Friday, November 09, 2012

Charleston West Side HDJ Death Match Round 4 - The Smokehouse vs. The Grill

Let's wrap this up, shall we?

After struggling to find HDJs on Charleston's West Side, I have given up trying to find lesser known contenders and just moving to the final, some might say, marquee pairing The Smokehouse vs. The Grill.

Since it's been so long since we reviewed The Grill, here is some background:

The Grill, on Washington Street just west of the Interstate, is one of Charleston's most unique eateries. It is delightfully understated (even that might be an understatement!) decor-wise but the food is great and the service is like family. The menu is eclectic and regulars know what they are having before they walk through the doors. This week's and next week's specials can be read about in advance on the dry erase menu board behind the counter. I know people that plan their weeks around the specials, which it seems are the same 12 items recycled over and over again. I can personally attest that most of the specials are very good, and anecdotally that the rest of them are good as well.

In the back room you will often see some of the most influential politicos in Charleston having lunch together. Men in expensive business suits sit in old wobbly booths that looked like they were there before the building had a roof. The four TV's tuned to sports and news channels compete for wavelengths in the audible spectrum above the din of the diners. The walls are covered with 1970's wood paneling, Pepsi signs and the autographed pictures of celebrities both major and minor. 

Now that description of The Grill was written in 2006 for our first review of the place. Every word of it still fits. It is as if time marches on and only The Grill remains unchanged.

But fortunately, the hot dogs have changed.

We've received a lot of email and Facebook comments from fans of The Grill who love their hot dogs. I was perplexed by this because I never found them to be very good, but while I wasn't paying attention they improved. The slaw, while still not very finely chopped, is now very creamy and delicious. The formerly stale buns are now nicely fresh and soft (made even softer by the foil wrapping on "to go" orders). The chili is still good. The onions could stand some more chopping, but overall I have no complaints about The Grill's offering. But is it good enough to dethrone The Smokehouse?

It really comes down to one thing, and that is which restaurant cares the most about hot dogs? The Grill's Utilitarian Dog was thrown together (I watched from the counter) in almost haphazard fashion. There was very little effort given to ensuring a consistent quantity of toppings from one hot dog to the next and consequently one of my hot dogs had an enormous amount of mustard and very little slaw compared to the other. The Smokehouse's Genteel Dog seems to be extremely carefully assembled and is therefore remarkably consistent. This alone would not be enough to crown one the winner over the other, though.

No, where the real difference lies in these two hot dogs is the intention revealed in the preparation of the weenie - The Grill's weenie had been soaking in a hot water bath while The Smokehouse heats their high quality weenie on a grill and it therefore retains a lot of its flavor.

So by the narrowest of margins, The Smokehouse wins the West Side HDJ Death Match and claims the title of The West Side's  Best Hot Dog 2012.

Congratulations Smokehouse!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Charleston West Side HDJ Death Match Round 3 - The Smokehouse vs. Sistah's Rib Shack

Unfortunately this round is going to be a walkover, since I made 5 visits to Sistah's Rib Shack at lunch time and twice at dinner time and never once found them open. Folks, it doesn't matter how good you think your food is, you have to be open when you say you're going to be open!

The Smokehouse moves on!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Charleston West Side HDJ Death Match Round 2 - The Smokehouse vs. Sam's Hot Dog Stand

We reviewed Sam's Hot Dog Stand's West Side location on its very first day of business in 2008. You can read that review here. Not much has changed, except the Weenieistas seemed a little more sure of themselves now and they no longer deliver your hot dog in a coffin, but wrapped nicely in wax paper. 

But as for the quality of the hot dog, nothing has changed. As I re-read the four year old review, it seems as if I could have written it word for word about today's visit: good chili (get the spicy), not such good slaw, small caliber weenie, cold crusty buns. You still have to be careful about ordering "everything" unless you want relish, ketchup and mayo on your hot dog, but this is not a bad Utilitarian Dog. 

Unfortunately for Sam's, though, "not bad" is not nearly good enough to knock off the really great hot dogs from The Smokehouse. It's going to take a really good HDJ who can bring their "A" game to dethrone the reigning champ. 
Next to try to defeat The Smokehouse will either be Sista's Rib Shack (if we can catch them open) or Loretta's Past Time. Keep an eye on this space. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Charleston West Side HDJ Death Match Round 1 - Hog and Dog vs. The Smokehouse

The first round of our West Side HDJ Death Match pits the venerable Smokehouse - the oldest remaining HDJ on the West Side against the newest - Hog and Dog. These two HDJs are also the farthest apart geographically but perhaps the closest in quality of all the HDJ entries we are likely to see during this contest.

Hog and Dog occupies the former site of the original Tudor's Biscuit World and has seemingly done well since it opened a couple of years ago. Being only a half-block away from Chris' Hot Dogs, a beloved West Side fixture, some folks predicted that Hog and Dog wouldn't survive here. Instead it was Chris' who recently went belly up, and their demise might well have helped along by Hog and Dog's success. Another restaurant and HDJ around the corner, Freeman's Restaurant, also folded recently. A real Donald Trump story of hot dog domination. But was this because of great hot dog quality?

Hog and Dog's offering has one of those micro-sized weenies, harshly grilled. Now some like the small caliber weenie because it allows extra toppings, and H&D's slaw is excellent in texture and taste, but their chili is hardly present - more of it doesn't help. The chili is beefy but completely lacking in spice. The bun is obviously heated in a dry oven instead of being steamed or kept naturally moist and the result is a crusty exterior. H&D scores good points though for having their "everything" ingredients proudly posted as "chili, slaw, mustard and onions" just like God intended.

