Monday, May 26, 2008

Vandalia Gathering Hot Dogs

The Vandalia Gathering is the big Memorial Day weekend party thrown by the W. Va. Department of Culture and History each year on the grounds of the Capitol. You can read about it in this post from the Charlestonian Blog.

The Kiwanis Club of Charleston always has the hot dog concession for the festival. Normally I don't review hot dogs from festivals and church sales and other such temporary HDJs, but since the Kiwanis are there year after year selling the same hot dogs I thought I'd go ahead and give it a shot.

Despite including ketchup on an "everything" dog, the Kiwanis seem fairly serious about offering a decent hot dog. The chili seems to be home made and not bought in bulk (although it tastes a little too much like DQ Coney Souce to be called "good") and the slaw seems to be homemade (but won't be winning any prizes). The weenie is tasty and larger than your average HDJ weenie.

If I were giving this hot dog a serious rating, it might garner a 3 Weenie score. Since Vandalia is supposed to showcase the culture of our state I wish that they had a better hot dog to offer to visitors.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Deion Sanders wants to ruin your hot dogs.

Anyone else remember this infomercial from a few years back?

After the success of the Foreman grill, athletes started putting their name on any meat-related product, including this machine that allowed you to recreate the taste of a 7-11 dog in your own home.

Personally, I was always partial to the Dick Butkus newspaper grill for a great dog.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nitro HDJ Review - Jake's Dawg House

Located inside Brandywine Flea Market on Rt. 25, Jake's Dawg House is one of those kind of HDJs that has unpredictable hours that you have to be fairly intentional about visiting. I tried three times before I finally found it open. The sign says it is open Wednesday - Sunday 9-5 but I had been there during those hours and found it closed. Such is the way of small HDJs. (I am forever getting mail from people who ask me to post hours for the places we review, but I have always resisted because most places are like this one: Open when they get there, closed when they leave.) The menu at Jake's is full of different combinations of hot dogs and toppings, and a request for "one with everything" got me a blank stare. So I special ordered one with chili, slaw, mustard and onions. The person behind the counter was friendly, but not too speedy. I was surprised by how long it took to get my order and disappointed to see it served in a coffin. Jake's buns are the split top New England Style variety and are nicely grilled. The weenie was hefty and had the distinctive all-beef flavor of a premium brand. I couldn't tell how it was prepared. On top of the weenie was a good measure of tasty, meaty chili. It wasn't very spicy, but was flavorful. The slaw was really creamy and nicely sweet. The whole ensemble worked nicely. It was a good, tasty and filling hot dog that earns a Four Weenie rating.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Charleston HDJ Review - Mrs. Winkle's

A staple of the old Plaza East shopping center was the little hot dog joint on the corner, Bowincal's. It closed many years ago but it has sat virtually unchanged through the years. You could walk by and see the tables and chairs sitting there waiting for people to fill them, and the serving counter waiting for someone to order one with everything. I was pleased when I heard that the place had reopened under a slightly different name.

Mrs. Winkle is presumably no relation to the former occupants, and her menu is definitely more diverse than the old place with things like Greek salads, hot wings and other trendy fast foods. But hot dogs still hold a place of honor on the menu, and the menu has several different versions and different toppings to work with. When I asked what "everything" was, I was greeted by an exasperated stare and so I withdrew my question and just asked for two with spicy chili (they have regular chili, but I wanted to see what "spicy" meant), slaw, mustard and onions.

My hot dogs took a long time to get to me, but I was not alone, quite literally. There must have been about 12 people waiting for their orders when I got there and another 4 or 5 came in after me. One disgruntled customer finally voiced his displeasure and left, donating his pre-paid food order in the process. I hung in there and waited almost 20 minutes. It was the heat of lunchtime, so I'll forgive them, especially because even though they were slammed I could see that they were still taking great care preparing the hot dogs instead of just throwing them together. Each bun was steamed, the mustard was carefully applied, the chili was lovingly spread and the slaw and onions were spooned into place like presentation actually mattered to them.

When I finally got my order I noticed that the two hot dogs "to go" were served in kind of a double-wide styrofoam coffin. No matter, the steamed bun and the piping hot toppings preserved themselves well on the short drive back to my office. When I opened the coffin I was greeted by a heady bouquet of really potent onions, but they didn't taste as strong as they smelled. The first thing I noticed when I bit into my dog was the unmistakable "snap" of a premium weenie: Probably either a Nathan's skinless or a Boar's Head. It was quite tasty like both of those brands and larger in size than your typical HDJ weenie.

The next thing that caught my attention was the spicy chili. It was indeed spicy; not Fairmont spicy, but pretty darned spicy for Charleston. It was really nice and complex too, with a tartness that one usually doesn't find in the spicy stuff up north. The slaw, while pretty tasty and fresh, wasn't quite up to the task of offsetting the chili. I'd imagine it would go well with the regular stuff, but the spicy just kinda burned through it. Still, this is a very good hot dog. It's a bit pricey for these parts at $1.90, but the premium ingredients are worth it.

