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.

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