Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nutter Fort HDJ Review - F.O.P Mountaineer Lodge – by Big Daddy

Lodge #78 of the Fraternal Order of Police opened not all that long ago at the former Jim Reid’s restaurant in Nutter Fort. Jim Reid’s always served up great food in a fine dining atmosphere. I didn’t really pay much attention when the F.O.P. bought the place, thinking it would just be another club that I’d never step foot in or care about.

Word had recently started circulating around town that the organization had opened up a public restaurant and lounge, and supposedly one or more of the original chefs from Jim Reid’s had been hired. There was no doubt that some good, 100% home cooking would once again be available for one and all: some terrific surf and turf, Italian specialties, all day breakfasts, and much more.

I was really surprised by all the suggestions that I try the hot dogs at the F.O.P. With nothing to lose, I went in one day to give it a try. After getting seated, I took some time to read through the rather lengthy menu. Hot dogs are listed for eighty-five cents, but that only includes relish, mustard and ketchup. Slaw and chili are fifty cents more. In the end, I found this was a bargain considering how good the dogs were.

It was a little busy on one particular visit, and I wound up waiting close to twenty minutes. My patience was rewarded though. The hot dogs are grilled to perfection, as is the split-top New England Style bun that it comes on. And to be served on a real plate with a dill pickle? Nice! The chili is stupendous, with just the right consistency of not being too thick yet smooth enough to gently seep into the bun without making it soggy. The flavor should be to the liking of just about anyone, as it has a nice hint of spiciness, but not overpowering heat. I made a point to spoon some of it off of the dog so I could enjoy it on its own. This may very well be one of the best chili sauces around.

The cabbage in the slaw was very coarse…maybe too coarse. I’m sure it’s only intended to be served in a standalone mode, but it does the job in the case of topping the dog. It was sweet and not too tangy, cool, extra creamy, and full of flavor. It’s worth buying some as a side order for just about any meal, should you get the urge.

I have to go with four weenies here. These dogs are well worth the wait, and the restaurant is one place you can be assured will always have something for everyone.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The View From Behind the Hot Dog Counter

So, I get drafted by the Band Boosters of the high school where my daughter is in the band to volunteer in the concession stand at Laidley Field for the Kanawha County Band and Majorette Festival. I arrive at five o'clock having absolutely no idea of what I'll be doing but in possession of a willing spirit to perform the most menial and demeaning task for the next five to six hours. My enthusiasm was dampened greatly when I walked behind the counter and found the calzone oven, deep fryers, hot tables and bun steamers made the temperature hover at about 115 degrees with 110% relative humidity. I was determined though, that I would persevere.

So I offered myself up in service to the person who seemed to be in charge. I told her I was completely inexperienced but a quick learner and I would be glad to scrub floors, clean out the grease traps - you know, the kind of stuff this guy does. The boss puts her finger on her chin in a thoughtful "hmmm" kind of way and then with eyes full of hope she asks, "Do you know anything about hot dogs?"

"Yes", I told her trying to hide my smile of conceit, "I know a little about hot dogs." To myself I thought "Ha! Little do these mortals know!"

And thus began my journey into the hot, sweaty, greasy world of hot dog slinging at the concession stand.

Now before you little league parents get all high and mighty and say that you know concession stand work, let me tell you that the Majorette Festival is a doggone big deal in Charleston and there are probably 12,000 people in attendance. All of them came to the concession stand at least once, I am convinced. Most, it seemed, ordered hot dogs. In large quantities.

Now the process of assembling hot dogs is fairly simple: Load the buns in the steamer, take them out and put on the weenie, apply the toppings and put them in the hot table bins as appropriate. There are five models of hot dogs at Laidley: Everything (chili, slaw and onions), Chili and Slaw, Chili and Onions, just Chili and, finally, Plain. The people who work the front counter are supposed to take orders for only those combinations with no special orders. This isn't Burger King: Special orders DO upset us.

In addition to assembly, the hot dog team also has to keep a good supply of chil and weenies on the stove at all times, lest you run out and be lynched by the starving mob.

Our two-person hot dog team worked feverishly all night to keep an adequate supply of all of the various combinations on the hot table bins, but sometimes it was like bailing out a leaky boat with a tea strainer. An endless stream of humanity flowed through the concession stand entrance. Their methods were devious yet simple: They would eye the available hot dogs in the bin (which are clearly visible from the ordering area), pick out the category with the fewest number of hot dogs and order a half-dozen of that type. If the hot dog team was ever in danger of satisfying the demand of any supply point, a special operative was immediately dispatched to place a special order for a hot dog with slaw only, or onions only, or some other non-standard configuration that made the entire assembly line screech to a halt while the primadona's special needs were addressed. Once the special was passed to the front, the work of re-supplying the bins began again.

