Saturday, February 27, 2010

Charleston HDJ Review - The Red Carpet Lounge

This little dive has been around 40 years or so, and has become the watering hole of choice for a mostly older and professional crowd. Since it is the closest drinking bar to the state capitol building it is not unusual to see small clusters of well dressed politicians and lobbyists engaged in after hours discussions; leaning in closely to talk discreetly about who knows what - most likely in gross violation of the Sunshine Law. Only just recently did the Red Carpet start serving lunch, though. Some folks I work with recently went there for lunch and told me that they had hot dogs on the menu so I decided to check it out.

When I walked in at a few minutes after noon on a Friday, I rather expected there to be a crowd. Nothing could be further from the fact: There were two people at the bar and three sitting at the gambling machines. The lights were off in one half of the room and I received no welcome or even a look of annoyed acknowledgment. It was like I was invisible. I looked around uncomfortable for a few moments, trying to figure out if I should sit or order first. I thought that surely one of the two women working behind the bar would say something if I stood there long enough, but nothing. I finally decided to sit at a table closest to the bar and try to make some kind of eye contact with the wait staff. I sat there in the half dark for almost ten minutes before the waitress finally came out from behind the bar and walked over to my table. She didn't say a word - just stood there. It was awkward. Very awkward. Finally I asked "what is everything on a hot dog?" This question was met with an exasperated explanation of what she liked on a hot dog, but never did shed light on what the establishment's "everything" dog had on it. She listed relish and ketchup among the toppings available (which I had already seen on the printed menu on the table) and of course I asked her to delete those two things and bring two hot dogs with everything else.

But loyal readers know that I don't worry too much about service if the price is good.

It isn't.

The menu listed the price of one hot dog with chip and a pickle at $3.70, and to add a second hot dog it was an extra $1.60. So $5.30 for 2 hot dogs and a one-ounce bag of lays BBQ - which I had to go retrieve myself after the waitress forgot to bring them. A can of coke was $1.10 extra. That's $6.40. I can get the sam thing downtown at Swiftwater for a buck and a half less.

OK, but loyal readers know that I don't worry too much about price if the quality is there.

It isn't.

The bun was stale, the slaw was coarse and tasteless (I'm betting it was from Sam's; not the HDJ, the wholesale club) and the chili was weak (probably Custard Stand brand - also from Sam's). The weenie was grilled, I think, but it was tough and chewy.

Even without the high price and the bad service, this hot dog would barely tip the scale at 2.5 Weenies. Add in those factors and I'm going to award The Red Carpet Lounge a 1.5 Weenie rank.

If you find yourself near the Capitol at lunch time and have a hankerin' for a hot dog, the self-serve hot dogs at the 7-11 around the corner is a better bet than the Red Carpet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stop Hot Dog Reform Now!!!

Yesterday NPR reported that some fat cats at a so-called "scientific" organization called the "American Academy of Pediatrics" is calling for a redesign of weenies to prevent children from accidentally choking on hot dogs.

Let's be honest. The debate on this topic is far from settled. The children choking is likely part of a natural process that has been going on for thousands of years and not the result of man-made sausages.

Let's not forget that this hot dog redesign will be a job killer. We shouldn't let these child-hugging extremists take away American jobs. Granted, many of these meat packers are immigrants, but no one gets worked up about that anymore, so we'll stick to what is convenient.

Here are some random links to pictures of old veterans and some guy hunting.

We need to make a stand against socialized hot dog design. Hot dog patties are simply not what our Deist Founding Fathers intended.

If you are a Real American, you will join us in taking a stand against Obamadogs. We can't let the welfare of future generations get in the way sticking it to some eggheads with fancy degrees.

