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.


Buzzardbilly said...

Oooo, I did not know that they'd finally put something back where Bullwinkles was. Dad used to love Bullwinkles. He was a big fan of Skeenies when they were here too.

Excellent review.

When I was growing up, I worked at Viars Dairy Bar in Comfort. They've long since closed, but their hot dogs lived on at V-Mart in the same town (owned by the husband in the family that owned VDB). If they're still doing it, it was a fine chili that had many local fans.

The Pennzoil station in Kanawha City (at the end of the block with Rite Aid) used to have a lot of hot dog fans. I don't know why. I never ate there myself.

sara said...

I will not return again during lunch hours. My dining companion got her lunch nearly thirty minutes before I got mine (a just okay hot bologna). They're in the neighborhood, so based on your review I might give them another chance during off hours, but never again during lunch.

joeholiday said...

Absolutely the hot dog of my dreams! And wings made just the way I like them. The wait was way worth it! Oh ... and the onion rings!

E said...

It was actually Bowincal's, not Bullwinkles. There were four of them. Two in Charleston, one in Gauley Bridge and one in Summersville. I worked at the one in Gauley for 2 1/2 years.

E said...

It was actually spelled Bowincal's. The three men who started them were named Bo, Winc, and Cal. There were four of them. One at Plaza East, one in Campbell's Creek, one in Gauley Bridge and one in Summersville. I worked for the one in Gauley Bridge for 2 1/2 years.

slh529 said...

There was also one in Clendenin for a very long time. It closed in 1998 after being severely flooded. My mother was the manager ther for nearly 14 years. While Cal was actually the man who started it, The "Bo" that a comment stated above, was actually Buford, who joined the franchise after Cal.

Unknown said...

There was one downtown in the parking garage at the foot of the South Hills bridge...I used to go there for lunch in high school. I remember the buns were buttered and toasted on the outside...yumm!

Unknown said...

I used to go here all the time with my friends from Charleston Catholic High School after school. I never got the hot dogs, but there was a sandwich they had that I loved, ham and cheese and other stuff on it, it was a specialty sandwich. Anyway, great memories at this place. I loved it. This was back in the mid-late 70's. So long ago....I wish it were still there.