Friday, November 27, 2009

Charleston HDJ Review - Tricky Fish, redux

There's an old saying that goes "fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

Shame on me, then.

When I first reviewed Tricky Fish a year and a half ago, they had just opened and I didn't even give the hot dog a Weenie Rank because it was so non-WVHD-like. I've been back on numerous occasions, but I opted for one of their non-hot dog items, even though I did notice that they had changed their hot dog and the new version sounded much more WVHD like. On several of these trips I considered giving the new offering an honest review, but I was little nervous about it.

Nervous, you see, because shortly after I posted my review, another blog reviewed the place and the blog comments turned into a virtual battlefield complete with allegations of venomous attacks on a young artist and vicious counter attacks by the parents of said artist. I decided to steer clear of the row, less I become collateral damage in this war of words.

But I figured after a year-and-a-half the water was safe enough to go back into, especially since that other blog has seemingly decided to review only chains and faraway restaurants. [poke] [poke]

Tricky Fish has kind of recreated itself in the past year, adding a large front deck and the words "Urban Beach" to their name. The recreated hot dog also has a new name: "Nathans Famous." Yes, that's what they call it on the menu. I found this interesting; that an establishment would and could name a dish the name of another restaurant. Interesting, but understandable; I mean Nathans Famous weenies are pretty awesome and why not recreate yourself in the image of something awesome?

The first bad thing about ordering this or any of the other "hot dogs" on their menu (they have a veggie dog and an Italian Sausage dog) is that you have to sift through a large number of available toppings to get the basic WVHD toppings. Thankfully chili, slaw, mustard and onions are among the items on this list.

The second bad thing about ordering this hot dog is that it comes with a knife and fork. Really, people, how many times do we have to go over this? The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council and tasteful people everywhere know that you don't use utensils to eat a hot dog! Click here to watch the NHDSC Hot Dog Etiquette video.

The third bad thing about this hot dog is that the toppings are so overwhelmingly applied that one has no choice but to eat it with the knife and fork. Look at the photo: You can barely see the bun for the scads of chili and slaw poured over the poor little thing. There was absolutely no way to pick it up without losing half of the toppings.

Not that losing the toppings would have been such a bad thing: The taste of the chili was OK - fairly spicy and very meaty, but it really didn't taste like something that should be on a hot dog. The slaw was so bland that if it had been missing it would not have affected the taste one iota.

It's a shame to waste a perfectly good Nathans Famous weenie like this.

This time they do get a score: 1.5 Weenies.

I won't be fooled again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mercer County HDJ Review - Sun Valley Country Store

Since my daughter is a student at UCLA (University of Concord Located in Athens) I frequently travel to the southern part of the state on missions of mercy - usually involving the delivery of vast sums of cash or other valuables. One recent trip found me arriving at just about lunchtime and so my starving daughter and I went looking for a bite to eat. On the road between Athens and Pipestem State Park sits the little wide spot known as "Speedway," and in this wide spot sits Sun Valley Country Store, and inside this country store there is a restaurant.

I was pleased when I saw hot dogs on the menu, but confused when I saw slaw listed as a 10 cent upgrade to the basic dog. I have only run into this price gouging strategy once before (and that was in Huntington where they don't really know what a WVHD is anyway) and I was a little offended by it. I know it's only a dime, but it's the principle of the thing.
So I pays my extra 2o cents and I gets my two hot dogs with slaw. The whole time I am waiting for my order I'm thinking "if you are going to charge me extra - even a dime extra - it had better be worth it." And I'll tell you now that it kind of was: It was sweet, creamy and tasty.
Unfortunately this good slaw sat upon mediocre chili (slightly spicy) and a waterlogged weenie. It was all nestled inside a grilled New England Style bun - a common strategy to hide inferior ingredients.
Overall it was a 3 Weenie hot dog, mostly on the strength of the expensive slaw. Halfway between Hinton (home of the much adored Hinton DQ dog and Kirk's) and the bonafide 5 Weenie dogs at Lynn's in Bluewell, I think if you find yourself in Speedway and hankerin' for a good hot dog you should drive a little further.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Page HDJ - Woods Market

Obviously for most West Virginians, the first question that we have to answer is "where in the @#?! is Page?" The answer to that is easy: Between Montgomery and Oak Hill. The REAL question should be "How in the @#?! did you find this place?" The answer to that questions is that a small email campaign waged by Fayette County readers persuaded me that this little place in this little place that is between two other slightly larger little places just might have a great hot dog. So I had bookmarked it and the first time I found myself in Mongummy at lunch time I decided to hop over Deepwater Mountain and check it out.
As you can see from the picture, from the outside this is not a place that you might expect to find hot dogs, and without the aforementioned letters from readers I am positive that I would have never darkened the doorway of this establishment. Not that it looks terribly scary, it's just that it looks like every small community market I have ever been in and I felt certain that I knew exactly how it would smell inside, and I knew that the people that worked there would recognize that I was not local and watch every move I made in the store - which was exactly what happened when I went in (every time I go into one of these places I feel like the guy working there just might be on the news someday, ala Norman Bates).

But there are some rewards that are worth the risk and the promise of a good WVHD is worth a considerable amount of emotional discomfort, if not bodily harm. I'm not sure that this hot dog, though, was quite worth the risk.

Don't get me wrong, the hot dog was not without merit. My biggest complaint is that the chili was sparsely applied - so sparse that I really couldn't tell much about its taste except that it is heavy on onions. The slaw was finely chopped and wonderful tasting, but also served sparingly. The bun was nicely steamed and overall it was a good Utilitarian Dog, but hardly worth the trip to Page - even from Montgomery.

