Monday, August 30, 2010

Webster Springs HDJ Review: The Custard Stand

Certainly one of the most successful businesses in the West Virginia Hot Dog industry, this little HDJ has become the leading producer of store-bought hot dog chili in the entire region. Its chili, "Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili" is sold in stores like Kroger and Wal Mart thoughout the eastern US. According to their Facebook page, the original restaurant "The Custard Stand" was actually named Elsie's Dairy Bar- founded by Elsie Hamrick-1960. The name was changed to The Custard Stand in 1991-and the chili began to be sold in retail stores in 2003. In 2009, the second location of The Custard Stand in Flatwoods was opened (you can read Bid Daddy's review of that location here.)

I have been trying to get to this original location for years, but Webster Springs is not on the way to anywhere and so it took me until I had a free day and the inclination to make a four-hour roundtrip hot dog run. My chance finally came on a Sunday and I logged onto and was pleased to find that they have longer hours than a typical HDJ and are open 7 days a week. So I loaded up the truck and went to Webster; Springs that is.

I set out with no directions, but I figured I could find the place easy enough and I was right: You know when people give you directions to a place and say "you can't miss it"? Well, this is what they mean: The Custard Stand sits on the outside edge of a hairpin curve on the road that leads down into the Elk River Valley just before you get to Webster Springs, and if you didn't negotiate the curve properly, you just might end up inside the place (which actually happened a few years ago when a truck lost its brakes and crashed into TCS's warehouse). The HDJ has two walk up ordering windows and the dining area is a picnic shelter across the parking lot. When I got there shortly after noon on Sunday, there was a fairly large crowd of folks waiting for their orders. Periodically one of the two workers inside would bellow an order number through the open window and a hungry looking person would scamper over and get their food.

Once the throng thinned out a little, I was able to place my order. I inquired as to what The Custard Stand considers everything and got an unexpected response: "Chili, slaw and oninons." What, no mustard? I am used to having to ask for a modified version of "everything" at lesser HDJs who serve a variation from the generally accepted toppings but usually it involves the deletion of ketchup or such other offensive addition; rarely - if ever - do I have to ask to add mustard.

My mustard request was accepted easily enough and soon I had joined the ranks of the waiting. While I did so I was able to look around a little, but there was not much to look at: This place is very humble and spartan, even for a roadside HDJ. The most interesting feature was the world-class kudzu patch on the hillside above the parking lot that looked like it might overtake the delivery truck that was parked next to it. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long.

My hot dogs were nestled in paper boats and wrapped in wax paper. The consistency of the slaw and the careful wrapping job made the hot dog an almost perfect specimen of a Utilitarian Dog: The slaw compacted nicely into the shape of the wrap and was easy to eat without worry of spillage. The bun was soft and steamed. While I am not the biggest fan of the store-bought Custard Stand Chili because it lacks spiciness, the slightly sweet slaw seemingly had no vinegar or other tartness inducing ingredient and it was perfectly matched with the tame chili. The onions were embedded under the slaw and were nicely sweet.
This hot dog tries hard for 5 Weenies, but because I had to ask for Mustard I can't see a way that I could do that with the high ethical standards that we maintain here at Big Daddy had a slightly different experience at the Flatwoods location where he got mustard and he gave them a Five. Perhaps I caught the order taker on a bad day, but you have to be on your toes in the dog eat dog world of WV hot dogs. 4.5 Weenies for the original Custard Stand on this day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pendleton County HDJ Review: The Front Porch Restaurant

With possibly the most scenic view of any HDJ in the state, the Front Porch Restaurant's front porch over looks US 33 and looks across the Potomac River at Seneca Rocks, one of the most magnificent rock formations in the state - any state. If the weather is suitable you can see little specks of color moving about the face of the rock - those would be climbers. When you you look around the restaurant, either the inside dining room or the namesake front porch, you can see people with satisfied smiles and lots of cuts and abrasions on their arms and legs - those would also be climbers; fresh from their ascent earlier in the day or perhaps the day before.

Once in a while you might see someone taking a picture of their food, perhaps a hot dog, sitting on the railing of the porch - those would be Weenie Wonks.

This Weenie Wonk stopped by The Front Porch one day at lunch time. I was pretty sure that they would have hot dogs on the menu, but I wasn't at all sure that I would find a real WVHD since this was uncharted territory and one the extreme eastern edge of the known WVHD frontier. But good news: Chili and slaw are right there, listed among the "everything" items on the menu. Of course I had to weed through and discard things like relish and ketchup, but after hours on the road I was happy to even have the option.

