Thursday, April 03, 2008

Oak Hill HDJ Review - Tom's Carry Out

I can safely say that I have received more email about Tom's Carry Out in Oak Hill than any other HDJ in the state. It took me a while to get there, but I had a little extra time on a recent trip to Beckley and was able to travel the extra 10 miles or so to Oak Hill. I didn't have any way of knowing where Tom's was located because no phone book or directory assistance service could provide a phone number or address. I figured though, with all of the love that readers had shown for Tom's, it wouldn't be hard to find someone to tell me. Sure enough, the very first person I asked, a lady walking along side the road, gave me impeccable directions. Soon I was heading down Jones Avenue and before long I saw the red and yellow sign that screamed "Hot Dog Joint." And let me tell you, Tom's is a real Hot Dog Joint: The kind that Weenie Wonks dream about.

The ambiance begins on the outside, with the aforementioned sign and the classic square cinder block structure with wide overhangs, and once inside the bright yellow paint and bare florescent tubes practically screams HDJ: I mean really, what other food could you possibly sell in a place like this? (The menu has hamburgers and a few other items, but every person that ordered while I was there ordered hot dogs.) Tom's is a no smoking establishment, but interestingly enough you can buy cigarettes there. A jar of pickled eggs sits on the counter, further enhancing the atmosphere of unrefined unpretentiousness. No less than a dozen hungry looking people waited on their orders as I came in, and another dozen came through before I left. Most got bags full of hot dogs to go.

One has a choice at Tom's between regular and foot long hot dogs. Regular are $1.09 each and foot longs are $1.99. "Everything" I was told, includes chili, slaw, mustard and onions: Music to my ears. I ordered two because I was pretty sure at this point that one wasn't going to be enough. I was right.

The first thing I noticed when I got my order was that the hot dogs were wrapped in wax paper, which meant they were really steamed nicely in their own moisture by the time I unwrapped them. But then I saw something somewhat disturbing: The chili was on top of the slaw! Wait a minute, I know what the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says about this: Chili ALWAYS goes on the bottom. Now I have run into this disturbing upside-down presentation before, mostly down in Hinton, and whenever I do I struggle with the temptation to deduct a half-point just because it's weird, but more about that later.

One thing about having that chili right there on top, it gives a Weenie Wonk easy access to do the taste test. I was able to get a good taste, and it really tasted good. I mean really good. This is hot dog chili that is good on purpose. It is meaty, but fine textured; spicy and complex. Even the color is right: Dark brown and obviously prepared with care. They sell the chili in pints, quarts and gallons and I'll bet they sell a ton of it.

But the upside-down presentation completely hides the slaw and prevented a thorough tasting, which readers of this site knows is a bad thing: After all, it's all about the slaw, isn't it?

But it's also about the whole hot dog, too, and this whole hot dog is nothing but great. Tom's knows hot dogs. They care about hot dogs and it shows: It shows in the way they carefully spread the mustard on the bun instead of squirting it on like most HDJs; it shows in the way they mix up small batches of slaw when needed instead of having a monster-sized container of stuff that was made yesterday or last week. It shows in the way people flock to Tom's and write emails to hot dog blogs. It's inspiring.

But is it inspiring enough to offset the upside-down-ness? Can we award our highest honor, a Five Weenie rating, to a hot dog that is put together upside down? How can this be a real statewide treasure when it looks so wrong? Isn't it worthy of more than a merely mortal Four and a Half Weenies? What would Joe Manchin do?

Well, when the Gov and his administration was faced recently with the unsavory choice between labeling some less than pristine waterways as "Tier 2 Streams" because they didn't qualify as "Tier 3", why they just created a brand new level: Tier 2.5. Now West Virginia boasts the only Tier 2.5 streams in the whole USA. Now that's something to be proud of, huh?

So it would be completely reasonable to create a brand new 4.75 Weenie rank just for Tom's, right? Reasonable maybe, but too much work making a new graphic. Sorry Tom's, upside-down presentation gets a half-point deduction in these parts. So 4.5 Weenies it is.

But it might be the best tasting 4.5 in the whole state.


Christopher Scott Jones said...

This is kinda like that time when Jethro Tull beat Metallica for the Heavy Metal Grammy in '89. A bunch of angry Red Devils are about to kick your butt. My dad is shining his boots as I type.

Seriously, though, I would imagine that Toms probably bests some 5 weenie joints, too. I remember as a teen being able to down two footlongs and still have room for ice cream.

I need to get back to Oak Hill sometime soon.

Oh, and as to "What Would Joe Do?," he would fire the long-time head of chili production, replace him with some guy with a double-barrel last name, and move the joint into the Fayette County Archives.

NEZTOK said...

I don't like them. The chili is just a meat substance of some sort. I don't think I'll trust this site again.

Christopher Scott Jones said...

I stopped trusting this site after the "Haughty Deauxg" review last year.

Wayne said...

As a native of Oak Hill, I am glad you finally discovered Tom's.
As you saw Tom's is located across the Avenue from Collins High School. Nothing was better than after returning from an away football game getting off the bus and heading to Tom's for a couple of footlongs.
Over the years I have traveled and lived in different parts of the Country no State offers quality WVHDs. Tom's even beyond nostaligic memories is the best foot long period and usually when I am in town. But the best dogs in the State are Clarksburg-Fairmont, the red pepper in the chilli.

Anonymous said...

We used to be able to go off campus for lunch ... and no place better than to Tom's. I recently went to Oak Hill for my class reunion, and my girlfriend and I went to Tom's for a hotdog. I agree with the 4.5.

Monica Palazzi said...

You haven't had a real hillbilly hot dog til you've gone to Tom's! Tom's is by far the best dog I've ever had. I live in Ohio and it takes me 6 hours to get there and worth every mile. I was introduced to Tom's hillbilly hot dogs as a little girl from my grandma who has lived in Oak hill for 84 years. I love a good hd and consider myself a bit of a hd connoisseur being I've been in search of a dog that compares to Tom's 30 years but yet I've had no luck:(so with that said I will be trucking myself to Tom's to get that perfect dog:) xo Monica

Unknown said...

I just made another trip from OBX, NC where we live to Ohio. I went out of my way to go to Tom's for hotdogs. It was fun to have my 80 yr. old mother with me who ate these in the early days and raised me on them as a kid. Not only did we eat there, we also ordered some to go plus extra chili and slaw. They packed it all up for the trip back to NC. I have NEVER found a hot dog as great as this anywhere! Just feeling really blessed to be a mountaineer and having Tom's hotdogs!!!!

Unknown said...

Left Oak Hill in 1966, and I used to have lunch there almost every day while going to Collins High across the street. I'm 72 now and can still taste the hot dogs at Tom's.I've visited a few times since and Toms is always on my go to list. I live near San Francisco now, so I have to make my own, but I still try and duplicate Toms. But never do.