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Hot Dog of the Week: Skeeter's E.N. Umberger Store
Skeeter's is an amazing corner lunch counter in the sleepy small town of Wytheville, Virginia. Famous for their hot dogs, they claim to have sold over 9 million since 1925. It's a neighborhood spot filled with antique soda signs and a wrap-around counter packed with locals. And table service—in a hot dog joint!
One pretty consistent theme at hot dog establishments south of the Mason Dixon line: if there's a table, there are going to be bottles of Texas Pete hot sauce on each one. Along with a charming waitress (OK, not always charming, but at Skeeters, very much so) that's been working there for years to take your order for a $1.30 hot dog and bottle of Coca-Cola.
The dog was of the unnaturally bright red variety, pork and chicken skinless Valleydale Brand franks apparently colored with the same red dye that's used for cough syrup. Southerners are proud of their red hot dogs—yes, underneath it's usually the same old cheap hot dog but something about the color adds to the "mystique" of it all.
Of course what really makes the Skeeter Dog special is the toppings.
Skeeter Dogs come literally buried under chili, mustard, ultra creamy slaw that's almost more of a sauce, and super finely diced fresh onions. The buns are steamed behind the counter and arrive at the table nice and soft. The fresh tasting, mild chili has none of the Greek flavor or heat that you find in some places—that's what the hot sauce is for.
Also fairly unique for the South, a Skeeter Dog all the way includes a subtle smear of cheese sauce, an awesome surprise. Besides the red frank and cheese it was actually the closest I've ever had to a West Virginia slaw dog outside of West Virginia.
Skeeter's barbecue sandwich is nothing special but a nice quick lunch for less than three dollars. Pulled pork in a mild sauce, and the same creamy delicious slaw on a steamed round bun.
Skeeter's is located right off of Route 81 in Virginia, so if you're headed that way for any reason it's absolutely worth it to stop in for a Skeeter dog. They also serve a full Southern breakfast, but you'd need to get there before 10:30 AM for that. Otherwise you're having hot dogs for breakfast, or maybe a bologna sandwich on white bread.
Red Hot Dog Digest
For more on Skeeter's and Virginia red hot dogs check out the Red Hot Dog Digest, a 2009 documentary put together by East Tennessee State University. Also check out their Facebook page (linked below) for tons more Skeeter's history and plenty of great old photographs.
Skeeter's E.M. Umberger Store
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/.