Thursday, December 31, 2015

Charleston Area HDJ Review - Dairy Winkle

Sitting near the mouth of Campbells Creek, just a stone's throw from Route 60, is this venerable old building that has been home to many hot dog joints over the years. Dairy Winkle is the latest incarnation, but perhaps its best-known occupant was Bowincal's, from which - obviously - the current name is somewhat derived.

Dairy Winkle is run by colorful local businessman Kerry "Paco" Ellison. For more about what makes Paco such a colorful character, read here, here and here.

The hot dogs at Dairy Winkle are served by a polite and friendly staff who obviously take pride in their little establishment. The hot dogs are passable but lack any real pizzaz to make Dairy Winkle a destination, or to really even lay a claim to the best hot dogs on Campbells Creek. The slaw is good in texture but lacking much flavor, and you can say pretty much the same thing about the chili. They work together pretty well, though, so we're going to give it a 3.5 Weenie score.

Sorry but a camera malfunction rendered the photo of the hot dog unusable, but trust me when I say it was a fine looking specimen, just wasn't anything to write home about taste-wise.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Zippy's Hot Dogs and Ice Cream

We watched all summer long as this new HDJ was being built near Southridge off of Corridor G in Charleston. We figured a standalone HDJ that wasn't a front for a gambling parlor had to be serious about hot dogs and would no doubt be great. We figured wrong.

I really don't wish to waste as many words as it would take to accurately describe how disappointing my Zippy's visit was. It started as soon as I walked through the door and saw a whole host of different kind of hot dog pictures on the menu board and none of them looked familiar. The photo beside the name "WV Dog" was of a New England Style bun with a weenie hanging out of the end so far that it looked almost pornographic, and on top of the whole thing were a few unrecognizable toppings. When I asked what was on the WV Dog, the young lady said "anything you want." Strike two.

Since it was obviously ala carte ordering, I ordered a standard hot dog with chili, slaw, mustard and onions. After not much wait I got my hot dog and went to my car, since there are no provisions for inside dining - only picnic tables, which on this day were windswept and chilly.

Everything about the hot dog was unremarkable, except the weenie: Zippy's has what they call and "spiral grilled" weenie, which might be interesting if it were not covered by toppings, but really didn't add anything to the aesthetics of the hot dogs. The weenie was way overcooked (perhaps that is endemic with "spiral grilling") and was tough and chewy. Topped with tasteless slaw and even less tasty chili. Bad hot dog. Bad, bad hot dog.

I'll give it a one-half Weenie rating, since I was hungry and it filled my stomach.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Summersville Area HDJ Review - Long Point Grille and Bar

I'd been looking forward to this for a long time since we've received several emails and Facebook recommendations about the place for the past couple of years. Long Point Grille and Bar sits just across the road from its namesake Long Point Overlook, which provides one of the best possible views of Summersville Lake. The motif is mostly sports bar and it is much smaller than it appears from the road, with seating for probably 20-30 people, with a few more at the bar. We stopped on a cool, late fall afternoon and it was a pleasantly warm inside, both in terms of the temperature and the service. A nice place, with nice people in a nice atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the hot dogs are not so nice.

Starting off with the news that "everything" included ketchup, it went downhill from there. A grilled New England Lobster Roll bun provided the foundation for a way too much stuff including some of the largest chunks of onions that I've ever seen; about the size of large salad croutons. The slaw was a decent texture but had no discernible taste, nor did the chili. Down underneath there was a weenie that snapped when I bit it, meaning that it was probably grilled, but there was no way to see it under the pile of toppings. The taste of the weenie did stand out, however, since there was no other flavors to mask it. 2 Weenies.

With 5 Weenie Fat Eddies just around the bend from Long Point Grille, our recommendation is to wait for Spring before heading to the area for hot dogs


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Wardensville HDJ Review - KAC-KA-PON Restaurant

The proximity of the Cacapon River to Wardensville makes one think that the name of this venerable old restaurant would be "KA-KAY-PON" which is more in keeping with the local (and therefore correct) pronunciation of "Cacapon." But no, the sign clearly implies that the pronunciation is more like "Kak-upon", which depending on the region you from which you hail, means something different, but equally disgusting. I won't go into it, but you may Google the slang word "Kak" and see for yourself.

I understand that it is distracting to begin a review with a discussion of the odd name of the restaurant, but in this case it is a perfectly fitting way to illustrate my experience there. I never quite got past the distraction of the name and I'm sure that my confusion affected the way I experience my hot dog.