The Smokehouse sits on Washington Street, several miles to the west of Hog and Dog. Since we reviewed The Smokehouse earlier this year, we'll allow that review to stand as The Smokehouse's background info and just focus on the hot dog: The first thing you notice when you pick up your Smokehouse hot dog is that the bun is extremely soft - a softness that only comes by steaming. The second thing you notice is that the weight; this is a fully loaded hot dog with a large caliber all-beef weenie. The chili and slaw are probably more lightly applied, but the potency of both make up for the smaller quantity: The chili has a nicely spicy flavor with chili powder and cayenne pepper clearly evident. The slaw has a great texture and is more tart than sweet, but it goes perfectly with the spicy chili.

Either of these hot dogs would make a great lunch but the best of the two is definitely The Smokehouse on the strength of their soft buns and synergistic chili/slaw combination, and they win the right to take on Sam's Hot Dog Stand in the next round.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Charleston West Side Hot Dog Joint Death Match

After taking a little time off following the Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match, reader complaints have motivated us to get back to work. Our recon missions have already commenced and soon we will be publishing the first of our match ups.

We've had a little controversy regarding whether or not to include Skeenies in the West Side Death Match. Many feel that Skeenies is definitely part of the West Side and some believe its in North Charleston. Some say that anything on Sissonville Drive should be rightfully considered Sissonville. The judges have ruled and Skeenies will not be included in the West Side Death Match (that huge sigh of relief you heard was from every other HDJ in the contest). Perhaps there will be yet another death match for HDJs that are in the Charleston City Limits But Not Easily Defined As Belonging To A Major Culturally Specific Area (or CCLBNEDABTAMCSA (prounouced "Club-Ned-ab-tamska"). We'll see how that progresses.

But for now we turn our attention to the West Side (some say "Best Side") of Charleston. Unfortunately, Chris' Hot Dogs has recently closed, robbing the field of its most notable contender. Freeman's Restaurant has also closed. This leaves us with Hog and Dog, Sam's Hot Dog Stand, The Grill, Sista's Rib Shack, Tudor's,  and The Smokehouse. There are also a few bars that serve hot dogs that might be included if some reader writes in with an endorsement, but I'm not willing to risk life and stomach testing out bar hot dogs in hopes of finding one that might be better than your average gas station dog. Oh wait! Speaking of gas stations, I just remembered that One Stop has a little hot dog business so we'll include them in the tourney.

So watch this space next week for the opening round results!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match - Championship Round

After it had been resurrected to fight another day, you had to be rooting for The Fresh Seafood Company to complete the comeback by knocking off the top seed, Swiftwater Cafe. But will this Cinderella Story have a happily ever after ending, or will the glass slipper dream be shattered?

Swiftwater's Genteel Dogs
TFSC has a hard task, unseating the HDJ that won the Weenie Award for Charleston's best hot dog three out of the four years it was handed out by Swiftwater takes hot dogs seriously and executes well with tasty slaw, great chili and Boar's Head beef weenies. They also have the consistently friendliest service of any downtown lunch spot. A few years ago, owner Teddy Queen changed his slaw recipe to make it sweeter and creamier, and he also wiped (and I mean literally wiped - you can still see the remnants on his sign) ketchup off his list of "everything" toppings to fit the true definition of a WVHD. You gotta like that kind of initiative.

The Fresh Seafood Company makes me assemble my hot dogs myself. If for no other reason, this one shortcoming would make them lose this round. A valiant effort, but just a little short.

But to be honest, even if TFSC had a hot dog lovingly assembled by kiss-blowing supermodels and served on a silver platter, Swiftwater's excellent product would blow it away. Swiftwater's hot dog is extremely tasty and is presented like a true Genteel Dog should be. There is simply nothing bad you can say about the Swiftwater Cafe hot dog experience.

So the winner, who will now be able to claim the title "Downtown Charleston's Best Hot Dog," is Swiftwater Cafe. They will rest on their laurels for a while until the West Side HDJ Death Match is complete and then will be pitted against the Best of the West. Till then, congratulations Swiftwater Cafe!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match - Special Eat-Off

Sam's Hot Dog LOOKS great, but...
First, before ugly rumors get started, there is NO HDJ Death Match curse. It is complete happenstance that three of the HDJs in our contest closed down before a winner could be decided. Or at least that's what we said last week. Then, lightning struck again when, the very next day after they won the semifinal round against Sam's Hot Dog Stand on Hale Street, Sister Act Cafe on Capitol Street went belly up.  The latest casualty, however, caused us to rethink the possible existence of a curse, and it also posed a great problem for us here at; namely, how can we move forward with crowning an unimpeachable champion with this kind of controversy mucking up our process?  Do we roll back the contest and allow Sam's to compete with Swiftwater Cafe for all the marbles? That really didn't seem fair, because Sam's didn't beat ANYBODY in the tournament. The only competitor they faced was the aforementioned Sister Act and were defeated handily.
Seafood place or not, TFSC has a great dog!

After a week of hand wringing and brow furrowing, we decided that the most equitable solution was to have an elimination match between Sam's and the first HDJ that lost to Sister Act, The Fresh Seafood Company. So presented for your approval (or not) a Special Eat-Off to decide who faces the top seed.

