Thursday, September 3, 2015

Charleston Edition: Skeenies Hotdogs

SkeeniesThe hotdog culture in West Virginia is real. Exhibit A: And it's something I didn't really "get" until I was living in Charleston. A hotdog joint has a certain appeal to it. It's not refined or classy. It's just a thing unto itself.

SkeeniesCharleston has a few hotdog joints - Skeenies Hot Dogs being one. Well, technically Sissonville. I think.

The Hot Dog Blog says that real West Virginia hot dogs - those with chili, slaw, mustard and onions - began at the Stopette Drive In on Route 21 outside of Charleston city limits in the 1920s. Skeenies is located near the old site of the drive in, so maybe there's some connection that the new concoction migrated to Skeenies. I know I wanted to find out.

My good friend Ashley (and her nephew!) and I went to get some hot dogs. The experience was a bit ... odd, I would say. I ordered one WV-style hot dog. I asked if they had water. K. I only had a $20, and the woman asked if I had a smaller bill. No, or I would've used it. I'm lucky I have cash at all - and ATMs usually dish out $20 bills as the smallest denomination. Then, when she gave me money back, she shorted me a buck. Remind you, my total was only like a buck something, so being shorted a whole buck made a difference. A guy came over, grabbed a buck out of the cash register, handed it to me and said "next!" K.

SkeeniesWhatever. I took my hot dog and sat down on the makeshift table to the left. And when I say makeshift, I mean a few 5-gallon buckets stacked upside down with a board laid across as the table. Then, another set of 5-gallon buckets (with a few more added to make it taller) and another board for the seat part. Ashley came over with the bottles of water (!!!) she bought and handed me one. So, I guess they do sell water.

The hotdog is good. The bun is steamy, the chili is a perfect accent, and the ton of slaw on top was a perfect finely chopped consistency. It's a good hotdog. The other mixups and general ambiance is a solid meh. But it's a good hotdog.

Grade: B
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fairmont Edition: Colasessano's World Famous Pizza & Pepperoni Buns (Mall Loop)

Colasessano'sI've been to two other Colasessano's locations: Morgantown (now closed) and Fairmont (Pennsylvania Avenue). I decided to round out the trio with their Mall Loop location.

Colasessano'sI was mostly here to do some pepperoni book research, but I got a pepperoni bun in the process. This bun is baked golden brown with sticks of pepperoni inside. It's then split, their signature meat sauce is added, mild, mixed or hot peppers and then provolone. Then baked til it's bubbling and stringy.

Colasessano'sThis one was done much better than previous ones I've had. Look at all that cheese! Talk about a West Virginia comfort food.

Grade: A
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Barboursville Edition: Christopher's Eats

Christopher's Eats

Christopher's Eats was recently listed in the 101 unique places to dine in WV list. The restaurant boasts its coal-fired oven and flatbreads, which are baked to perfection at 900 degrees, according to the website.

Christopher's Eats

The Barboursville restaurant is located in a strip mall, which I wasn't expecting. But at least there is ample parking. The menus have also seen better days, but I was easily able to make my way to the "Artisan Flats."

Christopher's EatsTom went with the "Ms. Piggy" flatbread, which has red sauce, pepperoni, pork belly, sausage, mozzarella and romano. I think he was OK with it; just not in love with it. Mostly pepperoni and sausage - kinda missing the pork belly.

Christopher's EatsI ordered the greek flatbread, which has white sauce, romano, roasted garlic spread, olive, red onion, tomato, spinach, feta, oregano and greek vinaigrette. Totally beautiful, right? It's gorgeous. And the first bite or so was good - nice chunks of feta and a little crunchy red onion. Then as I got inward, the vinaigrette kind of consumed everything, making it soggy, and the flatbread itself wasn't crispy. So everything just kind of ended up being mush. I couldn't pick up a piece to eat; I used my fork and knife to take a few more bites until it was just too soggy to be appealing.

I think if the flatbread was crisp and had an actual crust, that texture difference would have been key. Maybe less vinaigrette to avoid that sog factor. That might also mean less toppings - I'm OK with that. But everything just getting mushy isn't super appetizing.