Which was just as odd as the restaurant's name.

Now I know that Wardensville lies on the fringes of West Virginia, and I know that it is influenced by the food culture of the Other Virginia, but if you have a hot dog on the menu - on the adult menu right there next to other sandwiches - maybe you should make an effort.  When I order food in a full-service restaurant, I expect it to be complete when I get it. When I order a hot dog with chili, slaw, mustard and onions please do not bring a hot dog covered with so much chili that there is no room for anything else, and please do not bring the slaw and onions in specimen cups. And oh, by the way, please don't make me get up and go to the counter to ask for mustard.

And just for good measure, please use a bun that was delivered this week and hasn't been sitting out on the counter since yesterday afternoon.

Lest you think that I am being totally negative in this review, allow my to interject some kind words. The recent opening of a new section of Corridor H from Mount Storm to Moorefield makes the trip from Charleston to the DC area delightful. I highly recommend the route over the standard I64/I81 or I79/I68 alternatives. And Wardensville is a lovely little town and I recommend stopping. And KAC-KA-PON Restaurant is an otherwise good eating establishment, but just not for hot dogs.

1 Weenie

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cairo HDJ Review - Shemp's Ice Cream Parlor

Cairo (the one in Ritchie County, not the one in Egypt) is a little town primarily known for its proximity to North Bend State Park and for being a stop on the 72 mile long North Bend Rail Trail. There area couple of general stores, a diner, a bike shop and Shemp's Ice Cream Parlor. Shemp's might not be named for that famous (and some may say, lesser) Stooge, of The Three Stooges fame, but he gets his share of homage in the decor of the cute little shop that looks legitimately like it is from the 1950s, not in the fake knock-off way, but things inside Shemp's look like they were there in 1958 and haven't been moved much since.

Fortunately Shemp's sells more than just ice cream, because we were hankering for hot dogs when we rolled in off of the trail on our bikes. We hoped that they were good ones, but when the waitress included ketchup in her list of toppings on an everything dog, we were a bit concerned about the quality. Thankfully our concerns were unfounded. We did notice that chili is called "sauce" here, which is understandable given Cairo's proximity to the Ohio River.

Shemp's hot dog is complex. It tries very hard to be a Genteel Dog, with its split and grilled weenie and giant helping of toppings, but is far too messy to rise above the Utilitarian Dog category. Not that this is a bad thing, not at all: In a small trailside town like Cairo, nobody s going to judge you if you have chili and slaw stains on your shirt and really, there is something magical about a hot dog that takes three or four paper napkins to get through, isn't there?

No, there's really nothing bad about Shemp's hot dogs. The bun was a little crusty, seemingly warmed in dry heat instead of steamed, but the chili/sauce and slaw were applied so heavily that a steamed bun might not have been up to the task anyway. The chili/sauce lacks much spice, but it is perfectly textured, as is the slaw. And speaking of slaw, purists will no doubt object to the orange flecks of carrots, but you won't catch this weenie wonk complaining - it tasted wonderful and was piled on in massive quantities. And most importantly, the Chili/sauce and slaw work together beautifully - the sign of a great WV hot dog. The hot dogs are very satisfying, both in quantity and in quality.

We're going to give Shemp's a Four Weenie ranking and recommend it to not only hungry trail riders, but anyone who finds themselves in the Mid Ohio Valley and in the mood for a great hot dog. But fair warning to you tie-wearing types: If you are going to be heading back to the office after lunch, bring a bib.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sissonville HDJ Review - Buddy B's

During our recent Facebook County-by-County poll of best hot dog joints, several votes were cast for Buddy B's Market in Sissonville, so we took a trip there recently to check it out.

Upon arrival, the very first thing we noticed was the sign out front that bragged "Best in Town" hot dogs. Regular readers know that if a HDJ is bold enough to put up such a sign, then they had better be able to back it up because we judge harshly those who boast. The sign also indicated that this was in no way a dedicated hot dog joint, but a market that happened to also sell hot dogs. We were dubious.

Entering the market you first find yourself confronted with a produce stand full of fresh offerings from local farmers, which is nice. To the left is a door that leads to a small dining room, and to the right is the market proper - and more importantly where the hot dogs are made. We placed our order for two hot dogs with everything and didn't have to wait too long before we had our lunch and walked over to the dining room to partake.