This match up provides an opportunity to decide between two very different HDJs; On the one hand, Sam's Hot Dog Stand is -  as its name says - a hot dog stand. The Fresh Seafood Company - as its name implies - is a seafood place. It would seem natural for the hot dog stand to win at what would seem to be its own game. If we were judging fish and chips, it would follow that TFSC would have a leg up. But - as they say - in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but not in practice. The practical truth of this matter is that TFSC has some really good hot dogs. It is not known whether Sam's has good fish, or any fish for that matter.

So who wins?

The strength of Sam's is in its chili; in fact, when it comes to the Hale Street location, that might be its only strength. Sam's Hale Street location always seems to have stale buns and waterlogged weenies. Its slaw is consistently average. Sam's Chili is slightly better that Fresh Seafood Company's offering, but that's the only category it wins.

TFSC has better slaw, better bun, better weenie and good chili. The only downside is that I have to assemble the dang thing myself; and that's not an insignificant problem!

So the contest comes down to negatives and which HDJ has the fewest. That would be The Fresh Seafood Company. They are resurrected to face the top seed in our tournament, Swiftwater Cafe.

Results posted next week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match Round 7 - Sister Act Cafe vs. Sam's Hot Dog Stand admittedly has a love/hate relationship with Sam's Hot Dog Stand. Here are some of the reasons we love and hate them:


  • They have a consistently decent product (rarely bad)
  • Some locations are better than others
  • They are one of the only HDJs that offer spicy chili as an upgrade
  • They have many locations around the southern half of the state
  • They have a consistently decent product (rarely great)
  • They call chili "sauce" in most of their locations
  • Lately all of their new locations seem to half HDJ and half gambling joints
In spite of our history with Sam's, we still seeded them #2 in this tournament, primarily because of their spicy chili offering; heretofore the only such offering in downtown Charleston. Or should I say "theretofore"? Because defending champion Sister Act Cafe now offers TWO spicy chilis; And they call it chili!

So as you might be able to tell, Sam's rode in to this contest on the strength of their chili, but Sister Act's is better. It is spicier and better tasting; it's not even close. 

Sam's slaw looks better and had the right consistency for perfect hot dog slaw, but it is not any tastier than Sister Act's. 

Sam's weenie has always been a weak spot (soaking all day in a pool of its own filth), and this time is no different; Sister Act's grilled weenie beats it. 

Buns being equal, this round goes to Sister Act Cafe, setting up the final round against...

... Swiftwater Cafe!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match Round 6 - The Fresh Seafood Company vs. Sister Act Cafe

After defeating Diana's Snack Bar and then winning in two walkovers of HDJs who failed to make an entry, The Fresh Seafood Company now has to tackle a serious opponent: Sister Act Cafe.

Now Sister Act did not fare well on our initial review, receiving a ZERO Weenie score, but the volume of fan mail we've received since then have made us think that maybe we caught them on a bad day. Their performance today confirmed it.

I do not recall seeing this before, but Sister Act now offers three different temperatures of chili: "Regular", "Spicy" and "Charleston Devil Dog." I opted for the middle one and it turned out to be a good choice. The flavor of the chili was definitely influenced by some cayenne pepper and something else that I just couldn't put my finger on - kind of tart and very tasty. Versus The Fresh Seafood Company, there is no doubt that Sister Act comes out on top.

The weenie seemed to grilled and all-beef; nice flavor. No clear winner here. nor where the buns are concerned.

The slaw was tasty but had great big chunks of cabbage in it. Again, a virtual tie with perhaps a slight edge to TFSC for its better texture.

One critical difference tips the scale on this round: at the TFSC, I have to assemble my own hot dog and Sister Act is kind enough to do it for me.

This is the closest match yet, but the winner is Sister Act Cafe. And while I am at it I will go ahead and update their Weenie Rating to a 4.5. Great improvement!

Next Up: Sam's Hot Dog Stand, Hale Street

Monday, August 13, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match Round 5 - The Fresh Seafood Company vs. Kanawha County Judicial Annex Snack Bar

Well, heck.

After a week off to allow my triglycerides to recover, I set out on a recon mission for the next round of our Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match only to discover that the next opponent had ceased doing business.

After emptying my pockets and going through security (oh, the things I do for you people!) I found that the elevator was out so I had to take the stairs; glad it is only the SECOND floor snack bar!

When I stepped out of the stairwell exit, I immediately knew something was amiss because I didn't smell the ever-present old onion smell that usually greets visitors there. When I cleared the doorway and glanced to my right, I saw a steel cage with nothing behind it, and in that same instant I remembered this story and how the Health Department had flexed its public health muscles and showed those county bureaucrats what fer. The snack bar closed a month later, but nobody notified

So, The Fresh Seafood Company wins in another walkover.

Next up: The Fresh Seafood Company vs. Sister Act Cafe.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match Round 4 - another walkover

Not that anyone at is going to shed a tear about it, but why were we the last to know that the Town Center Maggie Moo's stopped selling hot dogs?

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that the Fresh Seafood market lives on to fight another day and will take on next the formidable Kanawha County Courthouse Annex Snack Bar.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match Round 3

Yesterday's winner, The Fresh Seafood Company - a small locally owned establishment - today takes on a corporate giant: Dairy Queen.

Now first, all Dairy Queens are not created equal. There two major divisions, the first being Dairy Queen Brazier which is a brand within a brand and sell products unique to that sub-brand. Then there are regular old DQs that mostly sell corporate's dairy products but are left to figure out hot dogs, french fries and other hot foodstuff on their own. In my view, the regular DQs do a much better job on WVHDs than the corporate-directed Braziers. If you are interested in reading the many different reviews of various DQs that has done over the years, follow this link.