I'll rate Woods Market's hot dogs at a generous 3.5 Weenies, simply for being an outpost of Weeniedom on the rural Fayette County frontier. If you are in the neighborhood, stop and try it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Book Review - Hot Dog - A Global History

I recently received an email from a publisher's rep who told me that was mentioned in a new book and asked if we would help promote it. He graciously honored my request for a review copy of the book. I found this beautiful November day a perfect day to sit outside and read and since the book is only 144 pages including appendices, it was easy to finish in one sitting. The book is well written and thoroughly researched. There is one sentence in the book about our beloved West Virginia hot dogs and is listed as an authority. The author, Bruce Kraig, does a very thorough job at telling his readers esoteric facts about hot dogs, including a very scholarly treatment of hot they came to be called "hot dogs". He also tells us stories that run the gamut from amusing to disgusting about how frankfurters are made and sold. The biggest problem I found with the book is this: He talks about wieners, frankfurters and sausages and calls them "hot dogs." Chapter 2 is entitled "How Hot Dogs Are Made" and he goes into great detail about the manufacturing of frankfurters. He doesn't seem to ever quite disconnect the sausage from the sandwich. You see, a hot dog is a sandwich. It is a sausage placed on bread. The sausage might be called a frankfurter, wiener, sausage or any number of other nicknames, but the meat alone is not a hot dog. Chapter 2 is completely about the meat. Chapter 3 (How Hot Dogs Are Sold) is even more confusing because it seamlessly switches back and forth between taking about how the meat is distributed, marketed and merchandised and then talking about the different kind of hot dog joints. He never makes the distinction between the meat and the sandwich. This is extremely frustrating for us here at because we have been trying for years to make people understand the single most important truth about a West Virginia Hot Dog - It is not about the weenie! While I think this might be truer for WVHDs than it is in other regions, I feel certain that the toppings are at least as important for every regional manifestation of the hot dog. I am sure that Kraig knows this, but he never mentions it in his book. But that gripe aside, this book is worth the $10.95 price just for the history lesson it provides. I've included the link so you can order it for yourself.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Smithers HDJ Review - Lopez Family Restaurant

This family owned restaurant has stood alongside Rt. 60 in Smithers for as long as I can remember. It's proximity to The Dairy Carte has prevented me from trying their hot dogs, because why would you pass a perfectly good 4.5 Weenie HDJ to take a risk on a dodgy looking roadside diner?

Recently, though, I was having lunch with someone who didn't want a hot dog (GASP!!!) and so we thought Lopez's was worth a try.

First of all, we need to address the odd fact that Lopez's is first and foremost an Italian restaurant. Odd, I think, because the name might evoke images of torillas and enchiladas, but in this neck of the woods, you see, Lopez is an Italian name. Don't ask me why or how, just accept it.

Secondly, I have to confess that I have no idea what the name of this place actually is. The sign painted on the building says "Lopez and Son Big John Family Restaurant." It makes we wonder who Big John is - whether it is Lopez or Son. The menu just says "Lopez Restaurant"

Well, whatever the actual name, the actual restaurant is an interesting mix of Italian eatery and Applachian roadside diner. They have spaghetti and baked steak on the menu and the place is decorated with dark wood paneling and fake grapevine greenery. Loud, handpainted signs and an oddly placed Pepsi machine completes the unrefined tackiness of the place. Really, this is not the kind of place I would expect to find authentic Italian food in, but my dining companion raved about her dish.

But that's not why I went, now is it?

The Lopez hot dog bears no Italian influence that I could detect. I halfway expected the chili to be sweet, spicy and tomatoey but instead it was meaty and hearty without a hint of any spice other than chili powder. Very typical of Upper Kanawha Valley HDJs. The copious serving of slaw was coarsely chopped but was sweet and somehow creamy in spite of the coarseness. The bun was crusty from being heated in a dry oven: Not my preferred method of warming but it does show an intention that I admire.

Overall the hot dog was tasty and satisfying enough to warrant a 4 Weenie rating. Certainly not the best hot dog in Smithers, but a good effort nevertheless.

Back From the Wilderness

The stench of the latrine filled my nostrils as I approached the camp. With all of the stealth I could muster I crept closer and closer to the sound - and now smells - of the enemy who would immediately assail me if my presence was detected. I realized that I was holding my breath as my senses were on razor's edge; "must breathe normally" I told myself. Through the brush I could see the dimly lit faces that belonged to the people who wanted to cause me harm. It was the first time that I had laid eyes upon their evil flesh, and the sight made my blood run cold and boil at the same time. Here I would wait until they were asleep. Then I would make my move, and what a move it would be.

Silently I made myself comfortable against the base of a tree, not knowing how long I would have to be there. Close enough now to hear their breathing, I would wait until it achieved the measured rhythm of slumber, and then I would wait some more. To keep myself from also falling victim to Morpheus' spell, I began to think of stressful things that would stimulate my adrenal gland into releasing its magic hormone that would keep sleep at bay. I thought about my earlier near death moment, then about the time when I had been tortured to within an inch of oblivion; these two thoughts helped to stay my furor and fuel my will of revenge against these mongrels that lay just on the other side of the bush.

Then I thought of an even more stressful thing: It has been months since I last posted a decent entry on the hot dog blog. This thought became an over arching presence in my brain and I could not escape it. How could I engage in the battle that lay ahead with such a distraction hanging over my head? After a long internal struggle I decided that my nemeses' demise must wait for another day: I had more important things to do. Just as stealthily as I came, I retreated.

I promise, dear readers, this week there will be new reviews and other hot dog stuff posted.