 After receiving positive comments from Facebook fans about Buddy B's, I was hopeful that we would be pleased with our lunch, and after seeing the first dog come out of its sleeve, I was further encouraged because the slaw was nothing short of beautiful! My mouth watered just looking at it; perfect in texture and liberally applied (this is where the word "unfortunate" and associated forms will begin to be used a lot), unfortunately looks were deceiving. It turned out that the liberal amount of slaw was unfortunate, because its taste was, well, unfortunate. The hot dog would have been better without it.

But not much better, because the chili, which was also a thing of beauty with perfect consistency and color, was just as unfortunately tasteless as the slaw.

Best in town? Maybe, because we couldn't find anywhere else in town that had hot dogs except for the local Tudor's (which are notoriously hit-and-miss). Fortunately we were able to drive a few short miles back down Route 21 to Skeenies and grab another couple of hot dogs that helped erase the unfortunate memory of Buddy B's unfortunate dogs. 2 Weenies is a generous score for this unfortunate HDJ.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Oak Hill HDJ Review - Delfino's

With the publication of this year's "101 Unique Places to Dine in West Virginia" list, we were reminded of a few HDJs that needed reviewed. One of those places is Delfino's Pizza and Ice Cream in Oak Hill. Now to call Delfino's a hot dog joint is probably a misnomer because it is a full service restaurant, most known for their desserts (a glass case full of delectable cakes and assorted yumminess is strategically placed by the front door), but since so many people brag on their hot dogs we felt we had to check them out.

The atmosphere inside Delfino's is all about the Oak Hill High School Red Devils, whose memorabilia adorns most of the walls. The twang of classic country music drones on in the background, and every person that comes through the door seems to know everyone else - customers and staff - as often happens in a small town establishments such as this. An outdoor picnic shelter is also available for those who prefer to dine al-fresco.

I was told that "everything" includes ketchup, so of course I deleted that from my order and proceeded with two with "everything else". When I got my hot dogs I was further dismayed by the grilled New England Style bun. Regular readers know that we feel that while these buttered and grilled split top buns are tasty (I mean, how could they NOT be? They are buttered and grilled bread!), they often hide the shortcomings of the rest of the hot dog and toppings. This is partially true at Delfino's. The slaw is very good - nearly perfect in texture but a little on the bland side. The chili - also perfect in texture - is devoid of any spiciness, but has a strong onion flavor instead. The weenie is low-to-moderate quality and added nothing particular to the experience. Overall, the hot dog was adequate, but nothing special.

We'll give it a 3 Weenie rating, and suggest that if you are looking for a good hot dog in Oak Hill, that you go on through downtown, hang a right on Jones Avenue and stop at Tom's Carry Out.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Sam's Hot Dogs - Randolph Street

We reviewed this convenience store location of Sam's when it first opened in 2008, actually on it's very first day in business. We found the hot dogs and service to be sub par on that day, but realizing that it's not fair to judge a place before it has its sea legs, we made a promise to come back. We didn't mean to wait seven years.

But seven years it is, and when we returned today here are the differences that we found:

  1. They weren't as busy.
  2. They no longer use coffins for their hot dogs.

Other than that, the experience was exactly the same as in 2008. Chunky slaw. 3 1/2 Weenies.

The only thing that made this visit remarkable was that we broadcast the review live on Periscope (now if you don't know what Periscope is, do not feel alone because approximately 99.8% of the world's population is just as clueless, but you can read more here). It was our first Periscope review (it won't be our last) and we learned a few lessons.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

West Virginia Slaw War Museum

In 1921, there began in West Virginia a battle that pitted brother against brother and North against South; blood relatives railed against each other's deep-seeded beliefs and family traditions. Decades later the scars of this battle are still visible and divide this great state. A clear victor has been established in this fight, and yet citizens of a certain area of the state stubbornly hold to the old ways and will not allow defeat to be acknowledged.

Of course, I am talking about the great Slaw War of West Virginia that began when the Stopette Drive In on Rt. 21 near Charleston began putting coleslaw on top of their popular chili dogs and started a food revolution that soon swept the entire state. Well, almost the entire state. Marion County, along with certain factions from Harrison County resisted the slaw advance and set the scene for The War.

A new museum has opened in Jane Lew, just a few miles south of the front lines of The War, that hopes to enlighten people on the ways in which this rift has affected people in North Central West Virginia. The Slaw War Museum is owned and run by Flora Olips, a former school cook for Marion County Schools. Flora is determined to help people on both sides of the issue come to an understanding. She was kind enough to sit down with us for a recorded interview. We hope to have the full audio version posted soon, but here are some highlights of our chat:

West Virginia Hot Dog Blog: Flora, when did you first get the idea for this museum?