Grade: C
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Monday, August 31, 2015

Weirton Edition: Hibachi Buffet

Hibachi BuffetFor my dad's birthday, we went to Weirton's Hibachi Buffet. The restaurant is a Chinese buffet with a hibachi area for made-to-order entrees made of a mixture of proteins and veggies.

Hibachi Buffet

Hibachi Buffet

The dining area is actually a good bit larger than I expected, and there were a couple buffet islands full of chicken or beef doused in sweet and spicy sauces, sushi and fried eggrolls, shrimp and crab rangoons.

Hibachi BuffetHibachi BuffetI hit up a few of my favorites: The honey chicken was perfectly crispy and sweet. The crab rangoons had a nice creamy crab mixture, with a perfectly crunchy exterior. I tried a piece of sushi, and it was pretty much exactly what I thought buffet sushi would be like - not super fresh.

Hibachi BuffetI didn't try anything from the hibachi bar, but I DID find the ice cream station. I don't love that people get a scoop and literally scoop it out of the container. I can't imagine that's clean. But I put that out of my mind in exchange for a scoop of butter pecan, strawberry and cookies and cream.

Hibachi BuffetAnd if you wish, you can get it to go by the pound!

Hibachi Buffet

This is a close option for folks who don't know exactly what they like at Chinese restaurants. My mom, for example, isn't the biggest fan of Chinese food, but she does have a few she likes to try. The buffet gives them an option to pick and choose.

Grade: B
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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Heat in the Hills Chili Cook Off

Heat in the hills chili cook off

The Heat in the Hills Chili Cook Off was held Aug. 22 with more than 20 competitors vying for a chance to get to the World Championships in Reno, Nevada. All proceeds went to benefit Empty Bowls.

Heat in the hills chili cook off

Cooks came in from Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Heat in the hills chili cook off

There were four categories: red chili, green chili, salsa and people's choice. Marianna and I went around sampling all sorts of different kinds. There were event a few restaurants who brought their chili: Martins Bar-B-Que and Boston Beanery (who added a side of cornbread!). Garcia's Latin Market, The Cupcakerie, Kegler's (beer only) and The Dancing Fig were there vending, as well.

Heat in the hills chili cook off

We made a first round and sampled small bites of chili. Some were a bit spicy, some had just a touch of sweetness. Others heavy on cumin. Some were just right. One even offered a sample of spiked punch! The green chilis were different and reminded me of something more like a sauce for a dish, rather than a meal on its own.

Heat in the hills chili cook off

Some cooks were not ready the first round, so we were gearing up for round two when I received a message from Kevin Connoley saying they needed extra judges.

Heat in the hills chili cook offCount. Me. In.

Heat in the hills chili cook off

Because it was an International Chili Society sanctioned event, and the winner of the red chili division (the one I helped judge!) automatically goes to the world championship, the rules for this competition were very serious.

Heat in the hills chili cook off

I quickly learned that there are NO beans in chili. It should be spicy - with just flavors of cumin and chili peppers. It shouldn't be tomato-y like pasta sauce or sweet like BBQ. We are judging CHILI.

Heat in the hills chili cook offI was assigned to Table A, and I went around and tasted each one. A clean spoon for each taste (just a tiny bit), with a palate cleanser inbetween each bite - water, beer, sour cream or pieces of tortilla. Truthfully, many taste very similar. Some may have been heavier on the cumin, while others had meat that wasn't quite as tender.

Heat in the hills chili cook offAfter narrowing it down to a couple that tasted best to me, I picked my top three and turned in my judges sheet. And took a few selfies (not my idea!).

Heat in the hills chili cook offHeat in the hills chili cook off

And for the overall winners:

Red Chili
1st Place - Carrie Parker
2nd Place - Tom Hoover
3rd Place - Mike Goodman

Chili Verde
1st Place - Jeffrey Lynch
2nd Place - Brian Warmouth
3rd Place - Diane Lentz

1st Place - Rose Warmouth
2nd Place - Chris Johnson

People's Choice
1st Place - Mark Schwaiger
2nd Place - John A. Smith