Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Huntington Area Hot Dog Joint: The Big Loafer--Huntington Mall

Regular shoppers of the Huntington Mall have seen tons of stores come and go over the years. I'm always boring my wife with by pointing out where the Pied Piper, Walden Books, and the Hickory Farms used to be. Some stores, however, have remained staples of West Virginia's largest shopping complex. Among restaurants, one that comes to mind is The Big Loafer. Folks in the Mountain State know The Loaf as a melding of Appalachian cuisine and fast food. Their signature item is called, um, the Big Loafer and is the best meatloaf sandwich on the planet. That is all well and good, but we at WVHotDogs.com are a few years and several licensing deals away from starting a meat loaf sam'mich blog. Fortunately for us, they also sell hot dogs.

I ordered mine with everything, which was sauce, slaw, mustard, and onions. The service was more than friendly and the turnaround was quick, which, combined with the +100 Big Loafers I've eaten in my life had my hopes set for a killer WV hot dog.

Boy, was I in for a letdown.
The first problem was with the bun. The bread was totally stale and they microwaved (?!?!) it in order to freshen it up. Such behavior in a hot dog joint is totally inexcusable anywhere west of Milton. If they are old, call Heiner's and get some more. Don't insult me with nuked, rock-hard buns.

Another problem was to be found with the weenies, which were laying in a pool of their own filth (ie a water bath). While I am more lenient on such dogs than anyone else here at WVHotDogs.com, I still don't want to see the warming pan. Do it in the back and not at the front counter, por favor. I was willing to forgive this spectacle if they tasted ok. They didn't. Cafeteria grade, all the way.

The sauce was ok. Not great, not bad, just ok. It was incredibly meaty with strong notes of chili powder, but the noticeable lack of any other spices and only the faintest hint of salt left it on the bland side of things.

The slaw was, much like the sauce, fair-to-middlin.' It was sweet, too sweet for my taste, but probably just right for a Charlestonian, and finely chopped. The downfall was the fact that it was bone-dry. I imagine that mayo or salad dressing was involved in the concoction at some point, but had drained to the bottom of the storage unit.

Overall, we are looking at a very, very average hot dog from a great fast food place. The finished product was just like how what I imagine the finest hot dog ever served at Barboursville Middle School tasted. 2.5 weenies.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wheeling HDJ Review - Louie's - Special Guest Reviewer

Note: Paul DeGeorge travels the country with his Wizard Rock Band "Harry and the Potters". Along the way he reviews hot dogs wherever his rigorous tour schedule takes him. Last July the band came to Charleston and I was fortunate enough to take Paul and the other members of his band to Romeo's and Skeenie's for a taste of a real WVHD. In October I got a call out of the blue from Paul as he traveled through the Northern Panhandle. He was looking for a decent hot dog. Since I had long ago given up on finding a decent dog up there, I gave him the only advice I could; The only advice I had ever been given about Wheeling hot dog joints: Go to Louie's.
This review is re-printed from Paul's blog "I am an American and I Eat Hot Dogs."

Bound for St. Louis, we found ourselves headed through the pan-handle of West Virginia right as our stomachs began to grumble. Not having any idea where to stop, we called up the expert: Stanton of the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog. He had brought us out for some great dogs in Charleston over the summer and luckily I still have his phone number hanging around for just such an emergency. He directed us to Louie’s, though he warned that pan-handle dogs are a little different from the WV dogs that he whet our appetite with back in July. His vast knowledge didn’t fail either, for instead of being met by the glory of the chili-slaw dog, we were instead subjected to the lazy-man’s chili dog. I’m sort of inventing terms here, but what I mean to describe is a chili dog that simply fails to deliver on all the excitement of a chili dog. Specific failings at Louie’s include:

1) That crappy, watery chili that’s really just ground beed with a little bit of seasoning.
2) No cheese – sire, I understand that we’re privy to local custom and maybe cheese isn’t the thing here in Wheeling, but if you’re going to top your dog with a subpar chili, you could at least supplement with some cheese.
3) Rollers! Bad form! I am just not-at-all into hot dog that are cooked on rollers. It’s a pet peeve, I guess.

So I can’t really give much of an endorsement to Louie’s other than the fact that it’s probably one of only a half dozen places to eat in Wheeling if you’re hungry.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Charleston HDJ Review - Gram's Specialties

Gram's Specialties is a little bake shop in Kanawha City that has high-end baked goods for sale in a snazzy storefront on McCorkle Avenue. They have a beautiful selection of pies and other goodies in their display case and offer others that can be made to order with advance notice. The attention to quality is evident in the aesthetics of the finished product, and Gram's makes no apologies for their attitude that quality is worth the money: Pies routinely go for $25 and up.