And again. And again. For five hours. Over 500 hot dogs. I really don't know how many we made because I simply lost count after about 480, a milestone that was passed about halfway through the evening. The total might have been closer to a thousand, I really don't know: I was in The Zone.

After a while I entered a transcendent state where my brain just switched off and muscle memory took over and I began to make hot dogs like a robot. The only time my trance was broken was when I reached for onions and found that someone had moved the onion container to the prep area where it was being loaded with a new supply of fresh chopped stuff. After that it took me a few minutes to find The Zone again but once I was there it lasted throughout the night until that glorious moment when the doors to the concession stand were closed for the evening. After an hour or so of cleaning up, my sentence was over and I was released from my bondage.

Now I'd like to say that my evening on the other side of the counter has made me more understanding as to the plight of the Weenie Workers of America. I'd like to tell you that I'm going to be a kinder, gentler Weenie Wonk as a result of walking a mile in the shoes of a Weenieista. But the truth is, I found out that even in the midst of crushing crowds that far exceed what a typical HDJ experiences on the busiest of lunch hours, there is still time to create a hot dog with care. So there will be no excuses accepted in the future for sloppily prepared hot dogs. You have been warned.

A word about the ingredients they serve at the Laidley concession stand:

Custard Stand Chili - OK, as a good West Virginian I should support this state success story. But it's just OK. It's not great.

Gunnoe's Slaw - Huge, hard chunks of cabbage and other cabbage-like substances. Not very good.

Weenies - Generic Food Service.

Buns - There was no name on the packaging, but I assume they were Heiners. They insist on steaming them at Laidley, which is a good thing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Huntington Area Updates

Here are some hot dog updates from in and around the Jewel City:

  • Chili Fest: One of the chili vendors (can't remember who) thought it would be a good idea to put their chili on hot dogs and consider them to be a delicacy. They were wrong. The buns were dry as the Sahara, the weenies of a low quality, and they were served at a temperature that would make an English ale proud. The chili, a soupy collection of broth, tomato chunks, and some beef, proved exactly why we in the Tri State call is "sauce." The lack of slaw, onions, or mustard made it only the second hot dog I've thrown away half-eaten in over a year. You can read more on my lukewarm reactio to Chili Fest here.
  • After a corporate event, the Sam's Hot Dog Stand in Teays Valley is lowered, as predicted, from 4.5 to 3.5 weenies. They have proven unable to keep dumping 2x the sauce on their dogs (which was probably straining the bottom line) and, according to Big Daddy, their non-crinkle cut fries are muy crappy. Don't get me wrong, this is still a good Sam's and a good WV HDJ, just not one of the greats.
  • Due to my work schedule, there are a few area joints that are only open during the day on weekdays that I can't seem to get to. I have, therefore, drafted a friend to do some of the reviews of these places (Bowinkles, some of the downtown sandwich shops, etc). Keep an eye out for her in the coming weeks and make her feel at home.
  • If you haven't made it there yet, be sure to get a dog and some ice cream at Austin's in Ceredo. They close up shop sometime in early-to-mid fall, thereby depriving Huntington of their award-wining slaw 'til late spring.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Paul Blogs Charleston's Finest HDJs

In July our fair city was paid a visit by hot dog royalty: Paul, of "I am an American and I eat Hot Dogs" fame came to town with his band "Harry and the Potters" for a show and he (and a few of his band mates) and I met for a couple of hot dogs. We went to Romeo's and Skeenie's and I think our humble home town dogs impressed the hot dog master.

You can read his reviews here and here. Pay close attention to the look on Paul's face as he gets his first taste of a real WVHD at Romeo's. He was in hot dog Almost Heaven!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cedar Grove HDJ Review - Video Village

We would have never, ever found this little HDJ if a reader hadn't emailed us.

In the out of the way town of Cedar Grove, inside an obscure little storefront attached to the Exxon station, in the back of the video rental section of the store, there is a food counter where you can order typical roadside fast food items like pizza, hot dogs, cheese poppers and hot dogs. I was told that this place had good hot dogs, but when I walked in I was skeptical. I nearly walked out because it didn't look like there was any food service inside. Then I saw the video section and remembered that the reader had said the place was called "Video Village" so I walked into the video rental area. There I found the food.

