bar, so I thought maybe the rumors of Murad's demise, cullinarily speaking, were premature. I was right.

I was very pleased to stop in recently to find the same old Murad's that I knew and loved. A shiny new game room that includes "Dance Dance Revolution," pool tables and various video games makes the place feel family friendly indeed.

The menu looks just the same as last time I was in (two years ago) and on that menu is the "Murad's Famous Hot Dog." The "MFHD" is a basic hot dog with an all-beef Oscar Mayer weenie, Murad's own chili, slaw (presumably Murad's own as well) onions and mustard. The presentation is a little unusual in that the chili and slaw are served side by side on top of the bun. The chili is dark brown and meaty, with a very nice spicy taste; Not hot, but spicy. The slaw is very good, just sweet enough to offset the chili, but a little corsely chopped for me. Nondescript onions and mustard finish off the "everything" dog nicely, even if it was served in a coffin. An automatic side order of homemade potato chips help complete the package.

Certainly the MFHD is a cut above most sports bar hot dogs, but it doesn't rate a top score against the competition at large. And in light of the other good eats Murad's offers on its menu, it's hard to give it a high recommendation. It's also a little pricey at $2.50, but it does include those nice chips.

Overall we'll give Murad's Famous Hot Dog a 4 Weenie rank.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Huntington Hot Dog Joint: Sam's Hot Dog Stand-Piedmont Road

A common theme in Huntington politics are the real and perceived inequities that exist between the East End, Downtown/South Side, and West Huntington in terms of education, quality of infrastructure, attracting jobs, etc. One important demographic, however, that illustrates geo-economics is the even distribution of Sam's Hot Dog Stand. With locations on 29th St., 8th St., and Piedmont Road, no one in Huntington is ever that far from a great hot dog. has already put the eastern and central locations to the test, so naturally it was time to load up the James gang and head on over to Wayne County, y'all.

Right off the bat I can say that Piedmont has three things that are standard Sam's: fresh-but-steamed-anyway buns, water-bathed weenies (meh, but not a pet peeve of mine), and adequate but unremarkable slaw.

As this is the beginning of summer, all hot dog stands worth their salt are using Vidalia or similarly sweet onions. Piedmont Road Sam's hooked me up big time. Nice chunks of tasty onions genuinely added quality to my dining experience.

As regular readers and WV hot dog fans all know, Sam's Hot Dog Stand spicy sauce can vary from location to location. I suspect that all Sam's locations either buy or follow the same recipe for mild chili sauce and later add the heat in the form of red pepper flakes. Some add a smidge. Piedmont pours it in. Boy, they weren't kiddin' when they say "spicy." I'm pretty sure this is how it is supposed to taste.

As for service, Piedmont Road fits into the general trend of attention to detail. Unlike the veterans of the weenie wars at the 29th St. and 8th St. locations, this joint was under the control of two high school age folks. While I was a bit concerned at first, my reverse ageism proved me wrong and I watched them prepare the dog like a well-drilled militia. I noticed two or three hand-written notes giving the weenistas detailed instructions about proper dog assembly. Perhaps the highlight of my ordering experience was the menu board that mentioned sauce, slaw, mustard, and onions, but not a word of ketchup to be found.

My only beef with this great hot dog was that there was not enough slaw on the dog. For that, I am giving an otherwise perfect hot dog encounter 4.5 weenies. During second chance month in June, however, I will swing back by to consider bumping them to a 5 weenie rating and West Virginia hot dog immortality.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Charleston Area HDJ Review - Allspice Cafe

With the most charming atrium dining area on the East End of Charleston, you might think the Allspice Cafe would be a well-known dining destination, but sadly it's not. In fact most people kinda-sorta know that there is a cafe there, but not too many people I know make a point to go. But for people working nearby it is a very convenient place to grab lunch, dinner or even breakfast.

Having a diverse menu (I saw pizza, roast beef, home-style vegetables, sandwiches and more) you would think the place would be in high demand, but because of old stereotypes and prejudices, many people would rather go elsewhere. Well I was in the neighborhood recently and I thought I should check out the hot dog offerings and I wasn't going to be deterred by prejudice.