The Town Center Mall DQ is not a Brazier outlet, but interestingly enough they still seem to use the standard corporate issue Coney Sauce on their hot dogs. Now this stuff can be doctored to taste OK, but by itself it's rather bland. TCDQ does not doctor theirs at all.  The slaw they serve is standard food service stuff that is tasteless, coarsely chopped and kind of tough.

New England Style Split Top bun fans will like TCDQ's buttered and grilled bread, but this is not a standard WVHD offering so they win no points here.

Today's death match was really no match at all. The Fresh Seafood Company's hot dog is so far superior to TCDQ that it's like they are not even in the same class. We'll see how it fares tomorrow when we walk down the mall when we go to another ice cream joint that sells hot dogs, Maggie Moos.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match Round 2

The Fresh Seafood Company
Today we have yesterday's survivor (just barely) Diana's Snack Bar on Summers Street taking on The Fresh Seafood Company's Capitol Market location.

I couldn't believe it had been six years since I reviewed the Fresh Seafood Company's hot dogs, but it's true and you can read that review here. The review is so old that it pre-dates our Weenie Ranking system! I guess it was easily time for a re-review anyway.

So how will Diana's mediocre hot dog hold up against a place that sells hot dogs as an "oh, by the way" offering?

Well, first off, at least Diana's assembles your hot dog for you, where TFSC makes you do it yourself. Unfortunately this hasn't changed since the last review and it still irks me.

But as far as taste goes, TFSC beats Diana's by a country mile. Every part of this hot dog is superior; the bun is softer, the weenie is tastier, the chili is better. And then there is the slaw:

TFSC slaw is the same slaw that they serve as a side dish with their seafood platters and it is scrumptious. The only negative about it is that it is grated far to coarsely to be considered perfect hot dog slaw.

Tree huggers won't like the fact that TFSC uses not one, but TWO styrofoam coffins - one inside the other - to package their orders.

As I wrote above, the last review of The Fresh Seafood Company's hot dog pre-dated the Weenie Ranking System, so I thought I would take this opportunity to assign it a score: 4.5 Weenies. If the slaw was finer and I didn't have to assemble it myself it probably would be a Five.

But as far as the Death Match goes, no doubt about who the victor of this round is: The Fresh Seafood Company at Capitol Market.

Next up: TFSC does battle with Town Center Dairy Queen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Charleston Downtown HDJ Death Match Round 1

Round 1 pits Diana's Snack Bar against Donna's Cafe. Donna's Cafe sits in the building formerly known as "The Carbon Building" at the corner of Kanawha Blvd and Leon Sullivan Way. Most people know it best as the home of the bronze statue of a man standing in its entryway. The Cafe sits just inside the lobby.

Diana's Snack Bar sits across town, at the corner of Brawley Walkway and Summers Street.

Diana's Snack Bar hot dog (left) is served in a coffin, while Donna's Cafe (right) wraps theirs in paper.
 First, the similarities: Both HDJs think that ketchup should be included on an everything dog. Both use standard buns.

The Good: Diana's hot dog has a better presentation - A few darker green cabbage leaves are left in the coleslaw to give them a fancier, garnished look. Donna's bun is buttered and grilled and has a nice flavor. Donna's hot dog had far more of everything on it.

 The Bad: Donna's slaw tasted old and musty. Unfortunately, as noted above, there was a lot of slaw too, which served to increase the overall oldness and mustiness. The chili had the same musty undertone. Diana's slaw was rather tasteless and the chili was served far too sparingly to know what it tasted like. 

The Winner: Almost everything about Donna's hot dog was lackluster or worse. Diana wins almost by default, but I do not expect her hot dogs to live much longer. Any decent hot dog is going to vanquish Diana's Snack Bar - probably in the next round when it will face...

The Fresh Seafood Company at Capitol Market.

Downtown Charleston HDJ Death Match - Game On

At we believe that the single most important questions that we face as a society is "who has the best hot dog in town?" 

In our relentless pursuit to provide the best, unbiased opinions on this most important question we have decided on the "Death Match" approach: One Hot Dog Joint against another, with the winner surviving to take on another challenger. This process will be repeated until there are no more challengers and the winning HDJ will be crowned as the champion. 

Our first Death Match is for Downtown Charleston HDJs, with "Downtown" being defined as the area bounded by Kanawha Blvd to Piedmont Road, and from Clendenin Street to Morris Street.Today's match up was originally  originally was scheduled to pit Diana's Snack Bar against The. Blossom, but the latter closed up for good after Friday's lunch service, so Diana's wins by default.

Rather than postpone the match, we'll bring in a substitute for The Blossom: Donna's Cafe - thereby pitting two women-owned HDJs against each other in a hot dog cat fight of sorts.

Results to be posted later today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Welch HDJ Review - The Sterling Drive In

The town of Welch in McDowell County, West Virginia has seen its share of changes over the years. This once thriving city that was the economic center of the southern coal fields was a major campaign stop for JFK during his run for the presidency because of its regional importance. It has shrunk in population to a couple of thousand people and now most of the storefronts on the main streets of town are empty. 