Flora Olips: I've been wanting to do it since 1967. That's when my grandfather died. He was the one who told me about The War.

WVHDB: Was he affected by The War?

Flora: Oh Heavens, yes. He drove a truck for Heiners Bakery and he used to have to make the run from Huntington to Morgantown. He used to tell me how some Marion County restaurants wouldn't take buns from a open tray because they didn't want to use the same ones that places that served slaw used.

WVHDB: That sounds a little crazy...

Flora: Crazy? O mercy, that's exactly the kind of talk I'm trying to discourage here. It's just a different way of thinking. It might be hard for you to understand, but it's real to those who believe it.

WVHDB: So, which side are you on, Flora? Are you for slaw or against it?

Flora: Hah! If it were only that simple!

WVHDB: What do you mean? I just want to know if you like slaw on your personal hot dogs or not.

Flora: No, you asked whether I am for slaw or agin' it. That's what is complicated. As for what I eat on my own hot dogs, well, it depends on where I am and who I am with.

WVHDB: You mean, you swing both ways?

Flora: In a manner of speaking. I would never walk into Russell Yann's place [Yann's Hot Dogs in Fairmont] and ask for slaw, but if I am in Charleston or Logan, I love me a big helping of cool creamy slaw on my dog.

WVHDB: So you're attitude is kinda 'when in Rome?'

Flora: Exactly. I believe strongly in a person's right to choose.

Flora gave us the full tour of the museum that included photos of seemingly every hot dog sold by West Virginia vendors, showing the variations in presentation and styles. She had secret chili recipes from some of the great hot dog joints of the past, and iconic hot dog memorabilia such as the 1950s era Sunbeam Bun Steamer from Romeo's Grill in South Charleston. Just seeing these artifacts made my mouth water thinking of the delicious hot dogs they used to sell.

Alas, Flora doesn't allow photos in the museum so you will have to check it out yourself. The museum is located on Flair Pools Road just south of the Jane Lew Exit of I79. Open only one day per year, on April 1.

And speaking of museums, make sure that you visit the West Virginia Mine War Museum  that opens on May 16th in Matewan.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Suppers to Go / Stuck's Hot Dogs

When Facebook user Ranson J Stuck nagged us to check out the hot dogs at "Suppers to Go" on Bigley Avenue, we first thought he meant this place but soon found out that there were indeed two different carry-out dining places just a few blocks apart on the same street. So after trying the other place's mediocre hot dogs we were hopeful that these would turn out better.

The place is small and clean, and you can see everything being prepared from the ordering window. Service was fast and friendly the day I was there, and I had my order in no time at all. Peeking inside the bag as I left, I noticed that the dogs were wrapped in aluminum foil - a good sign.

Back at the office, I unwrapped the first hot dog and was greeted by a well-presented Utilitarian Dog, and the aroma of fresh cut slaw was unmistakable. Sampling a bit of slaw, I found it to be a nice texture and very sweet - much sweeter than is usually found in the Charleston area. Digging down to the chili, I noticed that it was not very spicy and had a bit of a ketchupy taste. Not bad, jut a hint.

My first real bite told me that some serious thought had gone into matching the slaw with the chili, as the combined tastes were definitely greater than the individual parts. I tasted onions, but they must have been finely minced because I could not see them at all.

The bun was the downfall of this hot dog, as it wasn't quite as soft as it should have been, especially after being wrapped up in foil during the ride back to the office. It didn't taste stale, though, and wasn't a big detriment to the overall product.

Suppers to Go certainly delivered on having a good hot dog. It's not great - not the best in town - but it is certainly one of the best. I'm going to go 4 Weenies; softer buns might have bumped it it to a 4 1/2, but it's still a good hot dog in a very convenient location.

Based on the quality of the hot dog I am looking forward to going back and picking up dinner some evening.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review: Hot Dogs to Go at The Corner Kitchen

(OK, I have a confession: When Facebook user Ranson J Stuck nagged me to try the hot dogs at a place called "Suppers to Go", I thought he meant this place. And who could blame me? Who would imagine that there could be two take-out dinner places within a few blocks of each other in a remote corner of Charleston? Don't worry, Ranson, I'll get to your place soon enough.)

I had eaten before at The Corner Kitchen; or I should say that I had eaten from the Corner Kitchen since it is a carry out-only place that got its start selling packaged dinners to go of what they bill as "home cooked" food. I had only eaten there twice before and thought the food was passable, but not remarkable, and so I figured that the hot dogs would be about the same quality.