We're Dogged Enough Already.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Parkersburg HDJ Review - Der Dog Haus

I've driven by this place on 7th Street a bunch of times, but not until it showed up on the "101 Unique Places to Dine in WV" list did I ever consider stopping in. I can't really explain why, but despite its name it just didn't look like a HDJ to me. But on a recent trip to P-Burg I thought I would take a chance and since it was on "The List" I figured even if it didn't have hot dogs I could still get something interesting to eat. So I took the completely unprecedented (and, I thought, somewhat pretentious) step of calling ahead for a reservation. I was surprised when they took my name and told me that they would reserve a table. When I showed up on a Friday evening to hordes of hungry diners waiting for a seat I was glad I had called ahead. Still not sure that it was a real HDJ, I was gaining confidence that it was a good place to eat.
In the few moments that I had to wait on my table, I looked over the daily specials written on the board in the packed waiting area: Salmon cakes & oysters? Really?
Really. And how about sweet & sour Brussels sprouts as a side? The, I mean Der, Dog Haus has them.
Soon I was being shown to my seat in the PHS room (that's Parkersburg High School for those of you not savvy). On the way to the PHS room, I am certain that I must have passed the PSHS (Parkersburg South High School) room because anyone familiar with P-Burg knows that not giving equal time to each high school would be tantamount to stealing pigs and might start a war right there in your eating establishment. I was surprised at how big this place is.
As soon as I opened the menu I realized that this was a real HDJ: The first section of the menu is all about hot dogs. The fact that the rest of the menu look like anything but a HDJ menu is beside the point. In addition to the aforementioned specials, Der Dog Haus has lots of interesting food: seafood, salads, steak, ribs and much more.
But hot dogs is what we're about and hot dogs were the reason for my visit, so hot dogs is what I will now write about:
The first unfortunate thing about the hot dog part of the menu was that there is no "everything" dog. Too many toppings are offered and most of them are unnecessary: relish, cheese, kraut and grilled peppers. Thankfully I was able to assemble a real WVHD from the options list.
My dog showed up on a New England Style bun (minus 1/2 point), but otherwise was a good solid effort. The sauce (chili) was reminiscent of DQ Coney Sauce with lots of meat added. The slaw was fantastic in texture and taste, but a little too wet for its own good. The onions were very coarsely chopped. The mustard was yellow.
I'll give Der Dog Haus a solid 3.5 Weenie rank for its hot dog. If I were rating on a different scale, perhaps "Spoons" or something like that, I might give it a 4 or 4 1/2 for its overall quality, selection and service.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hot Dog Cart Wanted in Charleston

We've been asked by a Charleston non-profit business to help them find someone who has a hot dog cart that might be interested in setting up at their location one day per week this spring and summer. They have good traffic and will help you promote your business.

If you have a cart and would like to operate it there, or if perhaps you have a cart that you aren't using and would consider renting it to someone else for this purpose, please contact us and we'll put you in touch with the right people.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Bridgeport HDJ Review - Hank's Deli

I was really excited when I first found out late last summer that Hank’s Deli would open a new location in Bridgeport. Though Bridgeport does have a few worthwhile HDJs, a true WVHD aficionado is rather limited in choices for quality. More often than not, one would need to travel across Route 50 to Clarksburg to get a better selection. But I digress.

Hank’s Deli occupies the former Long John Silver’s in what is now known as the Home Depot Plaza. Though the outward appearance would suggest this new abode is smaller than the original location at the Middletown Mall in Fairmont, the interior is surprisingly spacious and has been renovated to make the aesthetics more appealing. Upon entering, I was greeted by two huge menus on the wall touting a plethora of soups, salads, sandwiches, and such. But I quickly spied the subject of my quest: the Messy Dog.

The Messy Dog is the Hank’s Deli version of the WVHD. The menu states that it has both homemade slaw and chili, which in a past review were terrific. One thing that should be pointed out is that onions and mustard do NOT come standard on this particular dog (I can sense all of you shuddering right now). You do need to ask for them to be added to the dog, but fortunately there is no extra charge. I have visited more than once to make sure it wasn’t just a case of the cashier having an off-moment and forgetting to add them. Nonetheless, it is rather annoying to have to remind yourself to ask for something that should be second nature to ANY hot dog. Like the Fairmont location, the hot dogs in Bridgeport are on the pricey side.

One glaring difference between the dogs at the Bridgeport and Fairmont locations is the use of a standard hot dog bun. In the original review of the Fairmont location, Hank’s used an New England Style hot dog bun. It was very tasty, but it still broke the taboo rule of using the cheapest components to make the best hot dog. Bridgeport uses a standard bun, lightly grilling the interior to give it just a hint of crispness while still retaining the fresh flavor. This process lent itself to allowing the sauce from the chili and slaw to permeate into the bun, but not enough to turn into a handful of mush.