One thing that has stood the test of time in Welch, though, is the Sterling Drive In. Since the 1940s its sturdy curb service canopy has provided shelter for thousands of diners who prefer to sit in their cars, and its dining room has no doubt seen many thousands served as well. The restaurant also houses the McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame. Sitting alongside the main road into Welch from the north, it has been the eating place of first resort for generations of Welch residents and other McDowell Countians. These days it is not unusual to see ATVs lined up outside because of its proximity to trail systems and McDowell County's lax view of ATV travel on public roads. 

So on a recent trip to Welch, I felt the need to check out the hot dog offerings  of this venerable HDJ. I ordered up a hot dog but to my surprise I had to ask for slaw. I have heard natives of McDowell County call their homeland  "The Free State of McDowell" but had no idea that they eschewed the cultural norms of West Virginia in their attempt to establish their own identity. But there, on the menu board mounted to the outside of the restaurant, was all I needed to know: "Slaw Dogs" are a stated menu item.

So I ordered a "Slaw Dog" and a milkshake. When I popped open my styrofoam coffin I found a messy hot dog made with a grilled NES bun - at least I think it was grilled but it might just have been stale. It was hard to tell because it was HARD. The weenie was of the small caliber version and the chili was tasteless. The slaw that I had to special order actually tasted pretty good and had a good texture, but by the time I noticed it was too late and judgment had been passed on this hot dog. 2 Weenies is a generous score.

The milkshake was excellent, by the way, and I'm sure that the Sterling's other menu offerings must be good or else it would have closed up long ago. Perhaps hot dogs just aren't their thing.

I hope that somewhere in the town of Welch there is a better hot dog joint so the people of the Free State of McDowell can know the pleasures of a real WVHD. Who knows? The taste of a good WVHD might be enough of an inducement to lure them back onto the fold and help them to take their rightful place as one of the 55 counties of West Virginia.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Pineville HDJ Review - Pinnacle Drive In

Almost as soon as I began the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog in 2006, people began to write in about their favorite Hot Dog Joints in places all around the state. After a while there seemed to be five or six places that stood out above all the others as far as the frequency of the recommendations. Some of these I already knew of and had tried before, but many of them were in places that I seldom travel and therefore it took me a while to get there. The last of these frequently suggested HDJs on my list was Pinnacle Drive In.

My experience with most of the other frequently recommended HDJs led me to be optimistic about the quality of Pinnacle's WVHD offerings. Most of the time - really with only one exception - when I finally made the trek to frequently recommended HDJs I have found that there was good reason for the enthusiasm.

So on a beautiful early Spring day I set out on the two hour trip to Pineville in time to arrive just at lunchtime. Finding Pinnacle was a little difficult, but once I followed my instinct to try Pinnacle Creek Road, I soon stumbled upon it. The last couple hundred feet of my journey I followed a caravan of ATVs right into Pinnacle's parking lot. The ATV riders got the jump on me though because after seeing the sign on the door that said "No Credit or Debit Cards" I realized that I had to make a side trip to the nearest ATM before I could eat lunch.

"Drive In" usually means that curb service is offered, but not here. A few tables and a small lunch counter are available for inside dining. After procuring the necessary greenbacks I went inside and began the process of procuring hot dogs: Two with chili, slaw, mustard and onions. And a side of onion rings.

When my order arrived I was surprised to see the grilled New England Style buns because I did not recall any of my reader mail mentioning that aspect of Pinnacle's hot dogs. Regular readers of this blog know that we automatically deduct a half-point for these non-traditional buns (yes, I know they taste good but they are made for New England oyster sandwiches, not West Virginia Hot Dogs).

My first bite didn't impress much. The small caliber weenie seemed a little over cooked and the NES bun overwhelmed the chili and slaw. Sampling the chili and slaw separately I soon understood the reason they were overwhelmed: They had a very subtle flavor. The chili tasted like very mildly seasoned ground beef. The slaw tasted fresh, but other than mayonnaise, cabbage (and perhaps a hint of vinegar?) there was not much else to taste. They worked well together, but as I said they were lost in the bulk of the NES bun.

I really hate having to do this, but editorial honesty makes it necessary to say that I was very disappointed in what I found at Pinnacle. Perhaps like the other frequently recommended HDJ on my list that I found disappointing, maybe it is the lack of other quality HDJs in the area make Pinnacle seem great by comparison. I know that the dozens of people who have recommended Pinnacle over the years won't like it, but by our objective Weenie Ranking System, Pinnacle Drive In's hot dogs score only an average 3 out of Five Weenies.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

West Virginia Legislature Makes Slaw Mandatory

One small but very important piece of legislation that was passed in the recently concluded regular session of the West Virginia Legislature slipped by, seemingly unnoticed by regular media outlets, but we think our readers would like to know about it.

Hidden inside of the bill known officially as HB4112, and less officially as "The Junk Yard Protection Act" was one of the best laws passed in this or any other legislative session in memory. Section 4, Paragraph 1 of this bill makes it mandatory for all restaurants in West Virginia that serve "sausage sandwiches, commonly known as hot dogs" to offer slaw as a topping. Three paragraphs of the statute take on the daunting task of defining what is appropriately called coleslaw and does a pretty good job closing loopholes. For the purposes of this legislation, coleslaw is defined as "finely grated cabbage with mayonnaise based dressing" and doesn't get into matters of texture, sweetness or tartness.

The statute has no provision for charging extra for slaw, so it's only a matter of time before we'll see a lawsuit filed by a consumer against some hot dog joint for trying to charge for this legally mandated condiment. Here at, we are not taking an official stance on whether it is legal to charge for coleslaw, but we maintain that a moral obligation does indeed exist to include the cost of the topping in the stated price of a regular hot dog.