Let's give Mrs.Winkle a 4.5 Weenie rating to leave her room for improvement. Sweeten the slaw and make it a little creamier and it would be flawless.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Presidential Endorsement

Based only on this photo I have to declare my support for Barack Obama to be the Democratic presidential nominee. We need a president who eats hot dogs.

This would be so much better if the hot dogs had slaw on them, but this photo was taken in Altoona, PA; not exactly the center of the WVHD universe.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Clendenin HDJ Review - Almost Heaven BBQ

With one 4 1/2 Weenie and one full fledged Five Weenie HDJ, Clendenin is already arguably blessed with more great HDJs per capita than any other town in West Virginia. What would be the odds that a new place that just opened up halfway between those two excellent HDJs would be a winner, too? If this were a typical town I'd say slim to none, but Clendenin seems to know its hot dogs so I went with an open mind.

Almost Heaven BBQ is a little window service carryout located on Spencer Road (the road that connects Clendenin with I79). While primarily a BBQ joint, the banner across the front of the building proudly states that they have hot dogs, always a good sign, and when I asked what everything includes I got even a better sign: "Chili, slaw, mustard and onions" I was told without equivocation. It only got better from there because my hot dog came wrapped in wax paper! My anticipation grew by the second and was rewarded when I opened up the paper and saw a huge mound of slaw that was finely chopped and just creamy enough. The slaw was rather colorless, with no carrots or anything else showing, but it tasted nearly perfect. The tiny pieces of cabbage were crisp and fresh, and slight sweetness matched the chili perfectly since it was fairly tame, spice-wise. It had a nice flavor, but was served very sparingly.

The weenie was remarkable because it was large in caliber and very tasty. I couldn't tell how it was prepared, but it was quite good. The bun was standard. The mustard was perhaps a little lightly applied.

We're gonna give Almost Heaven BBQ a 4.5 Weenie score. A little spicier chili would have kicked it up to a Five, but it is still a great hot dog.

Now please pay attention to this fact: Along one stretch of road in Clendenin there are two 4.5 Weenie HDJs and one 5 Weenie. Take a left and head a short distance up Elk River Road and you'll find another 3.5 Weenie HDJ that is a teaspoon away from a 4. I am very close to naming Clendenin as the hot dog capital of West Virginia, but I need to make another trip to Logan before I do that.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fairmont HDJ Review – Dairy Creme Corner

If there's one thing that there never seems to be a shortage of here at, it's recommendations for a favorite local HDJ. Case in point was the recent e-mail that Stanton forwarded to me from a reader named Cathy with the subject line “Need to try the BEST!!!”, referring to the Dairy Creme Corner in Fairmont.

Dairy Creme Corner is an inviting walk-up-or-eat-in type HDJ that primarily focuses on ice cream and summer comfort foods. It features an extensive menu of short order goodies on one of those menu boards that seemingly spans the width of the restaurant. You name it, chances are they've got it: all sorts of cool treats, burgers, salads, cheese steaks, nachos, funnel cakes, and the like. Places like these can take you back to summer nights when you were a kid. To boot, the service is friendly and prompt. Dairy Creme Corner should win the award for having the “Money Location”. It literally sits right at the base of the exit ramp of exit 137 off of I-79.

To be completely honest with you, I take any claims of the hot dogs at any given place being “the best” (or some similar claim) with a grain of salt. While it means a lot that someone thought enough of the product to recommend it, the rule of thumb is that no two tastes are the same. At any rate, I found the hot dogs here to be well worthy of high marks.

For starters, it's one flat price for any hot dog with any topping, to include slaw. In Marion County, this is a rarity since many HDJs in the area still believe in the phantom “no-slaw law”. The buns are steamed just about right to allow some absorption of the toppings, but not too much that they turn to mush. The weenie seemed to be adequately done. For some odd reason I had a hard time finding the onions and mustard in each bite, but they were still detectable.

The regular variation of the chili seems to be geared more to towards the southern WV formula, in that it doesn't rely on an overdose of spices, but rather a hearty flavor. The texture of the meat is nicely ground and cooked just to the point that the juices of the beef are released into a pleasing mix that compliments the weenie. The only drawback seems to be that there is a hint of ketchup stirred into the formula somewhere. Not enough ketchup to throw the formula into complete disarray, but just enough to make its presence known in fashion that annoyed my anti-ketchup palate.

The slaw as fresh, with an emphasis on a crispness in the finely cut cabbage. I found the flavor to be middle-of-the-road in terms of sweet/tangy ratio. On the downside, I thought the dressing was a bit too thin and runny for my personal liking. Again, this didn't ruin the hot dog, but it was a little unpleasant to have it running into the palm of my hand.

All in all, Dairy Creme Corner is a fun and pleasant place to take the family and enjoy the best of America's favorite summer treats. The hot dogs are really good, but come up a hair short of being the best they can be. Therefore, Dairy Creme Corner gets four and a half weenies.