Friday, December 21, 2018

Summersville HDJ Review - Fran's Restaurant

Fran's Restaurant and Coffee House, a Summersville Tradition
Fran's is one of those places about which  we've had dozens of emails claiming it is the best hot dogs in town over the years, but until recently, the stars never aligned for us to do a review. Perhaps it was this week's close approach of Comet 46P/Wirtanen, or simply the fact that I needed to make a rare mid-week trip through Summersville at lunchtime, but I finally made it.

Fran's has been a fixture in downtown Summersville for as long as I can remember. Offering lots of home-cooking options and just generally being the place to go for a hot meal or a cool piece of pie. In West Virginia, these kinds of places usually have hot dogs on the menu, so even if I hadn't receive lots of emails telling me so, I would have known that Fran's was a review target even before I walked in. The description on the menu gave no clues about how Fran's prepared an "everything" dog, so I had to asked the server: "Chili, slaw, mustard, onions...." she said, and then after a moment's hesitation she added "...and ketchup." I told her to keep the ketchup in the kitchen and just bring me two with the first four toppings.
Oops, no slaw.

When my hot dogs arrived, I first noticed the grilled split-top buns. Not a good start for a traditional WVHD, but it is a sit-down restaurant, so I can live with it. The grilling was well executed and the cook did a good job of not soaking the buns with butter which sometimes happens when West Virginians try to use New England buns. As a piece of bread, it was tasty.

I guess it was the combination of the dim lighting in the room, couple with the bright sunshine outside coupled with the me not wearing my reading glasses that made me take a bite of the hot dog before I realized that it had no slaw on it. I quickly brought this to the attention of the server, and she quickly brought me a bowl of slaw that I could apply myself, but before I did I had the opportunity to taste the chili alone. In typical Southern WV fashion, the chili had good texture, but was pretty bland. It could stand a doubling of the chili powder and maybe a dash of Cayenne.

A liberal slathering of slaw, self-applied.
Before I applied it, I had a few tasting bites of the slaw. Sweet, creamy and fine texture. It deserves better chili. Since I was applying it myself, and I had plenty to spare, I decided to really lay it on heavy to cover up the blandness of the chili.

Overall, the hot dogs at Fran's are underwhelming. Even if it had come properly dressed, the lack of synergy of the chili and slaw combination would make this an average hot dog at best. If you are a fan of grilled Lobster Roll buns you will probably like the bread, but didn't someone once say that man cannot live by bread alone?

We're giving Fran's a 3 Weenie rating. If they'd spice up the chili to better pair with the delicious slaw, it could be a 4. Could be the best in town, but with Fat Eddie's a short drive away, certainly not the best in the area. Of course, Eddie's is closed in the winter, so maybe Fran's is the best in town in the winter.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Marmet HDJ Review - Chum's Yellow Slaw Hot Dogs

While we consider creamy mayonnaise-based coleslaw with a slight sweetness to be standard issue for West Virginia Hot Dogs, we do allow for one micro-regionalized variation. In the little town of Marmet, just a few miles outside of the Capitol City, there is a long-standing tradition of Yellow Slaw on hot dogs. According to readers of this blog, Donald "Goat" Kinder was the person who originally developed the yellow variety, which he sold at The Dairy Post, located across the street from the old Marmet Junior High School. Now according to some people, The Dairy Post relocated to another part of town and changed its name to "The Canary Cottage." This is a matter of some dispute, however, because some folks have argued that the Canary Cottage was around before the Dairy Post. I'm certain that some Marmet folks will chime in here with their opinions.

Anyway, the Yellow Slaw tradition is now being carried on by one unique little HDJ called Chum's. We were there in 2009 right after they opened and found it to be just OK. But for the past few years we've heard that they had upped their game and have been trying to get back for a review, but they are not open on the weekends. Weenie Wonking is a part-time job, so HDJs that aren't open Saturdays or Sundays sometimes don't get a visit from us. Recently, though, Google erroneously reported that Chum's had Saturday hours, which got us obsessing about yellow slaw. By the time we found out that Google was wrong, well, we simply couldn't resist the obsession so we played hooky from work and made the trip. 

