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.