The Allspice Cafe is convenient to Appalachian Power Park and The Clay Center, and parking is plentiful nearby. It is easy to find and the four story atrium that towers over the dining area makes for wonderful all-season, semi-al-fresco dining. The atmosphere is very nice and the service is friendly. The prices are very reasonable.

Hot dogs are topped with whatever you ask for, but of course, I had one with mustard, chili, slaw and onions. I noticed immediately that the chili had big hunks of green peppers floating around in it, which is bad for me; you see I love green peppers, but they don't like me. I knew I'd be reaching for the antacid in a few hours (I hope you people appreciate how I suffer for you!). The chili was really piled on as was the slaw. The toppings were piled so high that the hot dog was a real mess to eat.

The taste of the chili, aside from the green peppers, was mostly just sweet. Think Manwich sauce. The slaw was nearly identical in flavor and texture to what I had at The Hottest Dog last year. It was fairly tasteless and very chunky. The bun and weenie were adequate, but nothing to write home about.

I'm going to give the Allspice Cafe a 3 Weenie rating, maily because of the nice dining atmosphere. It's not a great hot dog, but pretty good for hospital food!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Putnam County Hot Dog Joint: Carmen's Diner.

No one could argue with the suggestion that there ain't much in Scary, a little town about half way between St. Albans and Scott Depot on Teays Valley Road. One thing the place does have going for it, however, is a little mom 'n pop restaurant called Carmen's Diner. I was recently in those parts for business, so I decided to sneak away from work and check 'em out.

Carmen's has all of the grub that one would expect from a greasy spoon in Appalachia: burgers, fries, onion rings, spaghetti & meatballs, fried bologna, bbq sandwiches, and hot dogs. Well, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I wanted.

After I ordered my hot dog, I noticed that the fridge contained a box from Cavalier Meats, which got brownie points with this Huntingtonian. The weenie was indeed fresh and tasty, as can be expected from all of SS Logan's meat products.

The bun was nice 'n gooey. No problem there.

The sauce was some of the finest that has ever been served in West Virginia by a place that didn't have the name "Sam's" in the title. It contained lots of high-quality ground beef and was seasoned with just the right touch of chili powder and salt. While I like mine a little spicier, this was still a top-notch product that could win awards and make someone a lot of money if properly marketed.

The place was as charming as any other hot dog joint that I have visited, including M & M and Austin's. The gentleman (I assume it was Carmen) was about the nicest guy that I've met in Greater Charleston and, if I could have, I woulda stuck around for another half-hour to chew the fat about life, the universe, and everything.

So far, you must be thinking "wow, this sounds like a sure-fire 5 weenie joint." Well, I've left out one critical component of a WV hot dog: the slaw. I can say, without fear of hyperbole or BS, that Carmen's had the worst cole slaw that I have ever eaten. It had the flavor of lightly salted cabbage that had been soaked in water overnight and aroma of a bachelor's freezer. The smell---scratch that---the stench of the slaw managed to completely overpower everything about the dawg that was great. With slaw that bad, I have to give the place 3 weenies, which is a damn shame considering that even mediocre slaw would have put this joint at the very top of Putnam County hot-dogdom.

To the management: you've done so much to make a great hot dog joint, don't poison the well with rancid slaw.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Charleston HDJ Review - Rally's

I drive by Rally's on Washington Street East nearly every day. I never have considered it to be anything resembling a hot dog joint, but recently I was craving one of their really cheap and really tasty Rallyburgers. I went in to place my order and I noticed hot dogs on the menu. I had to try one. Like they say on their commercials, "you gotta eat!"

I asked what everything included and was told "mustard, chili and onions." I asked if they had slaw and they said no. Can you believe that? Here, literally in the shadow of the dome of the West Virginia State Capitol they have the gall to serve hot dogs with no slaw?

Well, I got one anyway, and soon I was presented with a coffin containing my lunch. Upon opening the lid I immediately recognized another major faux pas: The chili had beans floating around in it! Now I know that Rally's is a national chain but come on! Give a little to the local traditions, will ya'? There's no beans in hot dog chili! Whadya think this is, New Jersey?