The first bad omen was when I was told that "everything" included the dreaded red plague known as ketchup, along with the proper toppings chili, slaw, mustard and onions. After deleting this offensive offering from my order I paid my $4 for two hot dogs and waited on my order. In about the appropriate amount of time I received my two hot dogs that were double-packaged in styrofoam coffins sealed tightly with plastic wrap, which I guessed to be an extraordinary attempt at keeping the hot dogs warm and steamy on their ride home. This attempt failed: Even though my ride was less than 5 minutes, when I opened the hot dog packages they were somewhere between lukewarm and stone-cold.

Allow me to vent a moment about these damned coffins: They do not keep hot dogs warm. They are so thin that they provide no insulation value whatsoever. They do protect the dogs from being squished, but they present another problem because they will not sit upright in a bag or on a car seat, so anytime they go for a ride further than from the counter to a restaurant booth the potential is high for an upside down mess upon opening.

Sorry for the digression. Back to the hot dogs.

So when I pried open the coffins, before I even noticed that the hot dogs were tepid, I saw another bad omen: Large - nay, giant - chunks of onion. The chunks were so large that I felt that I needed to measure them like one would a trophy buck's antlers, so I broke out a measuring tape to document the enormity of them. Now after reviewing literally hundreds of hot dogs over the years, I have never once employed a measuring instrument during a review, but as they say, there is a first time for everything. The largest chunks were  1 3/4" long with most being in the 3/4" to one inch range. Very impressive, but not in a good way: Onions should be so finely chopped as to virtually disappear into the slaw.

Which brings us to the slaw: While the texture was pretty good, the taste was about as average as it could possibly be. Next item please.

Chili - OK, to call this substance chili (or even sauce for you Ohio Valley and North Central folks) would be wrong. It might aspire to be chili someday, but it was completely lacking in any spice or moisture. The meat was finely ground (like one might do if they were going to make a serious batch of hot dog chili) and was browned well (like one might do if they were going to make a serious batch of hot dog chili), but it has no discernible flavor other than meat and was so dry that it seemed to siphon liquid from the slaw. Taking a whole mouthful-sized bite of this dog caused me to immediately go for a glass of water just so I could make it go down the correct direction.

And yet for all of these problems, this hot dog wasn't completely bad. It did have a nicely soft bun and decent weight, volume and overall texture. The bland slaw and tasteless pseudo-chili actually sort of complimented each other, so the result was not terrible. It certainly did not taste like what a West Virginia Hot Dog should taste like, but as food stuff goes, it wasn't objectionable.

So we'll give The Corner Kitchen a 2.5 Weenie score.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Per reader request: Mumsey's Iron Skillet in Richwood.

When Stanton relayed to me that we had a request to review Mumsey's Iron Skillet in Richwood I was excited to check it out. I had eaten at Mumsey's several times, but had never tried their dogs.
      My hostess told me "everything" included slaw, chili, onions and mustard, which I took as a good sign. I ordered three dogs and waited.
     Mumsey's has this 1950s feel with its period-style tables, chairs and decor. There are, naturally, numerous cast-iron skillets on the walls. They have a very impressive collection of old glass soda bottles, many of them I remember from my youth. They have Upper 10 bottles. I hadn't even thought of Upper 10 in years. I stood in admiration of their amazing cakes - kept in a glass-windowed case. They were impressive - seven or eight layers in each cake. I picked up a newspaper and read about the latest happenings in Nicholas County. I had plenty of time to reflect upon the sodas of my youth and read a newspaper as it took a little over 10 minutes to receive my dog, but good dogs are worth waiting for. 
     When my dogs arrived, the genteel-looking dogs were individually packaged, They probably were more neatly constructed than pictured, as the dogs turned upside down while I was carrying them to my vehicle for private consumption.
    My first reaction as I opened the Styrofoam container for dog No. 1 wasn't positive. Visually, the dog had several things wrong with it. It was on a New-England-lobster-roll bun for a start, but my eyes were instantly drawn to the large carrot chunks. They were large and plentiful. 
    When I took my first bite, I was aghast, appalled and perplexed as how Mumsey's - otherwise a fairly good restaurant - could make such an abomination as this dog. The New England bun was grilled with butter and was, in fact, the only part of this dog that tasted good.
     The slaw was not creamy at all and long after the the rest of the bite was chewed and swallowed, the large chunks of carrots remained to be chewed and chewed. It was almost like eating carrots. They may as well just topped the dog with shredded carrots. 
   The dog was cold. There was a slight amount of warmth in the wiener and I mean slight. The chili was tomato-based and somewhat sweet. It may have been good if warm. 
   The wiener was slightly warm. It also had virtually no taste whatsoever. Who knows how long it had been standing in water? 
    I kept an open mind as I tackled the second dog. Same results. I threw the third dog away.
    With an over-boiled wiener, generally cold dog and slaw only a rabbit could love - I give this dog a two-weenie rating.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

