Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sissonville HDJ Review - The Top Spot

I don't know about the rest of the country, but when a restaurant in West Virginia calls itself a "country cookin'" restaurant it always has hot dogs on the menu. Sometimes they are included just because they feel obligated to do so and sometimes it's because they understand that hot dogs are a cultural staple. Once in a while, though, such a place will be very serious about putting together a real hot dog and has the culinary acumen to pull it off. It seems that The Top Spot in Sissonville would fall into this last category. But unfortunately for this review, three things prevent me from praising the Top Spot's hot dog too enthusiastically: 1) The wait staff showed that they have the ability to torpedo a good dining experience, 2) the presence of ketchup among the listed standard toppings, and 3) 1&2 combined.

OK, the ketchup thing I can deal with. I do all the time. It's irritating, infuriating and even sometimes a little demoralizing that after two years of WVHotDogs.com's constant chiding and admonishing HDJs to lose the red stuff it still shows up on so many standard items lists. But it's easily rectified by simply asking for no ketchup. At least it should be easy, unless the server can't communicate the order to the kitchen - which is exactly what happened to me when I ordered my hot dogs with everything EXCEPT KETCHUP. What I got was everything BUT MUSTARD! This is not rocket science, people!

But in spite of the royally screwed-upness of my order, I have to tell you that the hot dog was still really good. The chili was excellent: Meaty and nicely spicy. The slaw was fresh and tasty with just a slightest bit of sweetness. The weenie was good, the onions finely chopped and sweet and the bun that held it all was warmed in dry heat so it had a crusty outside. Even with the ketchup handicap and mustard deficit this hot dog tasted good enough to earn a 3 1/2 Weenie rating. Just think how good it would have been if it had been prepared properly.

Thanks to Rick Lee for the photo!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Charleston HDJ Review - Intermezzo Cafe

The $130 million Clay Center for The Arts and Sciences in downtown Charleston is often talked about in very negative terms by a large segment of our fair city’s population. The Clay Center often gets criticized on the following grounds:

1. It cost way too much money to build and the shows it hosts cost way too much.

2. While it looks pretty good, the overall quality of what is inside runs from really bad to mediocre.

3. Because of the poor value it provides the community, it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths

But enough complaining. Inside the Clay Center sits the Intermezzo CafĂ©, which provides snacks and light meals to patrons. Of course, hot dogs must be on the menu or it wouldn’t be here.

Let me say right from the start that the hot dogs are not good for the following reasons:

  1. They cost way too much money ($3.00!)
  2. While it looked pretty good, what was inside the bun ran from really bad (the weenie) to mediocre (the chili),
  3. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Cosmic, huh?

Seriously though, the hot dog started with a weenie that was quite possible the single worst weenie in the history of WVHotDogs.com. It was so overcooked on one of those hot dog rollers that it was like it was wrapped in leather. It had the chewiness quotient of a Slim Jim but without the taste.

The bun it was on had some promise, being a bit above average in size and a little more substantial that the basic HDJ fare, but it was served stone cold. The chili had some interesting flavor, but the slaw did nothing to compliment it and was virtually tasteless. The mustard was do it yourself from the condiment rack.

I thought long and hard about what to score this train wreck of a hot dog. The chili might warrant a 2 Weenie rating, but I really feel like this is something that shouldn't be eaten by humans and if I were to score it with a positive integer that it might induce some person to risk his or her life, or worse, the safety of their children. This is a bad, bad hot dog . 0.0 Weenies

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Princeton HDJ Review - Burger Boy Dairy Bar

I wouldn't expect to find hot dogs in a place called "Burger Boy" but in West Virginia any place that calls itself a dairy bar is definitely going to have hot dogs on the menu. So I was pretty confident when I strode in to the Burger Boy that I was going to get a hot dog, but I did not know anything beyond that. I mean, this is Princeton, in Mercer County - barely West Virginia at all. What strange toppings would this hinter land hot dog joint offer as standard equipment? That question was quickly answered, albeit somewhat misguidedly: "Chili, slaw, mustard, KETCHUP and onions. Close, but no cigar.

I ordered one without ketchup and hoped for the best. It wasn't the best, but it wasn't at all bad.