On top of the bean-laden chili was a nice little bouquet of red onions, which is the only thing about the presentation that deserves mentioning.

The taste of the hot dog was not as bad as I imagined it would be. The chili actually was pretty good and I'm not sure if they sell it in a bowl, but if they do I could see it competing with the Wendy's right across the street for my chili business. It had a nice little kick and was quite meaty. The weenie was actually very good, seemingly grilled and a little larger than an average HDJ weenie. The bun wasn't steamed, but was fresh enough for this not to be a problem.

Without slaw, I can't give this dog more than a 2 Weenie rating. Even with the beans in the chili, though, throw a dollop of good slaw on this dog and you might have something that approaches 3.5 Weenies. Not bad for a burger joint.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Huntington Hot Dog Joint: Sam's Hot Dog Stand-29th St.

Life has been something of a mixed bag in East Huntington for the past decade or so. On one hand, St. Mary's Hospital has brought jobs and top-notch healthcare to the neighborhood. On the other, however, the area has lost a high school, a pharmacy, a fishmonger, two independent grocers, a video store, and the Big Bear MegaHyperSuperMarket.

One thing that Highlawn still has going for it, however, is that it has a Sam's Hot Dog Stand franchise. Located near the former Big Bear and near one of Huntington's busier transportation hubs, this Sam's makes for a great grab-'n-go spot for a hot dog joint.

In addition to being convenient, the joint makes a pretty decent dog, too. Despite being obviously less than a day old and soft as a pillow, the buns were still steamed and had a nice balance of softness and taste. The freshness of the bun nudges 29th St. past Sam's of 8th St. in terms of the best bun in the city.

The weenie tasted fresh and of high quality, even if it was from a water bath. The water was clear and relativley grease-free, so they must have been emmersed only an hour or so earlier.

The sauce was good, as is always the case with Sam's unique brand of sauce. It was a touch on the mild side for a "spicy" sauce, but was still better than 95% of all other hot dog sauces (the other 5% being Sam's locations, like 8th St., that get the sauce right).

The slaw was perfectly sweet and tangy. My only complaint was that there was some skimpiness employed in its application. Pile it one, please.

Overall, it was a great Sam's hot dog. For a quick, reliable, and consistent WV hot dog experince, check out Sam's Hot Dog Stand-29th St. 4 weenies.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Charleston Area HDJ Review: Goff's Carry Out

Loudendale, for most West Virginians, is just the community you drive through on the way to Kanawha State Forest. But for those of us who know it well it's much more than that. Since I grew up about five miles from Kanawha State Forest and spent most of my Summers at the swimming pool there, I became quite familiar with Loudendale. My mother was born and raised in the community and I always had relatives that lived there. When we talked about Loudendale we simply called it "The Creek."

Loudendale is situated in the hollow formed by the main branch of Davis Creek as it winds its way toward the Kanawha. There are fours ways you can get to Loudendale: First, and most rarely traveled, is from Hernshaw through Kanawha State Forest. Don't try this one unless you have a 4WD and a good map. The second way is to follow Davis Creek Road from South Charleston. Horse enthusiasts are the most likely folks to know of this route since virtually every stable in the Charleston area is located along this stretch. Third is the route from Kanawha City through South Park Road and ending up in Loudendale at Cane Fork (on this route you will pass "Ferrell Hollow", named for the grandfather of Loudendale's most famous product, Conchata Ferrell - her childhood home was at the mouth of Ferrell Hollow). The primary way to get to Loudendale, however, is to follow Louden Heights Road from Downtown Charleston, turn right on Connell Road and go about three miles, the last one being a long descent into Coal Hollow. At the bottom of "Coal Hollow Hill" is Loudendale.

30 years ago there were two businesses at the bottom of Coal Hollow Hill. One was a small grocery store that some people called "Owen's Market" and some called "Clark's Store"; that building is now a private residence. The other business located at the foot of the hill was a gas station owned by "Junior Riffe" (we always called it "Junior's Fillin' Station". It is in this location that Goff's Carry Out is now located. It's been there for years and I've been by it a hundred times, but until a reader wrote recently I did not know they sold hot dogs. When I got the email I was eager to pay a visit.