London HDJ Review - Dogs on the Run

A couple of weeks ago, Weenie Wonk H.C. Paine mentioned that he had tried to catch this new HDJ open but had to settle for a Montgomery Dairy Queen hot dog instead (which didn't turn out so well for him). I too had had difficulties making my driving schedule line up with DOTR's business hours, but finally I made the connection and got to check out their offerings.

This little carryout sits on the side of the road along Route 60 in London, a community famous for its locks and dam on the Kanawha River and not much else. Recently though, two restaurants have sprung up along this short stretch of highway, DOTR and 'Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill, which sells ribs, chickens and other assorted soul food staples just a quarter mile down the road. While I don't expect London to become a foodie Mecca anytime soon, it does make one wonder how this little wide spot in the road suddenly became home to two eating establishments after having none for who knows how long. 

Anyway, Dogs on the Run, as its name implies, specializes in hot dogs and I was eager to find out if they were worth stopping for. It didn't take long to begin forming my impression after the very nice young lady on the other side of the ordering window told me that "everything" included chili, slaw, onions, mustard and ketchup: This is never a good sign. I, of course, ordered mine without ketchup and pretty soon I had my hot dog which looked scrumptious and felt good - the bun was nicely soft, and the coleslaw looked creamy and had the perfect consistency that slaw ought to have. There was a little bit of misplaced chili sitting on the bun, which gave me the opportunity to taste it independent of the other toppings: What I tasted was pretty good chili - not much spice, but a good texture and flavor. Looking more closely, I noticed a split and grilled weenie nestled in the bun. So at this point I was encouraged by what I saw, and despite the shaky and ketchupy start to my experience, I was eager to dig in and taste the assembled product.

And that's where the bottom dropped out - literally. The bun was perhaps a little too soft, or perhaps it was grease soaked from the grilled weenie, but when it was picked up from the styrofoam coffin the weenie just started to fall through the bottom. But that was only the first problem.

The good-flavored chili was no match for the completely flavorless slaw. This concoction, seemingly made from cabbage and mayo with no other ingredients involved, was so bland that it soaked up the otherwise appealing flavor of the chili and that flavors that should be present in the carefully grilled weenie.

The result was a most unsatisfying hot dog experience and a 2 Weenie rating. Route 60 travelers would be much better off stopping of at Burger Carte in Smithers, just a few miles east.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Charleston HDJ Review - Bammy's Chili Dogs

Let's take a little trip through the annals of the WV Hot Dog Blog, shall we?

Many years ago we reviewed Shaar's Bar and Grill and while we liked the location and the overall ambiance of the place (cigarette smoke notwithstanding), the hot dogs they served were sad. Worse than sad, actually; they were disgusting.

Then, just a couple of years ago, we reviewed Sammy's Chili Dogs (which later changed its name to "Bammy's") at its original location near the corner of West Mains Street and Coal River Road in St. Albans. Their hot dogs were good. Better than good, actually; they were great.

So recently when I heard an advertisement on a Charleston radio station for a new Hot Dog Joint opening up at 829 Central Avenue on Charleston's West Side, my ears perked up. My perky ears were rewarded when I heard this new HDJ bragging that they had been highly reviewed by the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog. Although I didn't immediately recognize the name, when they said that this was their second location and gave the address of the original, it didn't take me long to put it together.

I was happy about this development, because as I said, I really liked the Shaar's building and thought it deserved to be something nicer than a smoke-filled beer joint with bad hot dogs. I am happy to report that while it is a bit smoke-filled , the smoke is from the deep-fryer and not cigarette smoking bar patrons, its hot dogs are much, much improved from its Shaar's days.

I didn't have to wait long for my hot dogs, but while I did, I poked around a little and was pleased that they had mostly left the charming interior intact, including the very cool old wooden phone booth in the back. The pool table is gone, but in its stead is a door with the tell-tale sign that says "Over 21" and cautions that the door must be kept closed. Bammy's, like many other HDJs these days, supplements its income with a backroom casino. Or maybe more correctly, it uses its hot dogs as a front for the casino. I don't care, as long as the hot dogs are good, and these are.

