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.