Chum's is a 12' x 20' roadside box that could be easily missed except for the line of hungry hot dog fans out front. A sign on the box displays a surprisingly long list of menu items, but the priority is clear with hot dogs at the very top. Regular readers will know that we are always impressed when a HDJ knows what "everything" means and is unequivocal. Chum's splits the vote here, though, as their menu confidently states it (Chili, Yellow Slaw & Onions), but the order taker was a little bit wishy-washy on whether everything included ketchup and mustard. I'm sure this is because the yellow slaw contains mustard already, and so many uninformed people order ketchup just because they don't know better. Bless their hearts.

Of course, I got mine with the true "everything" which meant adding a little mustard. 

It's been several years since I had partaken of  Yellow Slaw. The last time was at the bowling alley snack bar inside Galaxy Lanes, which being just a couple of miles from the Marmet line, had yellow slaw as an offering years ago (I'm not sure if it still does).  Before that, it was at Mr. C's, a small regional chain that had a location not far from Galaxy Lanes. The yellow slaw at Chum's was every bit as good as my previous tastings, and the chili underneath was far superior. 

Yellow slaw is sweeter that the white kind. That sweetness means that it needs a spicier chili to really bring out the flavor. Chum's accomplishes this well. Upper Kanawha Valley chili is typically very tame, but I was able to feel a little burn from the Chum's chili. Couple this synergy with a soft, steamed bun and a perfectly acceptable weenie, and you have a great hot dog. As I said, not completely standard by our normal measures, but it perfectly accomplishes what it's trying to do. It simply could not be any tastier, therefore earns a full Five Weenie rating.

Oh, and about the hours. Chum's is definitely not open on weekends but will soon be moving to their winter hours, which means they will close at 5:30 each weekday.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Gifts for the WV Hot Dog Lover from Liz Pavlovic Designs

Morgantown artist Liz Pavlovic has come up with another great gift for the WV Hot Dog lover in your life. "Slaw Thing" prints are available now in her Etsy Shop. 

Also look for the WV Hot Dog Pin but don't miss the other great WV themed art like pepporoni rolls, Mothman & more!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Jane Lew HDJ Review - Flying Dogs

Look at the picture on the left. I ask you, does this look like a flying dog? Is it just me or would it be more aptly described as a flying pig?

This seemingly obvious detail doesn't seem to bother the owners of Flying Dogs, a nice little eatery in Jane Lew (I assume that this animal ambiguity is also evident at the Weston location), but it kind of bothered me when I happened upon it. Was I walking into a BBQ joint or a HDJ? Do the owners not see the ambiguity, or are they intentionally playing a joke? Or is the pig some sort of emoji that is supposed to represent a word, so the name of the business is actually "Flying Pig Dogs"? I wonder about things like this.

Ah well, we'll save those musings for another time. Let's talk hot dogs, shall we?

Located just a few miles south of the Slaw Line, I was not completely surprised that an "everything"dog does not include slaw, but that slaw is available. This is pretty normal for what I think of as kind of the Slaw Line DMZ - that gray area that extends for a few miles in each direction where slaw availability is unpredictable. Thankful that slaw was listed as an option, I opted in, and once I got my hot dogs I was thankful again. This is a great hot dog.

There is really nothing but good to say about this hot dog. The bun was soft and steamy, the chili/sauce was delicious and just a little spicy, the onions and mustard were high quality and the slaw was nearly perfect in texture and in taste. Just fantastic. 4 1/2 Weenies.

One last comment about the town of Jane Lew: This is a very small town and yet it boasts - by my count - 5 locally owned restaurants. None of them look fancy, but the quality of Flying Dogs makes me want to try some of the others. Maybe some of them have hot dogs? A return visit is definitely in the cards.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Charleston HDJ Review - Hot Diggity Dogs

We've been getting messages about this new HDJ on Seventh Avenue in North Charleston for a few weeks. After waiting for the new business to get its sea legs, we decided to stop in for lunch today.