I've not been a customer of Gram's before, primarily because I'm a cheapskate and I knew their prices were higher than I wanted to pay for things that would only make me fat, but I am always intrigued when I drive by and see the delectable delights beckoning from the window. Imagine my surprise when I saw a sign in the window one December evening that said "No Hot Dog Lunches Until 2008." Hot dogs? I thought maybe they meant this kind of hot dogs, but the "lunch" threw me. I decided I needed to wait until 2008 and investigate more thoroughly.

So here it is, 2008 already and I finally made it to Gram's. I was immediately encouraged when I walked into the place and was greeted with a sign that proudly proclaimed the presence of hot dogs, and only hot dogs, for lunch. You really have to admire a place that so proudly embraces the One True Food that way. No hamburgers. No BBQs. No Salads. Hot dogs and sides. That's it. I love these people.

So since I already loved these new people so much I was secretly rooting for a great hot dog, but my professional Weenie Wonk work ethic prevented me from being prejudicial.

When I was told that "everything" included ketchup my enthusiasm became cautious, and when saw that my hot dog was served in a coffin it lowered my expectations a bit more. But as soon as I opened the coffin lid I was completely wowed by the size and weight of this beauty: It filled the bottom of the coffin completely with its girth. The bun was soft, obviously steamed, and it was piled high with toppings. Only after the second bite did I recognize that a major part of the voluminousness of the hot dog was the weenie itself: It was the kind of oversized version like you might expect to find at upscale HDJs and it was quite tasty. Of course, some would say that the the weenie can be too big and eliminate the space needed for a proper bunful of toppings. While I respect this opinion, Gram's doesn't fall into the trap because they overload it anyway. The amount of chili and slaw that is contained in this hot dog could make two or three hot dogs at some HDJs.

The chili is heavy on the chili powder and about as meaty as it can possibly be. Throw in some kidney beans and you'd have some nice chili to eat from a bowl on a cold January day. The slaw is way too coarse for my tastes, and a little sloppy (which is apparently by design since they call their hot dogs "Slawppy Dogs") but tastes very good (sweet) and goes well with the chili. The onions were hardly noticeable, apparently one of the sweet species like Oso or Vidalia.

This is a really good, bordering on great, hot dog. It is big and filling and unlike other things in Gram's, is priced very reasonably for its size at $1.95. I'm going to give it a 4.5 Weenie rating.

I think I'll go back soon and get another Slawppy Dog with a side order of Berry Clouds or a $30 pie. Now THAT'S a combo meal!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Clarksburg HDJ Review - Parkette Family Restaurant

Well over fifty years ago, the Parkette sat at the end of what is now known as Old Bridgeport Hill, just on the border of the limits of Bridgeport and Clarksburg overlooking the current intersection of U.S. Route 50 and I-79. The original building, a throwback to the days of the drive-in family diner, eventually outlived its usefulness and a new building was created on just a stone's throw away heading back into Clarksburg.

All along, the Parkette was always recognized as 'the' place to go for the best subs and hoagies. Of course, burgers, shakes, chicken, and hot dogs and the like were also on the menu, and each and every item was in its own right a delight in and of itself. Just ask anyone who was around in the day. The Parkette has always been a place where people from all walks of life in the area could agree on.

Nowadays, the third incarnation of the Parkette has a more spacious dining area to seat several families and groups, and a terrific menu of some of the best eats in town. Unfortunately, something has been lost in terms of the hot dogs.

Before I get into my review of the hot dogs, let me emphasize that I'm talking about the hot dogs themselves, not the rest of the restaurant. I feel the need to point this out ahead of time because the vast majority of the menu is fantastic, and the wait staff is exceptional. As I eluded to above, the subs and hoagies are worth going out of your way for. The onion rings I got with my order were above and beyond anything I've ever had. If there were a weenie award for side items, these onion rings would be the runaway winners.

Unfortunately, the hot dogs are terribly lacking. While the wiener is grilled, which always adds to the flavor of any variation of any hot dog, the remainder of the ingredients leave a lot to be desired.

For starters a dog here comes sans slaw, which is always an automatic point to half-point deduction. You can get it on the side, but at the price of $1.39 for a serving. On top of that, it's not particularly good either. It's pretty evident by the nearly uniform choppings of cabbage and overdose of vinegar that this slaw is of the pre-packaged, bulk food service variety. When you figure that a hot dog with chili, onions, and mustard as the standard goes for $1.29 here....well, need I say more?

The chili seemed to have been homemade, but it's not clear exactly when. The taste of the beef came across as somewhat watery. The sauce itself was particularly bland, lacking any kind of spice or seasoning, save for a hint of salt.

I'm still, as of this writing, trying to grasp exactly how the bun was heated. The best I can discern is that it was tossed into a warm oven for a minute or less; it seemed to be somewhat toasted on the outside, but barely lukewarm on the inside.

