Friday, May 29, 2009

Hot Dog Classification Project Part IV: So What?

In no order at all, here are some of my observations and comparisons of Utilitarian Dogs, Genteel Dogs and Artisan Dogs. Feel free to add your own observations via comments:

- Utilitarian Dogs have a wide price range from location to location. In North Central WV, these dogs are under a dollar in most HDJs, while in Southern WV they are often $1.50 or more. Predictably enough, Genteel Dogs are less likely to be found in places that have higher priced UDs.

- Overall, hot dogs get more expensive from North to South except for Artisan Dogs.

- HDJs that sell their chili/sauce by the jar always serve UDs.

- UDs will leave a lingering aroma inside your car far longer than either GDs or ADs.

- 75% of Utilitarian Dogs we review score 3.5 Weenies or higher. That number goes down to 50% with Genteel Dogs, while Artisan Dogs score that high only 30% of the time.

- Despite the above statistic, UDs are more likely than the other two classes to score one Weenie or less.

- ADs are far more common in restaurants that are owned by a non-native West Virginians.

- The smaller the parking lot the higher the likelihood that the HDJ sells UDs.

- Urban HDJs are dominated by GDs.

- If there is any seafood other than fried fish on the menu, there will be no UDs.

- HDJs that claim "Best Hot Dogs in Town" usually have UDs. Those that make the claim and have GDs are always lying.

- Ketchup is far more likely to be served on a GD than the other two classes.

- You never see anyone eating an AD wearing a "wife beater" t-shirt, but you will often see a man in a shirt and tie wolfing down a UD.

- Sometimes a HDJ can have a GD for inside dining, but UDs to go.

- Places that are owned by, or cater to, granola crunching liberal hippies are more likely to have ADs. Furthermore, these places are likely to have things like "Free Range Weenies", "Fair Trade Mustard" or "Amish Cole Slaw."

Hot Dog Classification Project Part III: Artisan Dogs

While certainly a minority in the WVHD world, our discussion of hot dog classes can't overlook the hoity-toitiest of the species. These hot dogs are the blue bloods, the aristocracy, the upper crust; or at least that's what they want to be.

I call this class "Artisan Dogs" even though many restaurants (notice I didn't say "Hot Dog Joints" - it just isn't fitting) call this kind of hot dog "gourmet" I refrain from labeling them that way because the word "gourmet" is a word most often used to communicate exceptional quality and these dogs often do not deliver in that regard.

Artisan Dogs, for the most part, bear no resemblance to what most purists think of when they have a craving for a WVHD. Instead of making something great of cheap ingredients, Artisan Dogs take expensive ingredients and try to make something novel. Once in a while it works, but more often it is just an expensive disappointment: ADs are often priced at more than $3 a pop vs. the typical $1.25 for a UD and maybe $1.50 for a GD.

First, an Artisan Dog must have a bun that is different from the norm: Hoagie buns dusted with corn meal are at the low-end with handcrafted artisan rolls (thus the name for this class) at the high end. The weenie is usually large caliber, grilled or flame broiled and sometimes tastes more like sausage than frankfurter. Yellow mustard is rarely found on an Artisan Dog; Brown mustard or even Dijon are commonly used. Then, some kind of chili is applied (usually) and if there is slaw (not a given in this class) it is usually more coarse and more colorful than typical WVHD slaw. Toppings are usually piled so high as to be overflowing the bun.
Now on the surface it might seem a fine line that exists between "Genteel Dogs" and "Artisan Dogs" but not so: GDs are intended to be eaten, while ADs seem to want to be only looked at and admired. Sometimes the large bun, weenie and copious amounts of toppings make the things difficult to eat like a regular hot dog unless your mouth is roughly the size and shape of a Pit Bull's.

A few examples of good tasting Artisan Dogs from the archives of are Tamarack and The Blossom in Charleston. Two others that deserve mention despite their lack of resemblance to a real WVHD are Barnyard in Buckhannon and Delish (now a distant memory because of a fire several years ago) in Charleston. All of these hot dogs were tasty and satisfying, but most of the others we've tried have been lackluster. Some were so disappointing that the reviews were never posted lest we lead our readers to them by mistake.