First, I have to say that I found it impossible to believe that the trade name "Hot Diggity Dogs" wasn't already taken in West Virginia. We have reviewed "Haught Diggity Dogz" in Morgantown (now defunct), "Mr Diggity" in Vienna, and a little stand inside a Nitro flea market called "Linda's Hot Diggity Dogs," but I was shocked to find out that nobody had thought to use the name "Hot Diggity Dogs" for a hot dog joint before; it seems so obvious. A quick review of the WV Secretary of State's site reveals that someone in Culloden had registered the name "Hot Diggity Dog" (singular) in 2013, but it wasn't until this year that anyone used the plural. Kudos to them. It's a great name.

I wish the hot dogs were as good as the name. They're not. They could be, though, with more attention to one key element.

The buns are soft, the weenie is perfectly grilled and tasty and the mustard is yellow. Check, check and check.

The chili: Hot Diggity Dogs has two kinds - regular and spicy. We got one of each. They should ditch the regular. It is virtually tasteless. The spicy is good, very good. It reminded me of Chris' Hot Dogs chili. It's not so overly spicy that it would be uncomfortable for anyone, especially if the slaw is right -  a nice sweet creamy slaw could really work with this chili.

Unfortunately, the slaw is where Hot Diggity Dogs fails completely. They have two kinds - regular and yellow. The regular tastes like small cabbage chunks in mayonnaise.  Not a good texture or taste, and it does nothing for the chili. The yellow slaw tastes like small chunks of yellow cabbage. It has virtually no other flavor. I don't even understand why it's yellow.

So even with a good bun, weenie and chili, given the importance of a proper chili/slaw synergy to West Virginia Hot Dogs, we can't give this hot dog more than a 3 Weenie score. With the Five Weenie Huskey's Dairy Bar just a short walk away, we would be hard pressed to give anything close to a recommendation. If Hot Diggity Dogs can up its slaw game, though, it could be a contender.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Marion County HDJ Review - Fox's Snacks and Newsstand

We have a lot of fun on this blog at the expense of those unfortunate souls from Marion County who live a slawless existence, while believing with all of their faith that a "real" West Virginia Hot Dog cannot be topped with coleslaw. They live in an alternative reality where their insistence on hot dogs with devilishly spicy chili sauce, mustard and onions is the only right way to eat a hot dog - and so in their warped, twisted minds (caused by the lack of decent hot dogs, we're sure) all West Virginians must think the way they do. It is a sad echo-chamber existence that they live, but once in a while a new HDJ will pop up in Marion County that affirms people's right to choose, and when that happens we like to celebrate it.

Fox's Snack Bar & Newsstand is bright and cheery,
but not much real news can be found inside.
So when we heard about Fox's Snacks and Newsstand and how they served hot dogs with coleslaw in downtown Fairmont, we knew we had to take a road trip and check it out for ourselves. What we found was interesting to say the least.

The little HDJ is well-hidden inside the lobby of the Altermont Building just down the street from the Marion County Courthouse. The four-story building houses several small law offices and not much else. Other than coffee, the only hot food that the newsstand serves is breakfast biscuits until 11:00 and and hot dogs from 11:15-1:00. April Fox, the owner, prides herself on having a variety of drinks, chips and candy to go along with the biscuits and hot dogs. After meeting the owner and chatting for a few moments, we ordered two hot dogs and thought we'd browse the newsstand offerings while we waited for our order, but we were surprised to find that for a place with "newsstand" in its name there was't much news; only one newspaper and one magazine on the rack. No matter, our hot dogs were ready in a flash, so we paid for them and took them to an unoccupied table to eat.

The first thing I noticed was the strange shape of the weenie. It looked less like a sausage and more like a thickly sliced piece of meat. After taking a bite, I went back over to the owner and asked her about it and she told me that it was actually a piece of bologna that had been cut into a thick spear. April said she felt bologna was a better meat product than the weenies she used to use. She then confided in us that she also used ground-up bologna for her chili/sauce as well. I was taken aback to say the least, but once I had thought about it, I said to myself, "why not?" All-beef bologna is still all-beef, and what is hot dog chili/sauce except for a beef-based product?