We applaud the tireless efforts of Morris County Delegate Nathan Mayer who sponsored the bill and for Martin County Senator April Simpleton for working so hard preserving the language of the original bill and taking it on the end of her Junkyard bill. On the surface it would seem to be a stretch to include a food service requirement in a bill that dealt with the rights of junkyard owners to use car parts as signs, but Senator Simpleton made it fit. Kudos Senator! You made us proud!

It should be noted that the passing of this bill was made much easier by the flood waters in Marion County that kept the entire Marion delegation preoccupied during the session. Tough break Fine citizens of Fairmont; See you in court.

This new law was signed into law by Governor Tomblin and will take effect on April 1.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fayetteville HDJ Review - Wild Flour Bakery

When we were contacted by The Travel Channel about doing a West Virginia Hot Dog segment for the "Pit Stops" portion of their New River Gorge feature, we were a bit concerned when they said we were going to film at a bakery. I was afraid that we would get there and find that they only sold this kind of hot dog. Luckily, the owners of Wild Flour Bakery are savvy WVHD aficionados and had the real deal. Very real.

I arrived a little early of the appointed time and Jennie, the production company's contact person with whom I had been communicating for the past month or so, told me to relax and she would find me when the time came for our interview. With time to kill in a bakery, it's hard not to really work up an appetite what with all of the gorgeous baked goods in the case and the lingering aroma of hot dog chili emanating from the kitchen. To make matter worse, Jennie brought out a lovely looking specimen of a WVHD and sat it in front of me and left it there for the fifteen minutes that it took the camera man and the gaffer/gopher to set up the shot. It was almost too much to stand and I am sure that I drooled a couple of times during the interview. I really hope they weren't shooting in hi-def.

So after the interview was complete I was allowed to finally taste the hot dog that I had driven all this way for and subsequently tortured with.

It was worth it. Worth the torture and worth the drive.

Now to be honest, the hot dog was room temperature by the time I got to eat it, but even tepid, this thing was great. The chili, as is usually the case with chili in Southern West Virginia, was not spicy but had a complexity to it that included a little bit of chili powder and the dark, rich taste that only a long-simmering pot of tomato and onion product can have. The onions were so finely chopped that they were almost invisible but tasty and fresh tasting. The bun was soft and the weenie was perfectly cooked. And then there is the slaw.

You know how some ice skating judges never give out a perfect score of 10 because they allow that there can always be something better to come along? That's how I am with slaw. I have used superlatives like "nearly perfect texture" or "nearly perfect flavor" to describe lots of slaws over the years; that changes today. This slaw is freakin' perfect! This might be "The One True Slaw" that I have been looking for for the better part of 7 years doing this hot dog blogging. It is PERFECT in texture (finely chopped and exactly the right amount of dressing), PERFECT in taste (sweet enough to make itself known as sweet, but not enough to cover the cabbage flavor) and PERFECTLY matched with the chili. And if that's not enough, they serve it in a very generous helping.

Without any fear of dispute, I proclaim this as a 5 Weenie WVHD worthy for consideration as one of the very best hot dogs in the Great State of West Virginia.

In a bakery. I know, right?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Salem HDJ Review Willie's Hot Dogs

Salem has long been on the list of places that was in need of a visit to research any hot dog joints that it may home too. I had already made it a point to return there in order to check out a couple of places that had been mentioned to me. Unfortunately, the heavy rains and minor flooding that came through over this past week forced me to postpone my trip by a couple of days.

Along main street sits a row of buildings that harken back to the early days of the city. Nestled in the corner of one these old buildings --which ironically sits next to a relatively new Dollar General store-- is a humble little HDJ called Willie's Hot Dogs. Willie's adjoins a pool hall right next door, and there's even an open doorway right beside the counter where you place your orders. Looking around, I don't think I saw more than two pieces of furniture that matched. Whether unintentional or by design, it actually gave the place a little charm. Don't get me wrong, the place still has "dive" written all over it, but that's all superficial when it comes to the quality of the dog.

As I walked up to the counter, I noticed a sign on the back wall that clearly stated that "everything" for Willie's was mustard, onions, and chili. Not unusual in this area, but at least they had to smarts to call it chili and not the derogatory "sauce". I'd like to contend that the belief the term "sauce" is overused in this region is nothing more than an urban legend, but I digress. I ordered one with everything, plus slaw. The nice gal taking my order didn't blink or flinch over the request for slaw, so that was a good sign.

I watched her put my order together. She was very meticulous in putting all of the components together, which I took as a good sign that I'd come across a place that actually took some semblance of care and pride in their product. Even the way the hot dog was handled while it was wrapped was convincing. While she put the second hot dog together, I strolled around looking at some of the photos and decorations adorning the walls. I noticed there were plenty of pics of a
flood from 1944. Kind of ironic, considering the bad weather that had hit the area a few days before. But what really caught my eye was the poster to the left. It seemed like a pretty honest statement.

As I started to sample the goods, I was taken aback by how much the chili reminded me of the variation that is favored in the southern part of the state. By that, I mean that it didn't have an overwhelming amount of spices. It had a terrific quality of hearty meatiness, both in taste and texture. There was just enough sauce to permeate the bun, but not enough to soak deeply into it.

