Saturday, January 24, 2009

Romeo's Re-Opens, but not really

When a "closed" sign inexplicably went up on the door of Romeo's Grill in South Charleston last summer, it sent a shock wave through the WVHD world. You see, Romeo's is, in my opinion, THE measuring stick against which all other hot dogs are judged. When they closed their doors it was a horrible blow.

A month or so ago I started hearing rumors that Romeo's was re-opened under new management but I thought I would give the new owners a chance to get their stuff together. Time's up.

The new owners have spruced up the place a little and added some flat panel TVs along the wall. Other than that the place looks the same. Service seems friendlier than it was in the past and I was hopeful that the hot dogs would still be stellar.

Let me say this: I believe that the new owners must have gotten the recipe to the old Romeo's chili and slaw recipe, because the taste is very similar. But -- and this is a big but -- the execution is not the same. First of all, the old Romeo's grated their onions so fine you could barely see them on top of the finely grated slaw. Now they are chunky and sit on top of coarsely grated slaw. The taste, as I said, is pretty much the same, but I miss the creamy texture.

As for the chili, again I suspect it's the same recipe, but here's the difference: Old Romeo's chili was dark brown because it had been cooked long and hot. Cooking it long and hot caramelizes the sugars and enhances the taste more than any herb or spice ever could. This chili is barely cooked. It's not bad, but it's not Romeo's.

The buns are still steamed to order, which is great but it won't make up for the other shortcomings.

All in all I have to give Romeo's a 3 Weenie rating. Perhaps I am judging more harshly than I would another HDJ with the same hot dog, but it's hard to sit inside this once proud palace of hot dog royalty and dine on common food.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lewisburg HDJ Review - Jim's Drive In

When all of the email recommendations from a particular town are for one hot dog joint, it usually means that it's very good. Sometimes, though, it means that there is only one hot dog joint in that town. I was concerned that Jim's Drive In fell into the latter category because I have received a lot of mail about this place, but when I decided to go to Lewisburg recently on a hot dog run I Googled and found no other HDJs from Rupert to Ronceverte; from Asbury to Alderson, or from Falling Spring to Fairlea. I hoped Jim's was going to be worth the trip. I also was concerned they would be open: I had heard that their hours were quirky, and with no other HDJs in the area the two hour drive was risky. But I threw caution to the wind and timed my trip to hit town at around 11:00 AM so I would have time to search out alternatives should I be shut out at Jim's. Fortune smiled on me. Kind of. To find Jim's you have to go through downtown Lewisburg and go just beyond the City Limit sign on Route 60. The building is small with very little signage except the ones attached to the building under the shade of the drive in awning. The car hop quickly was at my window to take my order, and was also quick and confident telling me what "everything" was: chili, slaw, mustard, onion and ketchup. Of course I ordered one without the red stuff. And onion rings. I got my hot dogs and rings in nothing flat. I mean fast service; and the rings were hot and crisp so I know that hadn't been sitting around long. Oh, and they were very good. The hot dogs were served up in a grilled New England Style bun and were loaded up very nicely with toppings. The slaw was beautiful to look at - finely chopped and creamy - but the taste was lacking of much flavor. It was mildly sweet, but that's it. The chili was very flavorful; not enough to make up for the lifeless slaw, but it was tasty, if not spicy. The red (or purple) onions were strong but applied sparingly enough as to not be a problem. The weenie was soft and rather bland tasting. All in all, this hot dog is adequate, but nothing to write home about. I immediately understood that Jim's is indeed in that second category of HDJs that I wrote of in the first paragraph; It might be the best in town, but that's nothing to brag about. Lewisburg has many fine restaurants but apparently no fine Hot Dog Joints. 3 Weenies.