When I pulled into the store's parking lot I was pleased to see a sign advertising "Hot Dogs - BBQ - Live Bait"(although I think the juxtaposition of terms could have been more carefully thought out). Once inside I was promptly greeted by the cashier, whom I quickly ascertained was also the hot dog chef. Everything, I was told confidently, includes chili, slaw, mustard and onions! Finally, the long string of ketchuppy HDJs has been broken!

After I got my hot dogs and took them outside to a picnic on the tailgate of my truck, I eagerly slipped the first one out of the wax paper sleeve to find a nicely warmed bun. It was not steamed, as I would have preferred, but since it was soft from freshness I didn't mind much. The slaw was very nice - finely chopped, creamy and nicely sweet. The chili was above average, but nothing to write home about. I was told that Goff's make their own chili and slaw, but darned if this stuff didn't taste just like Custard Stand Chili. Underneath it all was a beefy tasting weenie that was a cut above average. A couple of big chunks of sweet onions topped it all off.

I must say that, for a carry-out, this is a great hot dog, but by normal HDJ standards it's only slightly above average. We'll give it a strong 3.5 Weenie rating, pushing the 4.0 envelope.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Second Chance Month is Coming

In a magnanimous gesture of mercy, the WV Hot Dogs team will be providing a second chance to HDJs that scored disappointing marks on their first visit. Over the next several weeks our Weenie Wonks will be out revisiting those places that just missed the mark, those from whom we expected better hot dogs than we got and the ones who complained to us that our review was unfair.

The revisit reviews will be posted during June. Since July is Weenie Award month it will give many HDJs a second chance to improve their products enough to be considered for this year's awards.

So here's your chance, all you HDJs that think your hot dog is better than we reported. Send us an email if you would like to be specially considered for a revisit.

And you, the WVHD eating public, should reap tremendous benefits as you are certain to get better hot dogs for the next several weeks as all HDJs will be on high alert knowing that they could be paid a visit at any moment.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Huntington Area Hot Dog Joint: Hillbilly Hot Dogs-Lesage

While most of the co-eds at Marshall probably think of Hillbilly Hot Dogs as that kitschy place near campus on 3rd Ave.; most local folk, however, point to HBHD's Lesage branch as the original and superior location. My recent visit up Route 2, however, revealed that the downtown location may indeed have surpassed the original in overall quality.

The zany, soft hixploitation of Lesage gets points for being the more authentic incarnation in terms of decor and wackiness.

All was not perfect in eastern Cabell County, however. The first problem was the service. At the 3rd Ave. location, servers are friendly and chatty. Here, however, the window guy was somewhat curt and dismissive. Not that he was a jerk or anything, but it certainly wasn't the level of service that I'm used to from HBHD.

As for the dog, it was fairly similar to a dog purchased at the downtown location. The sauce was beefy and thick (if slightly too mild) and topped liberally. The onions were neither too strong nor too weak and mingled well with the sauce. The weenie was top notch and tasted like a quality sausage.

The slaw, of course, was sub-par. My wife, a native of Seattle, commented that the slaw reminded her of cole slaw from the west coast. It was very pretty, with large chunks of cabbage and carrots and visible pepper specks. However the taste---like the slaws of the Pacific Rim---was where it fell flat. Honestly, the slaw tastes more like a dry cabbage salad. There is very little mayo in there and I doubt that there is any celery salt or sugar in it at all. If they are really serious about expanding the HBHD brand, they need to ditch the slaw. It really isn't very good at all in terms of hot dog slaw (but it is pretty good on other sandwiches, for what it is worth).

But, I digress. Enough people must disagree with me, as the joint is doing well. Maybe I can smuggle some slaw in from Austin's next time.

While I did take up quite a bit of ink to complain about the slaw just now, that was not the main problem with the dog (I've come to accept that HBHD's bad slaw is part of the natural order of things), not by far. You see, everyone that knows their hot dogs in the Tri-State and Advantage Valley knows that a Huntington hot dog will and should always have the freshest of buns. In Huntington there is usually no need to steam the oven-fresh buns that were just loaded off of the Heiners truck, unlike in other parts of the state where steaming is a necessary step to turn their hard-as-stone buns into something palatable. These buns, however, more that failed the test. You could tell the bun was not only from an older shipment but also from a bag that had been left untied for sometime. Seriously, this was about like that "hard tack" stuff you read about in Civil War novels. Blech.