The slaw didn't have a lot of the creaminess that I'm used to, but was actually a bit "drier", for lack of a better term. However, this worked out well as it did not overwhelm the other flavors of the dog, which is a frequent problem with poorly prepared WVHDs. I was pleasantly pleased that the onions were finely shredded and stirred into the slaw just before it was added to my hot dog. That was a nice touch. I've had onions in the past that were cut or chopped down to the size of thumbnail-sized Rubik's cubes. These hit the mark.

Unfortunately, there were two notable shortcomings to the dogs I sampled. First, the buns were only slightly warm. I couldn't tell if they'd just been warmed over somehow, or perhaps steamed at one point and then taken off the steam. Secondly, the weenie of the first dog was water-logged to the point of near mushiness. The second one was slightly over-boiled, but not as bad as the first. I can give the benefit of the doubt in that I was visiting in the after the lunch rush on a weekend, so perhaps the turnover of product was not what it could be. Still, these two dings would normally be enough to put any other HDJ rating down a couple of notches.

I've been wanting to get out of the habit of using "half weenies" in my ratings unless absolutely necessary. With that being said, I'm going to be generous, round up, and give Willie's a four weenie rating. Hopefully they have more consistency as far as the weenie and bun prep go during regular lunch periods. However, the chili is fantastic and the slaw is very well done.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Barboursville HDJ - Dave's

I was stuck at the Huntington Mall the other day while my car was being repaired. Since it was around lunchtime, I strolled over to the food court for some Chick-fil-A or Big Loafer. Curiously enough, I noticed a new hot dog joint open in the former Dairy Queen location. I figured it was worth a review.

The toppings list was concerning. In clear defiance of WV hot dog culture, the toppings list included "ketchup" and exotic ingredients like "jalapeƱo," "kraut," and "mayo." While slaw was free, the sauce (called "chili" despite being in Cabell County) cost an extra $.25. Very confusing indeed.

After making my order, I stood at an angle where I could watch the preparation process. For some reason, they microwave the buns, leaving them somewhat rubbery. Next, the chef de weenie took a frank from a roller (beats a water bath) & then added the toppings (including sauce from a crockpot).

The end result was an enjoyable if flawed utilitarian WV hot dog experience.

First, the problems. The mouthfeel created by the inexplicably nuked bun was downright odd. It seemed like something one would do in a college dorm, not at a hot dog stand. The homemade sauce, while thoughtful, needed a bit more salt and some sort of heat.

Now, the good. The weenie was an Eckrich frank and the onions were just the right texture. The homemade slaw was sweet, creamy, and as good as any that can be found in Huntington.

Overall, this place gets a 3 weenie rating with lots of room for improvement. A few tweaks of the sauce and a better method of bun warming and this place is easily in the 4-4.5 range. I'll give them some time for the constructive criticism to soak in and will re-review in a couple of months.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Charleston HDJ Review - The Smokehouse

Frustrated by the lack of new HDJs to review locally and a shortage of free time to travel to distant ones, I have resorted to re-reviewing some local Charleston HDJs that I haven't been to in years. This is not a bad thing because if a Hot Dog Joint is still around after the six years of this blog's existence then it must be pretty decent, so I'm likely to get a good hot dog.

Today I thought we'd revisit The Smokehouse, a West Side institution. The last time we reviewed it was 2006. You can read that review here. When this review was done we hadn't even invented the Weenie Scale yet, so there was ample reason for me to give them another shot.

The Smokehouse is one of those places that knows hot dogs and knows what its customers like. This is evidenced by two things: 1) Hot Dogs are first on the menu, and 2) their hot dogs come with chili, slaw, mustard and onions - period.

The Smokehouse hot dog is a classic Utilitarian Dog with a wonderfully soft and sticky bun that has been steamed to perfection. The chili and slaw are thin in texture and compliment each other well; the chili is meaty and spicy and the slaw is tart and creamy. The onions and mustard did not detract. The only negative I can give to this hot dog was that the weenie was a little waterlogged; that takes off a half-point from an otherwise great hot dog. We'll give The Smokehouse 4 1/2 (out of 5) Weenies on this day.

The Smokehouse is on the corner of Washington Street West and Stockton Street. It is a great place to eat lots of other things besides hot dogs and while the rear dining room and bar look a little rough the front dining room is a nice, comfortable place to dine.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Charleston HDJ Review - Betty Lou's Diner

Today we review the latest incarnation of Betty Lou's Diner. Read this review for background on the restaurant and its history, but don't bother yourself with what we said about the hot dogs then because they have changed!

Moving from its obscure location on Central Avenue on the South Charleston hill had to be a good thing for this HDJ. The new location is at the corner of Greenbrier Street and Oakridge Drive, which seems ideal for a carry out - 1 minute off of I64, on the way to the airport, Coonskin Park and Capital High School - but the spot has has seen a parade of HDJs and other fast food places move in and out over the years (the last place went in out so fast that I didn't even get around to publishing the review I wrote on its hot dogs).  Betty Lou's, though, seems to have something going for it than none of the others had; quality and experience. Time will tell.

As I said before, the hot dogs have definitely changed since our last review, and for the better. This time I found a much better combination of chili and slaw: neither are great by themselves but they work nicely together. The chili has a low, slow spiciness and is perfect texture. The slaw is also perfect texture and has just enough sweetness to compliment the chili. Add a nicely steamed bun, a decent weenie, fresh tasting onions and mustard and you have a hot dog worthy of 4 1/2 out of 5 Weenies.

