"Slaw dogs can be found all over West Virginia, in dedicated hot dog joints, drive-ins, bars, delis, and old-fashioned dairy bars."
Past Weeks' Dogs
Two weeks ago I had my first real Slaw Dog at Martie's in Keyser, West Virginia. I wasn't expecting much from a hot dog joint on a half abandoned strip of shops in the middle of nowhere. But walking into the colorful diner-style counter decorated with old deli signs and hundreds of bottles of hot sauce, complete with a chest of ice cold beer and a smoke-filled video poker parlor in the back, I knew I had come to the right place.
My hot dog was grilled to order, placed on a lightly steamed bun and piled high with chili and cole slaw. I took a bite and my suspicions were confirmed that this place is incredible, and slaw dogs are delicious. Everything was fresh and the dog had just the right balance of bread, hot dog, chili, and creamy slaw.
The secret of a real West Virginia hot dog is in the sauce and the slaw. A subtle smear of yellow mustard on a steamed bun, topped with a grilled or steamed hot dog, and layered with a hearty chili that's just thick enough to hold up heaping mounds of cole slaw. This is not your light and healthy vinegar slaw either. We're talking thick, sweet and creamy mayonnaise-based slaw with super finely chopped cabbage and possibly a few carrots, a touch of vinegar, and maybe some mustard or celery seed if you want to get fancy. Diced onions are optional but not required. West Virginia hot dogs are soft and messy, served in a sturdy vehicle for consumption, usually a paper boat or styrofoam container.
We recently examined the Texas Weiner, and the West Virginia hot dog seems to be the logical next step in the evolution of the American hot dog. Central southern Pennsylvania is riddled with Texas lunch stands, and a bit south of that in Cumberland, Maryland, we find Curtis Coney Island Famous Weiners that's been around since 1918. Great hot dogs and Coney sauce but no slaw here. Travel 20 miles south down Route 220 and you'll cross the slaw line and hit Martie's in Keyser.
Nowhere in West Virginia is there a hot dog stand with the words Coney or Texas in the name. And no references to Greek sauce are to be found either. In some areas it's simply known as "sauce" but the majority of West Virginia hot dog joints proudly call their hot dog topping "chili."
There are also non-slaw dogs in northern West Virginia, especially in Marion County which has a history of Italian influence going back to the coal mining communities, not to mention is the birthplace of the pepperoni roll, another unique West Virginia delicacy. Yann's in Fairmont is one such example, which serves a heavily spiced dark chili, and where asking for slaw or ketchup will get you kicked out.
Legend has it that slaw was first placed on a hot dog at the Stopette Drive in in Charleston, West Virginia, during the 1930s. After that, the trend took off like crazy. Slaw dogs can be found all over West Virginia, in dedicated hot dog joints, drive-ins, bars, delis, and old-fashioned dairy bars. The closest thing to a "haute dog" restaurant is Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage where you can pick up a taco dog or a three-and-a-half pound "home wrecker" that comes with a free t-shirt if you eat it in 12 minutes. West Virginia even has an annual Hot Dog Festival in Huntington with eating competitions, dog races and of course hot dogs from lots of local vendors.
Don't miss the West Virginia hot dog blog for an extremely thorough guide to West Virginia dogs. The blog's founder also appears on this great segment for West Virginia Public Radio that gets into some of the sociology of regional hot dogs.
All throughout the South we find institutions such as the Nu-Way in Georgia that serve slaw dogs. The slaw further south usually has more tooth to it than the West Virginia-style, having more to do with mustard and vinegar than mayonnaise--sort of a cross over with barbecue culture. West Virginia still claims to be the birthplace of the Slaw Dog. Regardless of who made the first, I'm glad they did.
Martie's Hot Dog Stand
96 North Main Street, Keyser West Virginia 26726 (map)
Hillybilly Hot Dogs
Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/.