Ordering one with everything (I had to specify "no ketchup") I took my dog to my car before unwrapping it. I was still skeptical about the quality of hot dogs that this little out of the way place might serve. To say my expectations were low is an understatement.

Unwrapping the dog buoyed my hopes momentarily, as the hot dog was topped with a large helping of gorgeous looking slaw. But then, sticking out from under the toppings, I saw one of the teeniest weenies I had ever seen on a real hot dog. It was so small in diameter that it looked like a mistake. My low expectations returned.

But to my surprise, in spite of the teeny weenie, the hot dog actually tasted pretty darn good! The chili had a good texture and a complex taste - a little spicy, a little tart. The slaw was sweet; just about as sweet as any I have ever tasted, and perfect in consistency. The chili and slaw worked well together and made me forget all about the teeny weenie, momentarily. I wondered what the little thing tasted like so I tried a taste independent of the toppings. It tasted fine. It was just little.

Now I guess it could be argued that having such a small weenie allows more room in the bun for toppings, and if you have good toppings then it can certainly offset the lack of a substantial sausage. But there is something kind of disturbing to see a weenie that small on a WVHD, so we'll deduct points for the shortcoming.

The Video Village, that little hidden hot dog joint that could, overcomes it's hiddeness and it's teeny weenie to score a 4 Weenie rating. With a suitable sized weenie it would have been a 4.5.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Clarksburg HDJ Review - Tubby's Cafe

Once in a great while you're fortunate enough to discover a unique place totally by accident that, much like a rare artifact, becomes a gem that you enjoy so much you have to share it with others. Enter Tubby's Cafe in Clarksburg.

I was driving through the Summit Park section of Clarksburg just below old Bridgeport Hill Road when I saw a small sign for Tubby's mounted on a street sign at an intersection. Curious, I hung a left where I normally turn right. A hundred feet later, I discovered an amazingly good restaurant in a hard-to-find section of town. Tubby's is built on to the back of an inviting little private residence on Factory Street. Though the parking is tight, it's certainly worth getting to.

Once inside, I was immediately taken by the Harley- Davidson motif that adorns nearly every nook and cranny of the restaurant, save for a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. standee, a replica hood from the #3 car of Dale Sr., and a drag racing "Christmas Tree". The entire place is done in H-D black and orange, and highlighted with diamond plate trim. The counter area is adorned in the diamond plating, from the top of the counter down to the foot rests. My co-workers who ventured along on this particular visit got a kick out of the blinking yellow "caution" light that was activated when one went to the restroom and locked the door. I also noted a handle grip/brake handle assembly on the beer taps. My friends commented on how shiny and clean this establishment was. Attention to detail was certainly at the forefront of the proprietor's mind. This is one of those places that would put a grin on even the most grumpy curmudgeon on a dreary day. This wasn't a bar by any means...this is a restaurant through and through. I spoke with the owner, who noted that while the location was a bit of a hindrance he hoped to move to a better location sometime in the future.

Tubby's has an awesome menu that offers daily specials, Italian pasta fare, huge salads, hoagies (which all in attendance agreed were some of the best ever to be had), sandwiches, burgers, authentic brick oven pizzas (baked in the wood-fired brick oven that burns all day and night, regardless of the temperature outside), and of course hot dogs. The dogs are listed on the menu as follows: "Served hot off the grill in a steamed bun topped with Tubby's memorable chili, mustard, and onions...$1.25".

Memorable my foot! What an understatement.

This chili might darn well represent a high point for preparation and ingredients in this region. I think one of my co-workers said it best when he noted that it was "just a hair spicy". That may indeed be the best description for it. The chili had a perfect coloring and aroma, and a taste that epitomized 'balance' as the meaty flavor and spiciness worked together rather than overrun one another. It wasn't too complex, but rather complimented the overall hot dog. There was an abundance of chopped onions to give some extra zing to each bite, but not upset the overall presentation. In case there wasn't enough zest for you, take heart that you have your choice of no less than seven different bottled hot sauces, plus red pepper flakes and chili powder available at the counter.

Another plus was that every component of the hot dog is prepped on order (as is everything on the menu). The wieners are grilled on order, versus boiled in a batch and put on standby. I'm always a fan of grilled wieners when they're available; it seems they add some intangible element that you can't get from just boiling. The buns were steamed right as the wieners were being prepared, making for a superior, freshly steamed taste. I'd suspect that if you wanted the buns steamed more (or less), you could get it as you like it upon request.