No sense wasting a lot of time here: The weenie was good, grilled and beefy. The bun was a little stale. The chili was so-so and the slaw was watery but tasted decent. Overall this was an average effort and scores 2.5 Weenies.

But that view...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dunbar Controversial HDJ Review - Veteran's Connection

We don't typically review hot dogs sold at temporary locations, but this little hot dog stand on wheels has been all over the news lately so I thought we should check it out.

Some background from the Channel 13 WOWK-TV website:
For the past year and a half, Veteran Lisa Groves has been manning her hot dog stand from the corner of the Fas Check parking lot. She originally set up shop there temporarily, but Fas Check granted her permission to stay for good. The problem is she's breaking a city ordinance, which states trailers are not allowed to be parked in front yards. And according to police, several people have come forward complaining about the stand and its noisy generator. "It makes me sad that some people don’t want me here. This little connection may not be the greatest looking, but I used my own personal money to renovate this," explained Groves.

You can see the Channel 13 news story video here.

On Monday the Dunbar City Council told Groves that they weren't going to change their zoning ordinance for her and she responded by say that the City could expect a lawsuit.

While is a non-partisan and somewhat apolitical organization, we do believe in truth, justice and the American way of free enterprise. More importantly, we believe in the rights of the citizenry to have a good hot dog and so I made the trip to Dunbar to judge this case on its most important merits - not the legality of Ms. Groves' business, but the quality of her hot dogs.

At only $1.00 each these hot dogs certainly appear on paper to be a good value, and it was easy to decide while I waited to get two hot dogs just in case they were tasty. When the infamous Ms. Groves appeared at the window I nearly had to order my two hot dogs by pantomime since the din of the nearby generator (see complaints from neighbors) made it almost impossible to communicate. I was able at least to hear her tell me that everything included ketchup, which I immediately declined. She took my order and said something else to me, but the noise level made it difficult to know if she was complaining about the City government's oppression or the weather (which had turned a little damp and dreary). I nodded my head in agreement, which seemed to satisfy her.

When my hot dogs were delivered into my hand, they were wrapped in aluminum foil with a handwritten "thank you" note on the outside. I had to carry my order a distance away so I could hear myself think. The weight and haphazard wrapping job made me feel certain that these were going to be good Utilitarian Dogs. Upon unveiling them, however, I found that the term "utilitarian" wasn't so terribly appropriate since these dogs were extremely sloppy and difficult to eat: Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but "Utilitarian Dogs" are made to be eaten efficiently, and these weren't at all.

Even without the ketchup, the chili on the Veteran's Connection hot dogs was red and tomatoey. The slaw was the main reason for the aforementioned sloppiness as it was extremely mayoey. The taste together wasn't bad, but wasn't very good either. I'm going to be generous and give it a 2.5 Weenie score. I am certain that by giving these hot dogs such a poor review that I will be labeled a veteran hater.

A final comment on the legal battle that could soon ensue: A few years ago the City of Morgantown shut down The Hot Dog Barn for essentially the same reason that Dunbar is likely to shut down The Veteran's Connection. The major difference - the only difference that matters as far as is concerned - is that The Hot Dog Barn was a bonafide 5 Weenie HDJ. Five Weenie hot dogs are worth fighting for. The ones they sell at Veteran's Connection are not. Zoning, schmoning, serving a mediocre hot dog with ketchup as a standard option is reason enough for a "cease and desist" order.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Campbells Creek HDJ Review - D's Tasty Freeze

Back before there was such a thing as a Weenie Scale (the 0-5 Weenie rating we use to rank the deliciousness of hot dogs we review) I reviewed Peggy's Dairy Treat on Campbells Creek near Charleston. That establishment has gone out of business and a new HDJ has taken over the space called "D's Tasty Freeze." When I discovered this change in ownership I decided it was time to brave the treacherous, coal truck-filled Campbells Creek Drive to check out the D's offerings.

D's was hopping at lunch time the day I was there, and the clientele seemed to be regulars. I felt that I stood out a bit and even more so when I pulled out my camera and photographed my hot dogs. For the rest of my visit I felt as if there were eyes on me at all times and I am pretty sure that I was the subject of conversation at at least one table (This is why I usually get my orders to go, so I can photo-document in private!).

