Huntington, West Virginia is my childhood home. Where I was born and raised. And where my family still lives. I grew up exploring the beautiful decay and abandoned industrialscapes that once boomed here some time before I met the world.
Huntington is also a hotdog town and I grew up eating lots of hotdogs. Not all of my favorite childhood hotdog joints still exist but I wanted to visit the one’s that did and shed a little light on the (to me) magnificent West Virginia hotdog.
The West Virginia Hotdog
I didn’t realize until I moved away that West Virginia has a particular type of hotdog. Characteristics include a standard sized hotdog, a steamed white bun, mustard, onions, sauce (a beanless meat sauce either mild or spicy), and slaw. Slaw to me is the main defining characteristic (followed by the sauce). Slaw in WV is not a salad, it’s a condiment. The slaw is chopped finely with carrots and sweet onions and has a sweet creamy dressing balanced with vinegar. In Huntington people put slaw on many sandwiches but especially on a WV dog or slaw dog as they’re sometimes referred to.
Sam’s hotdogs is probably my favorite WV hotdog. Nothing fancy about this place. A simple dog, good sauce, creamy slaw. Cheap and easy. The chain was opened in Huntington in 1983 and being closely located to my childhood home, quickly became the utility dog of many family dinners.
Ask someone in Huntington what their favorite drive-in is or where’s their favorite burger or fries, chances are they’ll say the Midway. A tiny corner shop opened in 1939 offering burgers, hotdogs, fries, and assorted sandwiches. This is my mom and sister’s favorite place. The burgers, like many Huntington places, are served with tomato, a thick slice of sweet onion, wavy cut dill pickle rings, American cheese, and a thin crispy patty. Condiments by request.
The Frost Top
Frost Top is a root beer brand and a chain of restaurants started in 1926. The Huntington location was built in 1959 and survives pretty much unchanged. At it’s peak Frost Top had over 350 locations down to only 12 now. I consider the Frost Top a true city treasure and always return here when I visit. Their hotdogs are pretty tasty as well as their burgers. But the true treasure is the Frost Top rootbeer served in a large frozen glass mug. As you drink it a large disk of fine slush floats up imparting a creamy texture to the beverage. Like the midway their burger sports only tomato, onions, pickles and cheese. The condiments are by request. Honestly the fries are not even a close second to the Midway. But the ambience wins on a completely different level.
Opened and continuously family run since 1932, Stewart’s Original Hotdogs is another classic drive-in and a place I always return to when I’m visiting. A fun place that I like to support when I can. Honestly the hotdogs have changed a bit since I last had them. The slaw dog barely had any slaw on it, the sauce was weak. The chili cheese dog, though still yummy, was quite thin, the sauce sadly dribbling out of the bun, and the cheese stuck to the napkin which sometimes unwilling became a soggy topping. I’m a bit disappointed Stewart’s. Get your shit together. You can’t survive on charm alone. I’m hoping I just hit you on a bad day.
Full disclosure, Hillbilly Hotdogs was not a place of my youth. It opened in 1999 years after I left Huntington. But it’s become one of my favorite places to go when I visit. Hillbilly Hotdogs embraces fully the self deprecating humor of the hillbilly joke and makes a kind of hillbilly Disneyland out of it. A hubcap encrusted wonderland of two-seater outhouses and old church buses converted into dining rooms. They’ve become somewhat of a roadside destination after Guy Fieri used their distinct charm to promote his roadside american eatery book. But I won’t hold that against them. Their claim to fame is both a 30 pound cheeseburger and a 15″ 3 pound hotdog called the Homewrecker. Their wieners are deep fried and come topped with a variety of creative and local themed toppings.
Other places worth mentioning
Opened in the 50’s this little diner serves a variety of sandwiches, but the star is their “honey flake ham” sandwich with swiss cheese and secret sauce. It’s thin sliced sweet ham, lettuce, and a sweet and tangy dressing on a sesame seed bun. I also tried their BBQ sandwich which comes with slaw by default.
Jolly Pirate’s Donuts
This is not a sandwich joint at all really. But I have candy-coated memories wrapped with childlike wonder. I loved this place. A large selection of filled donuts covered in powdered sugar, and a bit on the small side so you can enjoy 2 or 3 at a sitting. This is the donut that I measure all others to. Crispy, cakey, fluffy. And it’s “donut” not “doughnut”. A dozen comes in a cute pirate chest box. I was too young to appreciate the all night diner dotted with grumpy questionable men sipping mugs of coffee. Jolly Pirate’s is a chain based out of Columbus OH started in 1963. Honestly it’s difficult to find information about the chain and how many are left. One of the two Huntington locations has closed. I seem to recall a couple more across the river in Kentucky.
Positive signs of a Huntington renaissance.
There were lots of new places this visit. And not just new but new KINDS of places. Hipster places. Serving local micro-brews and creative food. And they’re packed with people eating there. Tattooed and man-bunned barmen who seemed to be quite at home with the local crowds. Signs of life. New places owned by locals being supported by locals and hiring locals who spend their money on other local places. I knew this was the only path forward but in the land of Walmarts and fast food, no one seemed willing to make that leap. It’s been happening for a while, since the new town square, but I was dismissive when friends told me things were turning around. And I would like to acknowledge, I can see what you’ve been talking about.
Here’s one such place that gave me a new hope and respect for the town’s future.
Bahnhof WVrsthaus & Biergarten
Bahnhof was opened by a local owner and features a great fusion between traditional Appalachian cuisine and traditional german food. They pair perfectly, I can’t believe no one’s tried it before. And I was absolutely in love with some of their menu items. I was equally impressed with their 33 beers on tap, many local micro-brews, and digital tap menu with keg levels and accompanying mobile app. And my god their giant banana cream puffs are the bomb.