Served in a coffin, my hot dog's bun was nicely steamed and had good heft to it. It was loaded down with toppings (thus the heft) and the toppings were pretty good. The chili had an odd texture (a little like Dairy Queen Coney Sauce) but had a nice, but tame, spiciness quotient. The slaw was about as chunky as it comes, but the chunks were tender and bound together by a tasty and sweet dressing. The weenie did nothing to hurt the quality. The onions were fairly potent, which is a downer for some, but given the tame chili they gave the dog a much needed kick.
Overall the Burger Boy's hot dog was better than average, but not quite excellent. But being on the southern frontier and representing our state's hot dog culture so well they deserve a little extra consideration. Therefore I will give the Burger Boy a solid Four Weenie rating.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bridgeport HDJ Review - T&L Hot Dogs (Meadowbrook Mall)

Just like any other mall, the Meadowbrook Mall in Bridgpeort has a basic assortment of fast food places to grab a bite when the urge hits on those hikes between the shoe store on one end of the mall and the electronics outlet on the other. You can get your cheesesteak sandwiches, pseudo-Chinese cuisine, pizza, and of course some pretty good hot dogs thanks to T&L Hot Dogs.

If you've had hot dogs at any of T&L's other locations, you've pretty gotten the idea of what they're like at other locations. With the high traffic volume the mall food court receives, there is a high turnover of hot dogs being served up throughout the day. As a result, you're more than likely to get fresher dogs and fries here than other locations. The buns are always freshly steamed to order, and the hot dogs are usually boiled to standard for even the most picky WVHD fan.

I would, however, question how fresh the slaw is. It tastes just "alright"; common sense would suggest that the slaw would be prepped the day before in order to ensure there was plenty available in such a high volume area. Probably the same with the chili too. Seeing as how they offer the large quantity pints and gallons of their famous mild/medim/hot sauces for sale, it's a safe bet they aren't as fresh as could be. But this is all just an educated guess; who am I to speculate? I've only been eating their hot dogs for years.

Ingredients aside, there is one major flaw for this location, and that is the price. While a T&L version of a WVHD goes for about $1.55 at most locations, the version here goes for a budget-busting $1.89. I'm sure there are higher priced hot dogs elsewhere in the world, but just about every HDJ in the area manages to keep the price for a WVHD down under the $1.70 range. Seems as though T&L has taken the initiative to pass along the cost of their overhead directly to the consumer.

T&L Hot Dogs usually rate four weenies (with a couple of locations scoring five weenies), but I can't allow myself to give this location more than three-and-a-half weenies due to the excessive price. I'm not sure if it's a first, but I'm deducting a half weenie from what should've been a four weenie rating for what sure feels like some undue price gouging. I think T&L would be better served to lower the prices at this location a bit. Then again, I'm just a paying WVHD fan with an opinion, right?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Putnam County Hot Dog Joint: K-Mart Snack Bar

For one reason or another, I find myself in the Teays Valley K-Mart about 3 or 4 times per year, usually to grab some needed or forgotten item on my way to Charleston or back to Huntington. The last couple of times, I noticed a large placard at the snack bar advertising Nathan's Famous franks, but I didn't have the time to grab a dog and give it a review. Well, a few days ago, I was in no hurry and asked if the dogs could be topped with slaw (they could), so I figured that it was their turn to face the scrutiny of a WVHotDogs.com review.

My expectations were low, as big box store snack bars have gone down hill since the demise of G.C. Murphy and Woothworth's. This K-Mart did little to reverse the trend.

I ordered a hot dog with chili (this place is east of Hurricane), slaw, mustard, and onions. I had to go to the service desk to pay, so I didn't see the preparation of the weenie. When I got to the car and unwrapped the weenie, I was shocked, appalled, and dismayed. The weenista had taken it upon herself to give me ketchup instead of onions. Here is a rule of thumb for all HDJ employees: if the customer is above age 15, assume that they did not ask for a hamburger/french fry condiment on their weenie. The lady was nice and all, but it would be hard to recover from this sin.

The bun was neither stale nor fresh, but was unsteamed. Since they are not located in Cabell County, I won't be so hard on them, but a little steaming, as is standard in the Metro Valley, would have been in order.

The Nathan's weenie truly carried the dog, even though it seemed to have skin on it and appeared to have been on some sort of dry heating apparatus for some time. It really did have a nice flavor that Cavalier, Kahn's, etc. cannot touch. That being said, I must at this time invoke the Chris James Doctrine that, with a proper WV hot dog, toppings making cheap weenie taste like a million bucks, not the other way around.

The chili was standard food service canned slop. I suspect that it was a beanless Hormel or some other brand that would have made for a passable bowl of chili for lunch on a cold winter day, but it tasted like crap on a hot dog.

The slaw seemed to be either homemade or at least a close facsimile thereof. It was very creamy and adequately sweet, but someone went overboard on the celery seed. That being said, it was still pretty good if someone had a taste for such a style of slaw.

