Slideshow: Take a Hot Dog Tour of West Virginia

The Slaw Optional Zone
The Slaw Optional Zone
For this hot dog tour, we were in the part of the state that the West Virginia Hot Dog Blog refers to as a "slaw optional" zone. In most of the state, slaw is so ubiquitous a topping one doesn't even need to ask for it.

But up in the northwest corner of the state the chili is much spicier, slaw is optional and sometimes even not available - most famously at Yann's in Fairmont, where the chili is ridiculously hot and if you ask for slaw you might get kicked out. Also known for keeping strange hours, Yann's wasn't opened when we were there, but since there's a hot dog joint every two blocks in West Virginia we found plenty of other places to check out.

Drake's Hot Dogs in Fairmont
Drake's Hot Dogs in Fairmont
After finding the infamous Yann's Hot Dogs closed for the day, we stumbled upon Drake's completely by accident - a corner neighborhood joint flying Steelers flags, they offer hot dogs as well as pepperoni rolls from Country Club Bakery - also in Fairmont, also closed that day.

Drake's Hot Dogs: 715 Locust Avenue Fairmont, WV 26554 (map) (304) 534-8137 ; Drake's on Facebook

Drake's Hot Dog Menu
Drake's Hot Dog Menu
Drake's menu is a good illustration of what Fairmont hot dogs are all about - cheap as dirt, "sauce" meaning the spicy meat topping known as chili in the rest of the state, and slaw optional. I was surprised to see sauerkraut which is really unusual for West Virginia, and something called an "Italian Dog" which got me excited until I found out it was just peppers, sauce and cheese on top of a dog.

Pepperoni rolls are standard on hot dog menus, and Drake's also does "pizza buns" - sauce and cheese on a hot dog roll toasted in the oven. If you haven't figured it out by now, quick pizza-esque concoctions from shacks and gas stations are definitely neck-and neck with hot dogs as West Virginia's signature food.

Drake's Hot Dogs: 715 Locust Avenue Fairmont, WV 26554 (map) (304) 534-8137 ; Drake's on Facebook

Star City Hot Dogs in Morgantown
Star City Hot Dogs in Morgantown
Formerly a branch of West Virginia mini-chain Hometown Hot Dogs (the "Hometown" lettering simply covered up by a paper printout) this is a wild little crumbling shack attached to the back of a house with room for maybe 8 people whose heads are scraping the ceiling if they are taller than 5'5". Think a cross between Flo's and Clare & Carl's in terms of architecture.

Star City Hot Dogs: 3417 University Avenue Morgantown, WV 26505 (map) (304) 599-5199 ;

Star City Hot Dogs
Star City Hot Dogs
Star City's dogs also come prepared from a small water bath / bun steamer station, served with your choice of regular or hot chili, not nearly as spicy as Drake's and more ground beef than sauce.

It's worth noting that most West Virginia chili has absolutely none of the Greek spicing you find in hot dog chili in almost every other part of the country. Instead it's about varying levels of heat and often bottles of hot sauce on every table. Star City's slaw was OK, sort of runny and extra mayonnaisey, not my favorite but sort of made sense to cool down & moisten up the spicy, drier chili.

Star City Hot Dogs: 3417 University Avenue Morgantown, WV 26505 (map) (304) 599-5199 ;

Star City Hot Dogs in Pepperoni Roll
Star City Hot Dogs in Pepperoni Roll
The "star" of the show here was actually the Pepperoni Roll. Until now I'd only had the smaller, room temperature Pepperoni Rolls served at gas stations, sometimes pre-packaged, sometimes homemade. But at hot dog joints all over West Virginia they're served hot - split open, covered in hot dog chili and cheese, and finished in a toaster oven.

Star City Hot Dogs: 3417 University Avenue Morgantown, WV 26505 (map) (304) 599-5199 ;

Woody's Restaurant
Woody's Restaurant
As seems to be the custom in this part of West Virginia, Woody's chili is extra spicy, just barely cooled down by the slaw and chocolate milk. Nice classic slaw, barely visible hot dog and just a terrific example of the Fairmont style in a great location, although I think I actually prefer West Virginia hot dogs to-go, everything getting an extra steaming and flavor infusion inside the parchment wrapper.

Woody's Hot Dogs: 801 Morgantown Avenue, Fairmont, WV (map) (304) 366-4009 ;

Pepperoni Roll Dog
Pepperoni Roll Dog
Last but not least, one of the more exotic dogs of the whole trip, made back at the campsite and sure to anger both East Coast hot dog purists and West Virginia pepperoni roll historians. With hot dogs and pepperoni rolls in such close proximity for decades, it's a mystery why nobody has ever combined the two.

Chili and slaw would have been more authentic, but all I had was a Sahlen's brand natural casing "Smokehouse" dog (from Buffalo, New York) and yellow mustard, stuffed into a gas station pepperoni roll warmed over the fire. How was it? At first ridiculous, then actually sort of good, although next time I'll ditch the mustard for some hot dog sauce from Yann's or Woody's, and a better quality pepperoni roll.