West Virginia Hills by Jeff Ellis

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hillbilly Hot Dogs, Huntington

     Most of the time John and I don't really have a plan for what we're going to do or where we're going to go like we did last weekend. Sometimes we look at the WV calendar of events and make a plan, but since we don't have a lot of extra money to spend on entrance fees, nor can we always afford overnight lodging, tanks of gas, and food, we often opt to stick closer to home. Besides that, we've discussed the fact that we don't want to let what we have done so naturally as a fun hobby turn into something that feels more like a job! So this weekend because we had other work to get done, more specifically, shopping and yard work, plus because I needed to make a trip up to Columbus to visit my daughter and grandsons, that left us with Saturday, which was great because it turned out to be sunny and in the high 70s all day, which meant that it would be a fanatstic day to drive somewhere with the top down. Since we didn't have a plan, or anywhere that we really wanted to go in particular, we chose to head south towards Point Pleasant where we would continue to  follow the Ohio River all the way to Huntington. As usual we stopped along the way to take pictures of wildflowers growing along the roadside (I have decided we need a bumper sticker that reads: This car makes frequent sudden stops for flowers). John, having grown up and having spent most of his adult life in the flower business, loves to photograph wild and domestically grown flowers, or any other plant or animal wildlfe for that matter. He also likes to take pictures of old barns, sunsets, rivers, creeks, and waterfalls (which you'll be seeing eventually as we make our trips).

     About twenty miles down the road we caught sight of a field of beautiful wildflowers as we flew right by; so in usual fashion, we made a U-turn and went back to take pictures. I stayed in the car (which I had backed up into the shade) while John ran across the highway to snap pictures. As it turned out, the property all along there was part of one big farm. The owner's son-in-law, a man originally from New York, took care of the property for her, and  in true West Virginia-style hospitality, when he noticed that we were pulled over, came walking up the road to say hi, and told us to feel free to take all the pictures we wanted of the barn which sat back off the road a ways behind a fence that had a "No Trespassing" sign posted on it (which he said someone else requested that he put up). Apparently he was used to travelers stopping to take pictures of the quilt painted on it, which is part of an Appalachian quilt project that now spans across several states. He pointed out that the quilt on his barn was the twelth one out of fifteen now located on barns throughout Mason County. And to think that the two of us had been so preoccupied with looking at the flowers across the road that neither one of us had even noticed it! (There are quilts painted on barns all over Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, and we will most likely do a story on them some time in the future.)
     This little stop took up about 20 minutes, and we were back on the road headed once again towards Point Pleasant and the river. We continued our drive southwest following the Ohio River. When we reached Huntington we were both hungry and had already pretty much decided that we wanted to eat lunch at Hillbilly Hot Dogs, a local joint located on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 15th Street. We had passed the original location a few miles back in Lesage, but seeing as there were about 80 motorcyclists parked out front, we opted to drive on. Thankfully, the Huntington restaurant was way less busy, and so we pulled right into a parking spot and got ourselves a nice shaded table outside on the porch. Now, for your information, every now and then John gets a hankering for a hot dog. However, there's only one kind of dog he likes if he's going to eat one. and it's gotta have chili sauce, slaw, mustard, and onions on it to be any good. This constitutes the one and only true West Virginia dog! We have a favorite place in Parkersburg where we usually go to get them, and he always likes to remind me about how the whole time he lived up in Chicago (which was 11 years) he never got a decent hot dog, that in fact, they didn't even have a concept of how to make them with regular stuff on it like he likes them! (And I apologize to any Chicago readers who might feel differently about their own specialized Chicago style dogs. I think they even advertise theirs as being the best in the world, which is just a matter of opinion anyway!) He also has all these fond memories from his youth of when his mother would announce almost once a week that "today is gonna' be hot dog day," and then how she would send him down to the Dairy Bee to get a box of 12 (which came with sauce, slaw, onions, and mustard) for $1.00, and which, along with Mr. Bee potatoe chips and bottled Cokes, would easily serve all the flower shop employees lunch.

     So here we were at Hillbilly Hot Dogs, voted #15 out of the top 100 places to eat by the Travel Channel,with very high hopes of satisfying John's craving for a West Virginia dog. Thank G-d I am happy to report that we were indeed in hillbilly heaven, as these rated among the best WV dogs we have ever eaten! And just so you'd believe it, John took a picture of his. And John almost never takes pictures of food, and if he does, it's probably because I asked him to. But this he did all on his own; that's how much he loves WestVirginia dogs! You've got to see this place to believe it--it plays on every worst hillbilly stereotype in the book--but when the food's as good as it is at this place, who cares? The owners have their own really sweet story. (I was especially touched by their story, which is written up on the back of the menu.) Sonny's a West Virginia native who married Sharie, a California girl (kinda' the opposite of the New York guy who married a WV girl from Mason County, who we'd just met earlier.) They wanted to work at something they could do together, and so they did this. They opened their doors in 1999 in a 12 X 16 building that they built themselves in Lesage. Lots of their customers have helped them "decorate," which has contributed to how and why their establishment looks the way it does. Three days after they opened shop they shut down to get married, and they've renewed their vows 22 times. They say they're still madly in love, and that they have been "honeymooning" ever since, which is something else you have to give them credit for! So for the price of our hot dogs, onion rings, and drinks, we got a sappy love story too. I'd say to that, "All is well that ends well."

     Feeling happy, and with our bellies full, we decided to head back to Ravenswood, only on the Ohio side of the river, which would take us along Route 7 through the small towns of  Chesapeake, Proctorville, and Crown City, and then up to Gallipolis, all places where both of my parents grew up, and then where my grandmas lived when I was younger and they were still living. We made one other stop in Gallipolis to buy some more plants to hang on our front deck which overlooks the river, and for our back porch too before heading on home, where we made it before dark. Not a bad day's outing!

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