I really liked the Parkette, and would certainly enjoy bringing friends and family alike for a get-together or meal. The hot dogs, however, leave something to be desired. Per the guidelines for rating HDJs, they receive two weenies. These hot dogs need help.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Charleston (and everywhere else) Hot Dog Joint Review - 7-Eleven

I put this off as long as I could.

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, 7-Eleven sells more hot dogs than any other store in America. Since there are numerous 7-Eleven stores in The Mountain State, and quite a few right here in the Charleston area, I have often thought about stopping off for a quick bite and review. Knowing that all 7-Elevens are self-serve was a discouragement because I hate to assemble my own food, but we're talking the king of all hot dog vendors here, so some flexibility was called for. Another discouragement was that I figured that it would not be a wonderful dining experience.

I picked the Spring Hill 7-Eleven location at the corner of Kanawha Turnpike and Chestnut Street in South Charleston because I was hungry and in a hurry and I figured I wasn't going to find a lot of difference between this one and any other.

This 7-Eleven, like every other one I've seen, keeps their weenies heating on one of those roller-thingies and they always seem to have a good supply of standard hot Oscar Mayer weenies and "Big Bite" sausages hot and ready. Buns are kept in a steaming drawer already in styro-coffins. I was surprised at how nicely steamed the buns were.

Many toppings are available at 7-Eleven. Chili is kept in an electric powered dispenser that is reminiscent of a soft-serve ice cream machine. I must say that it is a little unsettling watching a thick rope of brown goo being deposited on the bun - I'll leave it to your imagination without further comment. Mustard is available in a ginormous pump container of French's on the counter.

The rest of the toppings are kept in a cooler drawer adjacent to the hot dog serving area. This drawer was not marked and I had to search a little for the condiments that I felt certain were there somewhere. Once I opened the drawer I found not only slaw and onions but also relish and jalapeƱos.

So after locating all of the desired elements I set about assembling my hot dog, then came the taste test: The part I had been dreading most. The chili was kind of gross in texture (I was still queasy from the visuals mentioned above) but tasted decent. The slaw was lowest common denominator food service slop. The bun was soft from steaming, but still had a stale taste. The weenie tasty enough but was dry from being on the heat rollers for so long. 1.5 Weenies is the best I could possibly give this poor specimen.

Popularity is no sure sign of quality (e.g. Dallas Cowboys & Hillary Clinton) but it's difficult to explain how 7-Eleven can sell more hot dogs than any other HDJ on the planet. I guess there is no short supply of hungry people in a hurry, and there certainly is no short supply of 7-Eleven stores. It adds up to a lot of crappy hot dogs being consumed by a lot of non-discriminating people.

I'm glad that's over with.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cabell County Hot Dog Joint Restaurant Inspections for Dec. '07

From the Caball-Huntington Health Department website:






No Critical Violation

No Critical Violations

No Critical Violations

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Clarksburg HDJ Review - D&P Restaurant

We've received a couple of e-mails recommending we give the D&P Restaurant a try. Right along U.S. Route 19 in the Edgewood section of Clarksburg rests a little white block building where the D&P Restaurant calls home. D&P, in this case, stands for Donna and Pete, the proprietors who manage the daily mayhem inside their crowded but quaint eatery. And when I say crowded, I don't mean that in anything less than it's purest form. There's plenty of seating, but not much in the way of walkways between the seats to get to the counter and place your order. Don't get pushy here either: this is a favorite lunch time gathering place for the local troops of the state police.

When I was finally able to get to the counter, Pete took my order and hollered over his shoulder for "two with everything". In this case, everything is onions, chili, and mustard. No slaw available at all. Considering the very short-listed menu I find it as a little bit of a let down. Sandwiches, hoagies, hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, and salad are the only menu items available. While all items are homemade, I would really have been pleased if that little extra umph had been given to develop a slaw as equally good as the rest of their offerings.
The hot dogs are grilled fresh continuously, which for some reason keeps the heat inside the wiener better as opposed to the standard boiling method. Personally, I much prefer grilled versus boiled, but that's just me. The preparation here allows it to get a nice, slightly charred color on the skin that adds to the overall flavor. The buns are kept nicely steamed, but never overdone so as to prevent them from falling apart.
The chili is a little on the thin side, but thankfully not watery. It had quite a bit of reddish tint, but surprisingly no tomato-based taste. This chili was of the spicy, northern WV variety. It contained a good bit of red pepper, but didn't overdo the spiciness. One thing that seemed to hurt the chili was the abundance of salt. In fact, it was a little too salty for my tastes. It would've been saved by a cool, sweet slaw. Although the chili wasn't bad in and of itself, it didn't really do anything to stand up and impress.
D&P's hot dogs rate three weenies. There's really nothing wrong with these hot dogs at all, but they just don't have that little something extra to put them over the top. Here's hoping some serious WVHD fans can encourage D&P to add slaw to their repertoire.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Charleston HDJ Review - Sam's Hot Dog Stand Randolph & Pennsylvania

It might be unfair to review a new hot dog joint based on a visit on its first day open. But then again, a franchise like Sam's should have its best foot forward from the get go, and since the brass is always there on the first day it should be as good as it gets, right? I don't know if it's fair or not, but that's what I did for this new HDJ that I've been waiting to see open for several weeks.