Let's start with the bun: They have a bun steamer - say no more. A sure sign of a serious hot dog joint. The result is near perfection: heavenly soft and nicely warm buns in which to build a tasty hot dog.

And build it they do: A small-caliber weenie leaves room for a good helping of tasty chili: tangy and meaty. The slaw was nearly perfectly paired with the chili, nicely sweet and finely chopped. After I had already ordered I noticed that they offered a spicy chili; I'll try that next time, because there will definitely be a next time.

4 1/2 Weenies. Delicious.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

J's Grocery steward of WV Dogs in Mercer, defends border county from Old Dominion dogs.

It's the Citgo station across W.Va. 10 from the
Kegley Post Office.
 It was an easy choice for me to review one of my favorite hot-dog joints, J's Grocery in Kegley, Mercer County.  It is the Citgo station/grocery store/hot-dog joint across W.Va. Route 10 from the Kegley Post Office and is about 10 minutes north of Princeton and 7/10 of a mile south of the U.S. 19 and route 10 split.
     At the split, you'll see the site of what is reportedly one of the most haunted sites in North America. It was a Native American burial ground, the site of a massacre of an 18th Century settler family (including one child who was taken away and burned at the stake) and the Lake Shawnee amusement park, which has its own grim stories. The old Ferris wheel is still there and looks very, very creepy.
This very creepy old Ferris wheel -
on the site of a Native American burial
 ground and a 1700s massacre - can
be seen nearby.
  Last summer, I was driving by and stopped in after seeing the "homemade hot dogs" sign outside. I asked my hostess/dog preparer/co-owner of the joint, Marie Burrell, "are your hot dogs any good?" If looks could kill, her look would have killed.
     "We take our hot dogs very seriously," she said.
     These dogs take several minutes to prepare, so I typically call ahead as I leave Princeton. My dogs are thereby ready about three minutes after I arrive. On review day, I called ahead and was told "our cook (Marie) has stepped out" and no hot dogs could be made.
     Imagine my joyous surprise when a few minutes later - thanks to caller ID, I presume - I was called back and told that Marie had returned and my dog could now be prepared. Marie, you see, is the only one with authority to create hot dogs at J's.
     When I arrived, she was still preparing my dog. I asked what constituted an "everything" hot dog at J's. Her answer could have easily been boilerplate material lifted from any West Virginia Hot Dogs press release:
One of the best dogs I have ever consumed.
     "Slaw, chili, mustard and onions," she said. "Most people around here want ketchup, mustard, but a hot dog with everything must have slaw. 'Everything' must be slaw, chili, mustard and onions because that's what a West Virginia hot dog is. Nothing else."      
     As I shuddered at the thought of hot dogs with ketchup, mustard and relish actually being ordered for human - not just animal - consumption, I was pleased to hear tales of how J's Grocery has worked to educate an uniformed public of locals - whose palates have been corrupted by Old Dominion dogs smuggled across our unsecured southern border - and travelers alike about the virtues of the true West Virginia dog.
    On my previous visits, the slaws were excellent, but had been a little less moist than other slaws I've come across and I mentioned this as she prepared my order. She said the slaw moisture content was intentional - to keep the bun from getting too soggy. I asked her what was in her slaw. She swore she would never tell and asked me about my preferences concerning slaw moisture.
     I took this dog (which cost $2.50 with tax) out to my truck for private review. When I opened the wrapper of this dog, which was utilitarian in packaging, but otherwise genteel in appearance, I was shocked. Dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. Flutterated. The slaw had been prepared in a small batch specifically for my dog (I was the first to order slaw that day) and she had slightly and perfectly adjusted the moisture content of it based on my answer.
     The slaw had a divine creaminess that not only mixed well with the chili, but brought forth many complicated flavors at once. I could taste the nuances of the cabbage, perfectly balanced with the mayo and other slaw ingredients.  If there is a special heaven for mountaineers, this is the slaw the angels serve there. In the chili, I could not only taste the spices, but the meat as well. Nothing, I repeat, nothing was too far forward in this perfectly-balanced mix of flavors.
     The bun was lightly grilled. The result was the outside was a little crispy, while the inside retained its softness. This had an added anti-soggy-bun effect. The wiener was a a quality dog and grilled, not boiled. I could find no fault in this dog. It may have been the perfect dog - and perhaps the fulfillment of some hot-dog-shaman's ancient prophecy.
I give it five weenies. And then some.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

We checked out some upper Greenbrier Valley dogs at Dorie's.