Overall, we are looking at a 2.5 weenie joint at this K-Mart, entirely due to the Nathan's tubesteak and the so-so slaw. Without weenie, we'd be in the 1.5 weenie range. With bad slaw...I don't even want to think about it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Mercer County HDJ Review - Lynn's - Bluewell

Between Bluefield and Bramwell sits a little burg called Bluewell. I've always wondered if the founders simply took the two town names and combined them or if there is some kind of well nearby from which comes blue water. I wonder about things like that all the time.

But I don't have to wonder where to go in Bluewell to find a hot dog, hamburger or a dairy treat. There is only one place and that place is Lynn's.

Lynn's is the last of a dying breed: The curb-service dairy bar, but it looks like a walk up place. In fact both times I have been to Lynn's I mistakenly walked up to the window to place my order and have been met by a car hop coming out the side door. She took my order but then I had to show her which car I was in so she could bring my order to me. I sheepishly slunk back to my car and waited.

While I waited I considered the signage on and around Lynn's. There were the obligatory banners advertising sundaes and cones and the obligatory Pepsi changeable letter menu inside, behind the unused ordering windows. There was also hand scrawled messages on the window glass that made it abundantly clear that Lynn's is serious about hamburgers, hoagies and hot dogs; promising "Lynn's Famous Chili" on the hot dogs.

Of course, by this time I already knew that Lynn's was serious about hot dogs because when I placed my order they passed my sure-fire litmus test: "Everything", I was told most confidently, includes chili, slaw, mustard and onions: Perfect answer that always - and I mean always - predicts greatness.

So it should come as no surprise that Lynn's rates highly. Every piece of this hot dog is of superb quality. The bun is steamed to perfection, served in a wax paper sleeve made it wonderfully soft. The weenie was as good as it gets and Lynn's Famous Chili was as good as advertised; nice slow burn and a good meaty texture. The slaw was a perfect compliment to the chili, but was served a little too sparingly for my tastes. It was made from shredded cabbage which gave it a different texture from the more typical chopped stuff. The onions were tasty and the mustard added some zip. There was simply nothing wrong with this hot dog.

This is the furthest south in the state we've been for a hot dog review and it was very nice to find such a wonderful specimen clear down here next to the Virginia border. There's no doubt that Lynn's deserves a Five Weenie rating.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Clarksburg HDJ Review - T&L Hot Dogs, Old Bridgeport Hill

The vast majority of the time you're likely to find little deviation from one local chain or franchised restaurant to the next, save for maybe the layout or decor. The menu is nearly always the same, and the food usually tastes the same at one location as it does another. A welcome exception to this rule are a couple of the T&L Hot Dogs in the north central portion of the state. While there aren't many changes to the menu offerings in the “main” stores (at least the ones that are listed on the T&L website, as there are numerous other locations around the area that aren't even noted), there area a couple that excel in the preparation of the key hot dog ingredients. Two immediately come to mind: the Buckhannon location (see the WVHotDogs.com review for that one) and the newest location at the foot of Old Bridgeport Hill in Clarksburg.

This new T&L employs the standard motif for a T&L: 50's and 60's era movie posters, tons of neon lighting trim, abundant movie poster reprints, die-cast replicas of classic American automobiles, an eye-catching Esso neon clock, a jukebox full of family-friendly oldies, and so forth. At the same time, it also sets itself apart from other HDJs --as well as the other T&L shops-- with it's roomy split-level seating. The eating area is sparkling clean, and the food preparation area glistens as well. I couldn't help but stop and gaze at the wall-mounted nose of the '57 Chevy greeting me at the entrance.

But what really sets this T&L apart from the rest of the pack was how incredibly well prepared my hot dogs were. The slaw had all of the best elements working in unison: cool, crisp cabbage that had freshness permeating every bite, coupled with the tang and sweetness there, all playing together nicely for a welcome change. Mercifully, not the typical one-or-the-other I'm so used to when it comes to the tang or sweetness in my slaw dressing. I had ordered the medium chili sauce, but I would've sworn I received the hot version by mistake. Upon a second tasting, I realized that my chili was simply very, very fresh. The spices and seasonings hadn't had the chance to dissipate into the sauce, and the meat had also been nicely cooked. The buns were perfectly done as far as steaming goes, and it didn't hurt that they tasted ridiculously fresh as well.

Just as a side note here, this was the first time that I noticed that T&L now offers their sauce by the gallon (as well as the pint). Of course if you want that much, be prepared to pony up $24.00.

T&L Hot Dogs doesn't score anything less than four weenies, but this location pulls off the rarity of scoring a five weenie rating. The preparation is of the highest quality here, and it comes through in the taste.