The former home of a BP service station, it is now Charleston's first Little General Convenience store and inside is a full service Sam's Hot Dogs Stand. "Little" is the operative word for this tiny store that tries very hard to have everything in spite of its confined space. The quarters are cramped, however, to the point of inconvenience. This is especially troublesome at lunch time when a throng of hot dog customers block access to virtually everything else in the store.

Service was quick on this opening day despite having a bunch of people working that were obviously trainees. My order took only a few minutes to be filled and I was able to escape the crowded confines more quickly than I expected.

"Everything" was not well defined. It seems that I could have gotten anything from relish to ketchup to mayonnaise if I had not expressly ordered my hot dog with chili, slaw mustard and onions.

The chili was standard Sam's fare (order the spicy, the mild is lame), but the slaw was lowest common denominator food service slop with huge chunks of hard cabbage. The weenie was of a smaller caliber and lower quality than I remember finding at other Sam's locations. The bun was straight out of the bag with no steaming or any other preparation and it seemed a little stale, which was especially surprising on the first day. Since there is no eat-in option, all dogs are served in a to-go coffin.

I'm going to give this Sam's location a month or so to get their sea legs and visit again, but for now three lackluster Weenies is as good as I can do in good conscience. This is a nice location for a HDJ and I hope they can do better.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Wheeling HDJ Review - New York Hot Dogs

A regularly scheduled trip to Wheeling opened up the golden opportunity to search for a West Virginia hot dog joint in the former capital city. Though my time was limited, I managed to find a place for lunch that I had passed en route to a morning meeting.

New York Hot Dogs boasts the selection of Nathan's Famous as the weiner of choice. Nathan's is a fine selection, in my own personal opinion, but probably not used as widely in most West Virginia hot dog joints due to the higher cost. While the basic criteria for a true WVHD is to make the most out of the least expensive ingredients --mostly relying on the slaw and chili combo to carry the dog-- these particular hot dogs are able to stand on their own with just a little mustard (no ketchup!) simply based on the terrific and unique beefy flavor that Nathan's weiners offer.

I was thorougly impressed by the delicious slaw. The cabbage cut was a medium-fine grade with small bits of shaved carrots that bought out the crunchiness and fresh flavors from each other. The dressing was subtly sweet, with just a fair amount of tang. It was by far and wide a complex masterpiece. Easily one of the best slaws I've had the pleasure of sampling.

Whereas the slaw was a showpiece of slaw-siring savvy, the chili represented a mastery of meat-melding merriment. The chili was markedly thick, but not to the point where it had a pasty or clumpy texture. On the contrary, it was quite smooth. The hearty, beefy flavor really stood up and blended nicely with both the slaw and the weiner. Barely any hot spices, so fans from the southern part of the state should find them quite palatable.

I only wish there was a bit more of the chili served on each hot dog, but I suppose it's possible to have too much of a good thing. At least it's not too little, so no complaints. I'm a little torn on what to rate New York Hot Dogs since they could benefit the customers by adding a little more chili to their dogs (and co-existing with a tanning bed business on the premises is kinda freaky), but seeing as how this is one of the furthest points north that offers a faithful and well-represented version of a WVHD, some of the best slaw I've had the pleasure to sample, and all-beef Nathan's, I'll go ahead and say they're good enough to rate five weenies.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Cautious New Year's Greeting

Another New Year's Day rolls around and with it come its inevitable feelings of woe, guilt and dread. Why do we do it to ourselves? Impossible expectations are just that; impossible. Calling them resolutions doesn't make them any more achievable. This is why I gave up on the whole resolution thing years ago. For me, like most people I think, the process of resolution making and breaking was a meaningless and destructive exercise. So one year I resolved to never have New Year's resolutions again: It's the only one I ever kept.

Why do I mention this? Because 2007 saw a downturn in production here at WVHotDogs.com and I'm tempted to resolve to do better in 2008. But who knows what kind of challenges awaits me and my fellow Weenie Wonks in the new year? It would be fool hearty to predict a better year having no earthly idea of what might transpire in the coming 12 months.

So instead, I'll just wish all of our loyal readers and fans a Happy New Year. Or, if you are one of those who thinks that even that puts too much pressure on you, Happy Tuesday. Or not.

But as a service to those traditionalists who might be reading this today, let me point out that eating a West Virginia hot dog with all the trimmings today will help you with your New Year's Day cabbage requirement.