This might be the best place in the Charleston area to hop off the interstate and grab a good hot dog if you are passing through town. Let's hope they live long and prosper in this location.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Charleston Area HDJ Review - Ridgeview BBQ, Institute

In the spot formerly occupied by Jenn's Southern BBQ  - across Rt. 25 from the WV State University Campus - this BBQ joint also offers hot dogs and recently they posted on our Facebook page an invitation for us to come and do a review. I had already been there once several months ago and had their BBQ (which I found to be a little lacking) and was a little hesitant to try their hot dogs. But hey, it's what I do, right?

So I was passing by, had a little time and a hot dog sized appetite so I figured I'd stop. Hot dogs are fairly hidden on their menu, but with the help of the courteous order taker I soon saw their offering: Two all beef hot dogs and chips for $4.99. I was gratified to see they proudly listed the toppings as chili, slaw, mustard and onions; a good sign. A few minutes later and I had my order.

The first thing I noticed was the dark brown ends of the weenie sticking out from under the toppings, looking like it had been overcooked. Other than that, though, nothing gave me any pause nor any reason to think this wouldn't be a good hot dog.

The first bite, all I could taste was a smoky flavor. It seems that the chili and the overdone weenie together made the hot dog taste like it had been in the pig smoker that sits out front to the restaurant (not necessarily a bad thing, just a surprise). The chili had a lot of chili powder flavor but not much else. It was, however, nearly perfect in texture. The slaw was rather tasteless and a little too dry, but it seemed to work pretty well with the smoky chili. The bun was nicely steamed and overall this was good hot dog. I'm going to give it a 4 Weenie ranking since they got the standard ingredients right and the slaw and chili seemed to be designed with each other in mind; the sign of a real WVHD.

I'm glad to see that Ridgeview BBQ is at least trying to live up to the standard that was set by their predecessor in this location. While they aren't quite up to Jenn's 5 Weenie hot dogs, they are doing far better than most and serve one of the best hot dogs in the lower Kanawha Valley.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Charleston HDJ Review - Sister Act Cafe

Note: This review was performed when Sister Act first opened. Since this review was posted we have revisited their hot dogs and found them to be quite good. See this post for a more recent review. 

In the location formerly occupied by Diana's Capitol Street Cafe, Sister Act Cafe has been open now for a few weeks and was due a visit by your friendly neighborhood Weenie Wonk (I heard that Diana's has moved to a new location, but I'm not sure where).

The motif of the cafe has changed and a bunch of photos hang on one wall of people I would guess to be sisters, and furthermore guess that it would be these sisters who own the cafe. Otherwise there has been few changes: The place still has a few inside seats and the counter/kitchen locations are simple and convenient for a crushing lunchtime business that they are likely to have in this location, and which indeed they were in the midst of when I visited.

Despite the crowd, my order came out quick and the friendly staff made me feel at ease and confident that they might know how to put together a decent WVHD (except they did ask if I wanted ketchup which is often a bad sign).

My two dogs were wrapped nicely in wax paper (the preferred packaging method of but then were curiously placed into an oversize coffin. When I unwrapped the first hot dog I was a bit dismayed to see the giant pieces of cabbage in the slaw, but otherwise the hot dog looked fine; a good-looking specimen of a Utilitarian Dog.

Beauty is only skin deep, though, and this hot dog lost its beauty about halfway through the first bite. The slaw was dry and almost tasteless, and unfortunately the taste it did possess was bad. The chili was OK, but served in such a small quantity that it too was effectively tasteless. The weenie was marginal. Because of the dry slaw and the lack of any other good flavor I found myself looking for a mustard package to make the second dog edible. I think ketchup might have even improved this thing.

Rarely do I give a 0 Weenie score, but Sister Act Cafe's hot dog this day truly deserves it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Charleston Area HDJ Review - Mr. Choo Choo's Big Dogs

Location, location, location. The three most important things in business, right?
The owners of Mr. Choo Choo's Big Dogs probably thought it was awesome to have a location for his new hot dog cart right beside one of the busiest interstate off-ramps in the state of West Virginia (Leon Sullivan Way) but...

OK, first the hot dogs. This won't take long: They are big, as advertised. A huge Nathan's Famous weenie  dominates the regular old hot dog bun and leave little room for toppings. The chili, slaw, mustard and onions were spilling over the side of my hot dog. The mediocre slaw was straight out of a food service tub and the tasteless chili was a runny mess with beans floating in it. I took the first bite as I was walking back to my car and the whole thing was a temperature somewhere between lukewarm and cold. I had to take it back the office to nuke it before I felt safe eating it. The Nathan's weenie was tasty, so I'll grant Mr. Choo Choo's a generous 1.5 Weenie score.

Now back to Mr. Choo Choo's choice of location. Now remember, this is a cart that is completely mobile. It could be placed anywhere the City would grant a license for and/or the property owner agreed to. Placing it next to a busy off-ramp, like I said before, might seem good on the surface. Two things make this a bad choice, though:

First, when cars get to the bottom of the ramp they are going waaay to fast to stop near the cart's location even if (second) the cart wasn't BEHIND part of the building and completely obscured from the view of traffic! As I tweeted on Saturday when the Gazette ran a photo of the cart, it is two blocks from my home and I never knew it was there. Small wonder after seeing where they have hidden it.

Why are HDJ owners so often so clueless?

Sunday, February 05, 2012


On our former website we had a page dedicated to Frequently Asked Questions about West Virginia Hot Dogs but we haven't had it posted since moving to the Blogger platform. Recent Blogger changes has made it possible to have this list on a dedicated page accessible from the main page. Notice the link to the FAQ page in the sidebar to the right.