So, there you have it, three classes of WVHDs that are distinctly different and easily identifiable. In a future post I will crunch the data and make some comparative observations that are interesting to me and hopefully will be to you.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hot Dog Classification Project Part II: Genteel Dogs

Genteel (jen-teel' )- adjective - 1. Striving to convey a manner or appearance of refinement and respectability. Genteel Dogs are the second, and perhaps the most prevalent class of hot dogs sold at West Virginia HDJs. The above definition of "genteel" (courtesy of really hits the nail on the head when it comes to these hot dogs and the motivation behind them. They are neater in appearance than Utilitarian Dogs and most times there is some thought given to the presentation even if they are served in a coffin (which is almost always how they are packaged to go since the coffin protects them from being misshapen by handling during delivery). As you might suspect, sometimes all of this effort to make the hot dog appear more respectable is really just an attempt at covering up one that has been made with less than respectable ingredients. I am sure that I speak for the other Weenie Wonks when I say that some of the most carefully assembled and presented hot dogs were also some of the most bland tasting dogs we've had the misfortune of reviewing. But sometimes the opposite is true: The HDJ has a good tasting product and want to give it the presentation that it deserves. Presentation aside, Genteel Dogs dogs are also likely to have perceived upgrades in the weenies, buns and onions to further give the "appearance of refinement and respectability." All Beef weenies are regularly offered in this class, as are over-sized large caliber weenies of unknown content that are simply identified as "premium." Some of these are truly an upgrade and some are just bigger. Say what you will but when it comes to hot dog weenies, it's not the size that counts: Bigger is not better. Buns, likewise, are open for negotiation for Genteel Dogs. Good ol' Heiners standard buns are often eschewed in favor of one that is a crustier, larger or dusted with some kind of grain. New England Style buns, grilled or toasted, reside exclusively in this class. If standard buns are used, great care is taken to ensure that it retains its shape so steaming is out of the question. Onions are unpredictable in this class. They might be sweet, hot, yellow, white, red or Vidalias, but the one constant is that they are chopped in larger chunks in this class than you will usually find on Utilitarian Dogs. Interestingly enough, slaw is one topping that varies little from the kind you might find on Utliltarian Dogs, except that it is usually applied with more care. And mustard is mustard unless the HDJ takes the pretense up a notch and uses Dijon; an offense that should be punishable by law (and that usually only happens in the third and final class of WVHDs that will be discussed in a future post).
Since I have already admitted my preference for Utilitarian Dogs, I will further confess that I rarely find Genteel Dogs to be as satisfying. The most obvious exception for me would be Swiftwater Cafe in Charleston, whose dogs are definitely Genteel. Swiftwater's weenie is larger and beefier than most. The chili is pretty tasty and the slaw is terrific. The bun isn't steamed and they take great care in placing the toppings without squashing down the bulk. Which leads me to another point on the Genteel Dog: One has to open one's mouth much wider for a GD than a UD. For some this is a problem. Please keep your off-color sexist comments to yourselves.
Genteel Dogs can be found at diners like Red Line Diner in St. Albans or DJ's in Fairmont, and most sit-down restaurants that sell hot dogs other than those on the kid's menu.
Next up: Artisan Dogs

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Charleston HDJ Review - The Dome

Enough was enough: I had to intervene to help fallen (or at least falling) comrades from their wandering in the desert. You see, ever since the last joint review we did with the folks from Fork You they have been all over the map, literally and figuratively, reviewing chain restaurants like Hardees, White Castle, Captain D's, etc. This in spite of a blog identity statement that claims to review "local Charleston WV restauarants." An intervention was in order and so I set up a meeting.

I had actually reviewed this place before, but then it was called "Gold Dome BBQ" and was very smoky. It's now called "The Dome" and since the glorious Kanawha County smoking ban took effect, it means I could go back and try the onion rings without a side order of second hand smoke.

My previous review was so old that it pre-dated the weenie rating system, but I remembered that the hot dogs were very good. So I ordered two without fear and an order of the onion rings that I remember seeing when I was last there.

While we waited on our order, I lectured my young and less experienced food bloggers on the evils of chains and the necessity of staying focused. Thankfully, our food took a looong time to arrive so I had plenty of time to get my point across. I think you will see better behavior from them from now on.

When our food did arrive, lecture time was over and eatin' time began. I was very impressed with the taste, texture and volume of the slaw on top of the hot dogs. The chili had the beautiful dark brown color that usually means a rich, complex flavor; and one taste proved it to be so. The only thing missing was any trace of spiciness. It definitely need some more chili powder or maybe a little cayenne to bring it to life. The bun was nicely steamed, but the weenie was a tad waterlogged.

The onion rings did turn out to be pretty good, but that's beside the point. The hot dogs at the Dome get a 4 Weenie rank. You can check out the Fork You review of their orders here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Homewrecker from Hillbilly Hot Dogs

Here is a video of a guy named Sean eating the Homewrecker from HillBilly Hot Dogs. That's a 3.5 lbs dawg featuring a 1 lb weenie topped with sauteed peppers n onion, two kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, spicy sauce, mustard, ketchup (ew, but I digress), and slaw. If you eat it all in 12 minutes, you get a t-shirt and braggin' right.

My arteries hurt just watching that.