I was on my way back to my bench when I tasted the slaw. I stopped and went back to April and asked her about the exotic flavor it had. "Instead of mayonnaise, I make the slaw with Russian salad dressing," she explained. Again, it was non-standard, but not completely objectionable. It was very filling and strangely satisfying. I finished off the first hot dog and immediately decided that I'd had enough and decided to forfeit my second hot dog to the trash receptacle, but just before I dropped it, I felt a strange urge to have another bite. And then another. Each time I finished a bite, I felt strangely compelled to have one more. Even after the second hot dog was gone, I went back and asked April to make another. Strangely addictive. I'll give them a 3.5 Weenie rating just because they left me wanting more. It was kind of unsettling because I knew in my heart of hearts, that a WVHD couldn't be made from bologna, but while munching on this hot dog I couldn't remember what a real hot dog tasted like.

As I drove away, back down I79 toward Charleston it hit me: Just like those Marion County folks who live in an alternative reality caused by eating nothing but slawless hot dogs, I had fallen victim to Fox's Newstand hot dogs and completely lost my ability to understand that they weren't real hot dogs. They were imitations, filled with baloney and covered with Russian dressing, but while I was consuming them I not only couldn't tell the difference, I didn't want to tell the difference. But the more distance I put between myself and the Fox Newsstand, the more normal I felt. By the time I made it back to Charleston, I seemed fully recovered and realized that I was going to be OK and would probably go back to eating real WVHDs tomorrow.  But I felt sad for those Marion Countians and others who will continue to be subjected to what Fox News is serving up, completely oblivious that it's all filled with baloney.

It's hard for us to recommend the hot dogs at Fox's Newsstand, but if you don't mind being fooled we've heard that the best day to go is April 1.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Charleston HDJ - Tusie's

Tusie's is across Quarrier Street from the Civic Center
I read somewhere that West Virginia has more places to gamble than any other state, and that seems to be true - at least per capita - since you can barely round a bend in a mountain road without finding a video lottery parlor. I've long been convinced that there are more places to buy hot dogs here than anywhere else, since nearly every restaurant and convenience store has at least some kind of hot dog offering. Many years ago we noticed that some Hot Dog Joints were turning into gambling joints (Sam's in Marmet & Custard Stand in Oak Hill, just to name two), but this is the first time we've heard of a gambling joint being turned into a HDJ.

So here in downtown Charleston, just across from the Civic Center, we have the melding of two WV superlatives: a gambling joint that sells hot dogs. And these aren't just any old hot dog. What we have here is a Five Weenie WVHD.

Long time readers know that we rarely give out a Five Weenie rank. In fact, it has been years since we ran across one. And certainly about the last place we expected to find one was in this little metal building across from the Charleston Civic Center whose primary business is taking quarters away from math-challenged people. In fact, we are very tempted to allow the unscrupulous business model - albeit perfectly legal - to disqualify this place as a HDJ; at least we were until we tasted the hot dog.

Ethics and morals out the window, I plead guilty to being corrupted by the steamed-soft bun, the delicious and aromatic chili and slaw combination and the obvious care and attention that went into making these hot dogs.

This hot dog is great study in the synergy required for a great WVHD. The slaw alone wouldn't make the cut and the chili is good, but not great on its own. But the slaw seemed to be the soulmate of the chili and vice-versa. And sitting on top of a nicely cooked and flavorful weenie that was nestled into a perfectly steamed bun, this is teamwork. A symphony of olfactory and taste delight.

Surprisingly inviting and comfortable dining area
And listen to this: No doubt due to the subsidy provided to the owners by the ultra-profitable gambling going on in the other room, the price of these hot dogs is low. Two dogs, chips and a coke for $3.50 (no doubt meant to keep hungry gamblers from leaving the premises for lunch).

Tusie's also surprised me with its atmosphere, which was much more warm and inviting than I expected. I ordered my lunch to go, but would not have felt at all uncomfortable eating there. The gambling room is separated from the dining area by a door, and the players were too engrossed in their activities to give me a first glance.
I'll be back. Maybe soon.