This is probably the most heart-wrenching review that I've had to write. I love Hillbilly (despite my objection to their interpretation of proper HD slaw) and the owners are two of the coolest human beings who you'd ever hope to meet. For the time being, I have to give Hillbilly Hot Dogs-Lesage a provisional 3 weenie rating. This still rewards them for great sauce 'n weenies and a cool atmosphere but also serves to put them on notice that I expect better buns and hope for better service next time. If everything is up-to-snuff by then, this score should climb into the 4-4.5 range.

I'm rootin' for ya.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

DogCast Number 2

After overcoming some technical difficulties, DogCast Number 2 is now available for your listening pleasure. In this edition:

Bill Haley & The Comets
No Ketchup Please!
Reader Mail (from very far away!)
Gassaway Dairy Queen Review
Austin's Ice Cream Hot Dog Review


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

St. Albans HDJ Review - OSKEES Family Restaurant

OSKEES Family Restaurant is a recent addition to the Kanawha Valley. Sitting alongside MacCorkle Avenue in the very same space where Mayberry's began, this little restaurant claims to have "comfort food with a twist." The menu has some interesting looking sandwiches and entrees, but obviously I wasn't after any of those. I walked in and picked up a menu and my eyes quickly found not only a hot dog, but a whole hot dog section! They have a regular dog, a foot long, a New England Style and a big 'ol hot dog with kraut and other strange toppings. The section heading brags that OSKEES has home made chili and slaw. This is a serious HDJ!

I settled for the regular dog which has chili, slaw, mustard, onions and ketchup. I had a strong urge to lecture my waitress on the inappropriateness of the red stuff, but I held my tongue. Instead I just ordered my dogs without it. Since it was dinnertime I went all out and got two dogs and an order of onion rings.

While I waited on my order I had a chance to look around and see how the place was decorated. In its Mayberry days it was all decked out in a 50's motif and had a television in the corner that played Andy Griffith Show DVDs non-stop. The TV is gone and a boombox now sits on the TV wall mounting bracket. Miscellaneous stuff is stuck to the walls and one entire wall seems to be dedicated to grade school writing papers. I tried to discern from the decor where the name "OSKEES" came from, but apart from a set of old snow skis on the wall I saw nothing that could explain it.

It seems that the name "OSKEES" is always printed in caps, so it could be "O'Skee's" or an acronym formed by the first initial of the names of the owners. It's really hard to tell.

While I was pondering this, my hot dogs arrived and they flanked the most gorgeous order of onion rings you can imagine. The tasted as good as they looked. But that' not why I came, was it?

The first thing I noticed was the deep brown color of the chili. This is a trademark of a cook that is serious about hot dogs, and with my first bite I knew that these were serious hot dogs. The chili was utterly delicious. I have been trying to come up with words to describe the flavor, but I simply can't describe it. It is rich, meaty, complex but only a tiny bit spicy. The flavor is so good that I would not be surprised to find out they had ground up a New York strip for the meat.

The slaw, while a little more coarsely chopped than I typically like, was creamy and flavorful. It was just slightly sweet and worked perfectly, I mean perfectly, with the chili. This is a hot dog put together by a hot dog lover that knows how to cook! Add a nicely steamed bun to the mix and you have a really good hot dog. But...

I have often written that we West Virginians don't care as much about the weenie as our hot dog colleagues in other parts of the country. I've even said that great chili and slaw can't be ruined by a bad weenie. Well, the weenie keeps this hot dog from a Five-Weenie rating from me. It was a small caliber frank, waterlogged from being kept in a pot of water no doubt. Perhaps because it was late in the day, but the weenie was yucky. No chili and slaw could completely overcome it, but OSKEES chili and slaw comes close. I'm going to give it a 4 1/2 Weenie rank in spite of the substandard wiener.