In spite of my possibly justified paranoia, I soon was too busy enjoying my hot dogs too much to worry about it. These are very good hot dogs. The chili - as always in the Upper Kanawha Valley - was a little tame but the slaw matched up well and was very complex; tart and sweet with nearly perfect texture. The bun was warm and soft and the onions were sweet and finely chopped. All in all a really good hot dog that earns a 4.0 Weenie rating.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Berkley Springs HDJ Review: Creakside Creamery

(ed. note: This is the first review by Frank, our Eastern Panhandle Weenie Wonk, and it marks the first EP HDJ  review in the 4 1/2 year history of this blog. Now some might say that the EP is not really West Virginia. We at believe the best criteria by which to judge whether the EP belongs is their hot dogs. Whether it settles the issue or fuels the debate, we feel a duty to report the unvarnished hot dog truth. )

After hearing from a few friends that the Creekside Creamery was worth visiting, I made a point to give it a try during a recent trip to Berkeley Springs. The Creekside Creamery is located a block off the main street in downtown Berkeley Springs, South Washington Street, on Congress Street. There are two cozey outdoor seating areas, but I chose the indoors due to the 90 degree heat.

Without reservation, I can tell you that the Creekside Creamery is not a normal WVHD joint. Almost all the walls in the creamery are lined with things for sale, with children's toys and women's beauty products predominating. But what makes the creamery truly unique is the glass case displaying handmade gourmet chocolates for sale. Specifically, the chocolates were made by Sweet Shop USA and were on sale for the gourmet price of $24.95 a point. I have been to other WVHD joints that sell a variety of things, but gourmet chocolates is definitely a first for me.
There was also another glass case displaying homemade pies and the like for sale, as well as a large board displaying all sorts of ice cream selections. The special of the day was quiche lorraine. However, I was there in search of a delicious WVHD. There were two hot dog choices on the menu- a 1/4 pound dog and the standard version. I stuck with the traditional, and ordered a Combo #2 which is two hot dogs, chips, and a drink for about $4.50. However, the price of my combo went up two dollars when I was charged $0.50 for each addition of chili and slaw to the two hot dogs.

The service was friendly, but provided at a leisurely pace. When I placed my order for chili, slaw, mustard, and onions, the lady behind me chuckled and said that I would need someone to clean my tie afterwards. After I assured the lady that I had some experience with these toppings, the owner jokingly informed me that they did not sell bibs. When I received my plate, the fork on my plate showed that the cashier was indeed worried about my cleanliness.

The first thing I noticed about my hot dogs was that the chili was placed over the slaw. I also noticed that the weenie was larger than what you find on a standard WVHD. The weenie was tough and somewhat hard to chew and undercooked. The taste of the weenie overpowered the rest of the parts. The taste was not unpleasant, but it overpowered the rest of the ingredients of the dog. I had to taste the chili and slaw individually to get a good sense. For fifty cents a piece extra on each dog, I could have used more chili. The chili was thick and meaty, and weak on spice. There were medium chunks of cabbage in the slaw,it was not creamy and matched the chili's blandness. The mustard and onions were both overpowered by the taste of the weenie. The bun was warm, but could have used some steaming.
Overall, I give the Creekside Creamery 2.0 weenies. I had high hopes for the Creekside Creemery, but those were dashed by bland chili and slaw and an overpowering weenie. Stop in the Creekside Creamery for some ice cream or even some gourmet chocolate if you are feeling ritzy, but don't go out of your way for the hot dogs.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Back to Work - The Hot Dog Hiatus Ends

Yawwwn! OK, I know it's been a while since any new reviews have been posted, but with summertime entering its waning days it's time to get back to work. A couple of notes about what we've been up to at

  • New Eastern Panhandle Reviewer - Tomorrow you will be able to read the first review posting from our newest Weenie Wonk, Frank. Frank lives in the Eastern Panhandle and will be providing commentary from that remote part of our territory regularly. Welcome, Frank. 
  • My recruiting trip to the Eastern Panhandle gave me the opportunity to gather new data for our Slaw Mapping Project. Look for an updated map soon.
  • I attended the Greenbrier Classic last week but could not force myself to fork out $5.50 for a hot dog that had no chili or slaw. It's a shame they didn't make an effort to provide an authentic WVHD experience ala Greenbrier. Their little outpost in Tamarack had a decent effort (about which you may read here). The fried green tomato sandwiches , though, were $1.75 and delicious.
  • Lots of reviews were done over the summer, but not many merited a write up. Still, I'll be catching them up over the next few weeks.
  • Several trips out of state this summer during which I had the opportunity to partake of the local hot dog fare. This blog, however, is about West Virginia Hot Dogs and we stick to our mission.