The wiener was of a super-plump high grade. Very juicy and flavorful, and lightly grilled. The chili piqued my curiosity. If I could put it into terms that our southern fans might appreciate, the taste reminded me of the deliciousness experienced during my one and only trip to Romeo’s with Stanton many moons ago. The flavor was beefy and tasted as though it had been prepared with TLC. Nothing in the mix reminded me of anything typically found in the northern region that I cover (i.e. heavily spice laden). The texture had more of a familiar home style consistency. Rather than finely ground meat, the beef was a bit more of a rough ground. This made the chili seem somewhat “clumpy”, but the portion was generous so as not to allow any part of the wiener to be uncovered.

The slaw quickly became one of my favorites. The consistency was just right, and the dressing leaned more towards a tangy flavor without drowning out the remaining ingredients. It was uncommonly fresh (which was a welcome change), and chilled to perfection. I wish I could’ve taken some home with me right then and there, but I guess that’s the hook to get me to come back again. At any rate, I found myself thinking that the chili and slaw were more like a ying-yang as far as the balance goes. They really needed to have one another to make the hot dog work as well as it did.

One big bonus: rather than the usual fries you can get just about anywhere, Hank's give you the option to get the best homemade potato chips around. I could enjoy a whole basket of those by themselves. All that said, I would have to give Hank’s Deli four and-a-half weenies. Were it not for the fact that the mustard and onions had to be requested separately, I think it would score and easy five weenies.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

South Charleston HDJ - Betty Lou's Diner

"Have you heard the news ?
It's all over town
If you ain't heard it boys

You better sit down

"I got the story here
It's hot off the press
Brace yourself now
And take a deep breath
Grab a hold of something
Hold on tight Betty Lou's gettin' out tonight!"

Ever since hearing and reading about this new restaurant opening a few weeks ago, I have been humming this Bob Seger song to myself. Perhaps that's what has fueled my eagerness to check it out, or perhaps it was because the namesake "Betty Lou" claims to have "legendary" hot dogs, and claims to have sold 1.5 million of them from her former location in Cedar Grove. Whatever it was, I was indeed eager to go and finally today I had the opportunity.

The new diner is at the top of the hill on Central Avenue in South Charleston, and occupies a building where another HDJ dwelt several years ago. You can read an early review of that HDJ here if you are at all interested.

The building has been completely renovated and now looks every bit like a real WVHDJ. From the obligatory checkered floor to the photos of pop culture celebs from the 50's to the changeable letter Coca Cola menu board, this looks like the real deal. Further encouragement was found on the menu in the list of standard hot dogs toppings: Chili, slaw, mustard and onions. If I had to look further for encouragement, it could be found in the limited menu that had hot dogs, pinto beans and little else. Hot dogs and pinto beans? How much more West Virginian can you get?

When my hot dogs arrived I felt even more encouraged: The slaw looked almost perfect in texture: finely chopped and not a bit runny. I couldn't wait to taste it, so I took a bite from the top side but the taste didn't seem to match the appearance. Thinking I had just missed and perhaps bitten into air, I took another and large bite: Still no taste. OK, there was a taste, but it was so slight as to not be there at all.

OK, well I have had hot dogs before with lifeless slaw and they somehow still worked, so I took a real bite from the business end of the dog. Better, but still a little weak. I dug out some chili and found it to be fairly typical Upper Kanawha Valley (the region from whence Betty Lou is said to hail) chili with a slight chili powder twinge but not much else.

And oh yeah, the weenie was waterlogged. So much so that the liquid soaked throught he bottom of the bun of the second hot dog before its turn to be eaten came around, nearly resulting in a catastrophic bun failure incident.

Now I never had a single one of the 1.5 million hot dogs that Betty Lou claims to have sold prior to today, nor do I know of anyone who ate one of them. But if what I experienced today is any indication of her efforts heretofore, it is difficult to understand how that kind of volume could have been achieved. Perhaps Betty Lou ain't what she used to be, or maybe she entrusted the keys to her kingdom to the wrong weenie chef. Whatever the explanation, Betty Lou's Diner gets a so-so 3 Weenie rating on this day.