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.