      I've heard quite a bit of hype about the dogs at Rayetta's Lunchbox in downtown Marlinton, but I have never, ever been able to catch Rayetta's open - that hot-dog joint closes at three or some such ungodly hour.
   I was, however, quite curious about what the dogs would be like in Pocahontas County. In Greenbrier County and many of the counties stacked along our southern and southeastern border with Virginia, the slaws are primary vinegar-based and while they may not be my favorite slaw, they illustrate the cultural diversity of our below-slaw-line counties.
     The source who told me about Rayetta's did not know if Dorie's even had hot dogs. I myself have eaten at Dorie's numerous times. I usually have an order of hamburger, fries and fried pickles. The fried pickles are very good, a little spicy and offered with ranch dressing.
    Turns out, they do have dogs. I asked what constituted everything and my host told me "slaw, chili, onion, mustard and relish." I ordered two true West Virginia dogs, featuring everything she said, minus relish - to go.
    It did take some time for my dogs to be prepared. Enough time passed for me to wash my hands thoroughly and read a 35-column-inch story (35 inches is a very long story) a complementary issue of The Pocahontas Times about a local resident, Dabney Kisner,  recalling his days in World World II. The former airman was shot down over German-occupied Belgium. He fell in with the Belgian resistance, evaded German pursuers for months and when finally reunited with his countrymen, he said the Germans "couldn't catch this old hillbilly."You can read that story here.
    Almost as soon as I had finished reading about Kisner, my dogs arrived. They were genteel dogs, packed in crush-resistant Styrofoam containers. I took them to my truck, where I could consume and review privately and chase them down with Pocahontas County spring water, drawn only an hour earlier from a spring on Cranberry Mountain.
   Once I opened the container on my first dog, it was obvious why my dog had taken several minutes to prepare. The onions had obviously been chopped to order and it also appeared that the slaw - also hand chopped - had been made in a small batch just for my dogs. The wiener had been grilled and the slaw was delectably creamy. Steamed bun. The slaw, mustard, and chili offered a good mix of sweet, sour as a perfect dog should be.
     This may have had potential to be one of the best dogs I have ever eaten. However, the onion, which as I mentioned earlier was freshly chopped by hand, was overpowering. The onion pieces were very large and the onion pungency overpowered each mouthful. This could have been a four-wiener-rated dog, but it's hard to tell. It was hard to taste beneath that overpowering onion. It would be vastly improved with more finely-chopped onions. Maybe I just showed up on "large-onion-piece day." As is, it gets a three-wienie rating.


Review: Montgomery Dairy Queen

I was very excited about checking out Dogs on the Run, a newer hot-dog joint in London, W.Va., whose dogs I had yet to try. However, after making the long journey to London, I discovered, dejectedly, that Dogs on the Run was inexplicably closed for the day (we certainly hope everyone on the Dogs on the Run staff is OK).
    As a samurai's sword could not be returned to its sheath ere it had seen battle, thus I could not, once my hot-dog quest had begun, return without quenching my insatiable hunger for a West Virginia dog. Therefore, I made tracks for the nearest dog joint I knew of – the Montgomery Dairy Queen.
    I can honestly say that I have had very few dogs at Dairy Queen and it had been so long that I couldn't remember what they tasted like. A dog with everything, my host told me, had the correct combination – slaw, chili, mustard and onions.
    There was a long line and as I understood it, some staffing issue that left the joint's crew shorthanded. They handled the situation calmly and professionally. There was no evidence that my dog had been hurried in its preparation.
    The dog, while genteel in appearance, automatically raised suspicion with its New England bun. I don't mind a New England
bun so much if it has been grilled with generous amounts of butter and is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This bun had been grilled, but with little butter. It was not crispy - or good.
    I was quite pleased to see that the slaw was a properly-appearing creamy slaw. The problem is I cannot tell you what the slaw tasted like. That chili was so overpowering, I only knew I was consuming slaw by the soft crunch of the cabbage. The wiener may have been grilled, but who knows? Nothing but the chili could be tasted. In fact, it appears that the slaw only functioned as a sarcophagus to lock in the vapors of that pungent, noxious, virulent, rot-gut chili. This dog should be instead be called the U234 dog. The half-life of Uranium 234 is about 25,000 years – approximately how long this toxic chili churns in the stomach. If ever a dog deserved a one-weenie rating, it's this one.