Sunday, May 24, 2009

Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

While not exactly snowflake-like, it isn't often that you find perfectly similar West Virginia hot dogs at two HDJs. Just the variation in the spiciness of the chili and the sweetness of the slaw ensures a wide variety of kind of hot dogs you might find at any given HDJ, but when you add in the wild cards of onions, weenies and buns you have a multitude of possible combinations. While this blog is dedicated to exposing all of these different varieties, it sometimes is necessary to consolidate and classify the major divisions in order to better serve the hot dog eating public.

The reason it's necessary is that there are different strokes for different folks. People are forever asking me "where is the best hot dog?" and that's really hard to answer accurately unless I qualify the answer with a description of these three major divisions of hot dogs.

I've kicked this task around for the past couple of years and put it on the back burner for far too long. What has prevented me from blogging this is not the actual classification; that's pretty easy. I am completely comfortable saying that there are three basic kinds of hot dogs sold by HDJs in the state, and I know exactly what makes them different. What gives me pause is the names for the groups. It's hard to come up with adequate names for each of the classes that are descriptive, succinct and amusing. And so I will be seeking your advice, gentle reader, on names for these classes of hot dogs. You can leave them as comments or email them to me. I will be using working names for the purposes of these posts. I say "these posts" because each will be too long for one post. This first post will include the first of the categories and the others will come later in the week.

The First Category - "The Utilitarian Dog"

This is actually the one working name I feel good about. Hot dogs in this class are usually served at dairy bars and other such joints that feature fast service and inexpensive dogs. They are usually stuffed into a wax paper sleeve or wrapped up in cellophane with no thought at all given to presentation. They are for the purpose of tasting great and filling up your belly fast. Period. HDJs that advertise 10 hot dogs for 10 dollars or some such mass quantity discount are nearly always selling Utilitarian Dogs. Think "sack full of hot dogs."

I have to admit, the Utilitarian Dog is my favorite of the three classes that we will discuss. When my mouth waters for a hot dog, I usually am fantasizing about a Skeenie's dog stuffed into the wax paper sleeve with their logo on it, or perhaps a Morrison's hot dog with all of the toppings smushed up against the cellophane so I can get a glimpse of the goodness before I even smell it. Both of these hot dogs reside in the UD class.

Utilitarian Dogs are usually soft to the touch and have sufficient heft to make them mold to your hand when you first lift it to your mouth. The reason for this softness is usually a bun that has been steamed before the toppings were applied, but the softness sometimes is just because the hot toppings steam the bun inside the impervious wrapping; I don't think it matters which, even though I do love the attention to detail that a bun steamer communicates. And whatever the reason for the softness, UDs are usually sloppy and if you try to eat one while driving you will be wearing a portion of it all afternoon.

Another distinguishing feature of the UD is the aroma: Typically hot dogs joints that serve UDs have huge pots of chili that sit and simmer all day long and therefore have the wonderful aroma of slow cooked goodness, and since the onions are chopped well in advance (necessary for fast delivery to hordes of hungry customers) they have a tendency to be strong and aromatic.

While people who prefer Utilitarian Dogs can probably find a modicum of happiness in hot dogs of the other two classes yet to be discussed, they aren't likely to fall in love with them. On the other hand, people who like the other classes aren't likely to find anything redeeming about a Utilitarian Dog; it is completely unpretentious, unkempt and unlike the other two, is built only for pleasing the palate.

Of course, there are plenty of hot dogs in the UD class that do not please the palate. And frankly, a bad UD is probably worse than a bad dog of the other classes. Most of the hot dogs I've bought to review and then thrown away after one or two bites have been UDs. I'll reveal my thoughts on why I think this is so when we talk about the other dogs, but suffice it to say that some UD HDJs are only about the bulk, price and speed that they think their impatient customers want. Thankfully there are many who recognize that good taste is equally important. A few of these are the aforementioned Skeenie's and Morrison's, but also worthy of mention are Clendenin Dairy Queen, Kenny's in West Hamlin, The Spot in Flatwoods and Sam's Hot Dog Stands.

Next time: Genteel Dogs


Christopher Scott Jones said...

Add M & M Dairy Bell, too.

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