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.


Elizabeth said...

I have been eating Custard Stand hot dogs since the mid-1960s. We always called it the Custard Stand and I was surprised to read it used to be named differently.

I now live in NC and always look forward to my Custard Stand hot dogs (and the BEST peanut butter milkshakes) whenever I travel to WV. It's the only time during the year that I eat hot dogs, because no others are as good.

Lisa said...

I was heading to Cass last month and hit that hairpin turn and saw the Custard Stand. I was strangely excited to locate it, out of the blue. My mom probably thought I was nuts for screaming there it is! LOL

We didn't stop that time, but I will certainly try next time since you gave it a great review.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed that you drove 4 hours for a hot dog. That's dedication to a food product. LOL. I now wish I were in WV. That foliage in the background of the truck is amazing!

I'm Dad (and I said so!) said...

Curious that you didn't get the mustard without asking. My family had been vacationing nearby in the early part of August, and drove down to Webster Springs to find this place as well. The family got some ice cream, but I had to get my WVHD fix. I DID get mustard on mine when I ordered it without asking, so you indeed must've caught them on an off day.

Frank said...

I am surprised that the sign indicates that pizza is also a choice. I would not think that a HDJ that mass produces chili would also serve pizza