Although it is not as pertinent as it once was, the all-American hotdog remains a staple of the carnivore's diet. Food networks have devoted entire shows about the regional manifestations of the dog...from Mexican potato-chip toppings to the tomato and pepper vegetation of Chicago. The local Williamsburg hotdog has no specific cultural or geographic affiliation. It is truly a mutt among the more pedigreed types found throughout the country- i.e. the cheese coney of Cincinnati.
For this evaluation my friend Hank joined me for a lunchtime jaunt through five of Williamsburg's hotdog joints in search of the best bite. Hank's qualifications include a healthy appetite and the realization that spending the day eating hotdogs was probably a bad, bad thing to do. But boy did we have fun.
We started with Gus's Hotdogs out on Richmond Road which occupies a modest building (once a Dairy Queen) on the tourist strip. The Williamsburg restaurant is part of a Greek-owned "chain" in nearby Newport News and has a loyal local following. The modest (and extremely affordable) menu is very direct with grilled hotdogs on squishy white-bread buns and the regular assortment of toppings. Cheese and chili covered fries are a speciality item. The general complaint about the Gus hotdog is its slim size. The girth challenged dog is something that champion hotdog eaters could fantasize about. The experience set the stage for implementing Hank's "bun to meat ratio" for the rest of the day's evaluation. If you have a carful of small, hungry kids...Gus's is your place! A grown-up could easily eat 2, 3, or more hotdogs here. Since we were on a mission, we stopped at one apiece. As a bonus, the hotdog sculpture seen in the above photograph is probably the best contemporary folk art in town.
The next stop was the Williamsburg General Store on Richmond Road. This store wins hands down for the amount and variety of tourist trinkets for sale under one roof. They also have a huge road sign advertising Nathan's Hotdogs-the New York standard. We were really looking forward to this but apparently the inside restaurant has not opened all summer...a disappointing non-starter here. (PS...take the darn sign down!!!)
We next ventured down to Retro's Good Eats on Prince George Street adjacent to the Historic Area. Retro's has long advertised "Williamsburg's Best Hotdog". The gimmick that draws you into believing this is the huge selection of toppings that are offered: from blue cheese cole slaw to bacon to jalapenos. Retro's is not for the indecisive. We found our hotdogs overpowered by the toppings and the large, yellowish bun. It was hard to actually enjoy the meat (I know that's an arbitrary hotdog term) and we left feeling the most queasy of all the stops. The fresh cut fries and limeades are definitely worth the visit though. You could spend some money here if you are not careful. I would probably visit more often except for the blaring canned doo-wop music which creates an old-timey, soda fountain experience.
I was looking forward to our next hotdog destination - The Golden Horseshoe Grill overlooking the 18th hole of the famed Green Course at Colonial Williamsburg. In years past, lunchtime dining in this beautiful spot generated fond memories both from the ambience and one of the largest hotdogs available to the general public (outside of a Love Shop catalog). The hotdog was particular well served by a wonderful sweet red-pepper relish.
But like memories, expectations often pale in light of current economic realities. When we arrived today, not a soul was seated in the lovely dinning room or outdoor veranda. A lone barkeep/server suggested the grill was still in operation but offered only a limited menu of pre-packaged sandwiches and -thank God-hotdogs. So we sat and wondered how things had changed. We heard the microwave "grilling" our dogs which arrived as plump as ever accompanied with the beloved red pepper goop and a handful of potato chips. The mustard came in little plastic packages (how far the mighty CW dining experience has fallen). This used to be a contender for Williamsburg's best hotdog experience but I guess all good things come to an end.
By now the romantic notion of eating our way through Williamsburg's hotdog genre was beginning to wear off. But I had one more place to try - The Queen Anne Dairy Snak located on the eastside of town on Route 143. The Queen Anne Dairy Snak is one of those picturesque, circa 1950s, slices of roadside Americana. Its staff and clientele clearly represent a cross-section of the demographic spectrum--all good things.
Here you order at the window and take a number. I have long frequented the QADS for their soft-serve ice cream and had studied the menu of fried seafood, subs, burgers, etc. religiously but always have been too chicken to order anything but ice cream. Boy my reticence was clearly a mistake. For $5.70 we got two hotdogs all the way and two medium cokes which by far turned out to be the best, authentic experience of the day. Grilled to perfection and topped with fresh chili, mustard, and onions, these dogs were clearly made with love and attention. They even came cased in these colorful wrappers that vividly proclaimed "HotDog" on the inside. We sat at the rickety picnic table on the "veranda" beneath the large air-handling unit and congratulated ourselves about finding the best hotdog in Williamsburg at the The Queen Anne Dairy Snak.