The service here can't be beat. The owners are front and center doing the food prep, and they're always up for a conversation on just about anything. I found them very personable, and genuine...a quality that anyone can appreciate.

There was one -and only one- drawback to the whole visit: no slaw. I was informed that at one point it was an option, but later taken off the menu since there weren't enough requests for it. That's a shame, as I'm sure it had the potential to be pretty good. I think a good slaw would put these hot dogs over the top. Based on that, I have to score 4.5 weenies for Tubby's. If a decent slaw is ever offered again, I believe it'll score an easy five weenies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gauley Bridge HDJ Review - Sam's Hot Dog Stand

I stand corrected. I erred when I said that the Marmet Sam's was the chain's most eastward location. An alert reader sent the tip that there is a Sam's located inside the Sunoco station in Gauley Bridge and that they had excellent hot dogs with a view. I thought it sounded like a worthwhile place to check out, so my wife and I set out on the 80-some mile round trip up Rt. 60 to the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers. A hundred yards upstream from said confluence, on the bank of the New sits the Sam's location we sought.

An interesting mix of convenience and inconvenience, the Sunoco station has inside a convenience store, a Subway and a Sam's. Convenient because it's all under one roof, but when you order your food you have backtrack to the front door checkout to pay, then back to the counter for your food. The process seems a little customer un-friendly, but the personnel were friendly. We soon had our hot dogs and settled into a booth with an amazing view of the New River (the irony, which I will point out for those non-local readers , is that the "New" considered to be the oldest river in the world). There is also an outside deck where you can dine alfresco, but the heat kept us inside.

Despite the view, the hot dogs were pretty much standard Sam's fare. Good chili and mediocre slaw. Missing from this location were the waterlogged weenies I am used to finding at Sam's. I did not witness how they keep their weenies warm because I was off to pay for my meal on the other side of the store, but I'm betting it was some type of dry heat and not a hot bath.

Overall the quality was on the low side for a Sam's: 3.5 Weenies.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fairmont HDJ Review - Lupo’s

Lupo’s recently moved from it’s downtown Fairmont location (which was, ironically, a block away from the more well-known Yann’s) to a location on Route 250 not far from the Taylor/Marion County line. One would have to question the move, since it puts the business out of reach of downtown pedestrian customers and into competition with two other notable HDJs (Hank’s Deli and Hometown Hot Dogs). Sources say the move was mostly made so that the new location could also run a Hot Spot Lounge.

Indeed, the new building sitting alone on Route 250 does feature a prominent Hot Spot sign on the front. When you walk through the door, you really can’t tell if you’re walking into a hot dog joint or a coffee house. New bar stools line the counter, and a leather sofa with glass coffee table sits nestled in a nearby corner. The video gambling room is off to the right behind closed doors. The owners are very personable and down to earth.

But the main reason for the visit, of course, is for the dogs. Lupo's is one of the few places in the area that still has it's hot dogs mentioned in the same context as the famous Yann's (depending on who you talk to), which would say something about their staying power. At $1.00 a pop, the price is nothing to complain about. A standard hot dog with everything here consists of onions, chili, and mustard. Unfortunately, we’re north of the 'slaw line' here, so Marion County laws are in effect: no slaw available. The gentleman who took my order used great care when putting my hot dogs together. I thought it was a nice touch that mustard was spread on the insides of the bun with a knife rather than just being squirted from a plastic bottle.

When I unwrapped the hot dogs, I was surprised by how scrawny they appeared. Take a look at the picture and judge for yourself. There was a heavy, doughy taste to the buns for some reason that made them taste rather blah. Or should I say, “blah to the negative power“. It kind of took away from the overall enjoyment of each bite. The flavor of the chili, however, really stood out. It had all the biting spiciness of northern WV chili, plus a little extra kick that invoked the sensation of Novocain. For some reason, I found that to be a guilty pleasure. Although the ground beef in the chili had a good flavor, it was somewhat sparse, making the sauce itself thin and watery.

Overall, Lupo’s rates three-and-a-half weenies. The hot dogs are good, but would be helped by a bit more beef in the sauce and perhaps the availability of slaw at least as an option.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Requested Revisit - The Burger Carte in Smithers

While we first visited the Burger Carte last year, this classic old roadside HDJ changed ownership earlier this year and the new owners made contact with and asked for a follow-up visit since they felt they had improved over the last proprietors. A bit risky, I thought, since the original review scored a very good Four and a Half Weenies. But I finally made it and I'm glad I did because there is a difference.

The difference is subtle. I think the slaw is just a little bit better tasting. It is nearly perfect in texture and they lay it on in a very generous measure. The chili is still good: It has nice complexity but lacks in spiciness. The biggest difference is that the hot dogs are now wrapped in wax paper instead of being served in a styro-coffin, and the bun is therefore steamed by the ingredients and is wonderfully soft.

Not enough of a difference to bump the score to a perfect Five Weenie, but an improvement nevertheless. One of the most authentic WHVDs you can buy along Rt. 60.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lavalette Hot Dog Joint: Sam's Hot Dog Stand

In my 13 months as the Huntington/Tri State Weenie Wonk for, I have come to realize that Sam's Hot Dog Stand makes my favorite sauce and, since in Huntington it's all about the sauce, also my favorite hot dog. While the locations on 8th St. and on Piedmont Ave have earned glowing reviews and Weenie Awards, neither was quite able to join M & M Dairy Bell or Hillbilly Hot Dog's Lesage location as Five Weenie HDJs (I tend to review hot dog stands as a whole, especially when comparing one Sam's franchise to another).

Unlike any of the other great (or even good) HDJs in Huntingtonland (we will excuse Johnny Dog, as he just has a push cart), Sam's only offer hot dogs of note. No fancy root beer (just cans of pop) or crinkle-cut fries (just bags of chips).

That is, until now.

Yup, Sam's of Lavalette (always one of the better Sam's locations) has recently added a deep fryer and now has crinkle cut fries and onion rings. You can even get chili-cheese fries made with their hot dog sauce (I just made myself hungry typing that, BTW).

So in addition to a well-dressed Sam's dawg (this one had lots of spicy sauce and a better-than usual slaw), I was able to get some freshly-fried crinklers.

Crinkle cut fries: the missing ingredient for a 5 weenie Sam's Hot Dog Stand.

Now if we can get 8th St. to install a deep fry vat...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fairmont's HDJ Review - Woody's

There have been numerous recommendations coming across the desk at for Woody's Restaurant in Fairmont, some of which were very detailed and specific about how good the hot dogs were. I was a little doubtful about that, on account of the fabled Marion County "No Slaw" law. However, one of the latest recommendations received confirmed that slaw was available as an option.

As luck would have it, Woody's is relatively easy to find as it is only a few blocks from exit 137 of I-79. The small building rests along the somewhat busy Morgantown Avenue in a building reminiscent of a classic small HDJ. The interior and the seating remind me very much of Ritzy Lunch in Clarksburg, only about 3/4 smaller. Our readers had pointed out that the place fills up fast, particularly at lunch, and I found this to be the case on this visit. The customers were a motley collection, ranging from college students in no particular hurry to get back to class, families, businessmen, utility workers, and a group of seniors seeming to have a daily get together. Each and every one was feasting on hot dogs and nothing else. There was a nifty collection of photos featuring sports icons and celebrities lining the wall across from the food prep area.

Although visibly busy, my waitress was friendly and took enough time to tell me about the selections available. Slaw runs an extra twenty cents, but I'd say about half the people I glanced at had it on their hot dogs. My order was prepared and delivered lickity-split, even though people were still filtering through the door and ordering anywhere from four to a dozen dogs at a time.

Upon receiving my order, I was pleasantly surprised at how generous the portion of slaw was. It was particularly creamy and sweet with nary a taste of vinegar. It mixed well with the (medium) chili, which had just the right amount of spiciness to remind me that it wasn't mild, but at the same time not cause any sort of discomfort. The complexity of the chili was darn near one of the best ones I've sampled in a while. It had just the right amount of meaty flavor, coupled with the right consistency of ground beef in a nicely browned sauce. What stuck out the most about this sauce was that it didn't have clumps of meat, but a generous spread that ensured delectable goodness in every bite. The buns were steamed well enough to allow the dressing of the slaw and sauce from the chili to seep in, but not cause them to fall apart.

The wiener tasted of the bulk restaurant fare type, but was boiled to an acceptable level and held it's own. Overall, these hot dogs met or beat a lot of my expectations. The service was good, even though with the overwhelming crowd it had all the potential to go south. Woody's Restaurant scores a 4.5 weenie rating.