The way I figure it, there are three kinds of people in this world: the kind who see the sign for "HOGGS DOGGS" and keep on driving (perhaps a little faster than before); those who have to stop immediately and those who think about it and return later.
Put me in the third category.
While Daddy and I were headed for the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Golden Corral in Gallipolis, Ohio, we passed the sign for HOGGS DOGGS in Millwood (population: 1,200). If the name doesn't bring a smile to your face, then the site of the American flag, an ice machine and the quintessential West Virginia hub cap collection should.
Daddy and I chuckled at the name and went on to our buffet feast, where I tried desperately to find a food that wasn't deep fried or cooked in hog fat. But the next day I couldn't get Hoggs Doggs out of my mind. After a rigorous workout at the local gym, I paid the cafe a visit.
True to the name, almost everything on the menu comes from a hog or a (hot) dog.
I settled on a hot dog, West Virginia style, with sauce and cole slaw. And I couldn't resist ordering a bowl of beans with a side of cornbread.
When you pay $.99 for a hot dog and $2.99 for a bowl of beans at a joint called Hoggs Doggs, you expect to be served on paper plates. But they don't call it a cafe for nothin'. My food was served on colorful Melamine plates and came with real silverware.
The red and kidney beans were flavored with bacon (hogg) and sauteed onions. I got into a discussion with another diner about the best way to cook beans. Then I asked the unthinkable question, "At what point do you add the onions?" She looked at me as if I had just asked, "Who is Julia Child?"
"You don't COOK the onions," she sighed. "You chop up a raw onion and put it on the beans AFTER they're cooked."
"Yes, that's how we ate our beans when I was growing up, but I noticed that the cook here adds sauteed onions," I countered. And I'm sure that she was dying to add that "beans" in West Virginia means navy beans, not red or kidney.
We went on to talk about other regional preferences in foods while she ate her BBQ pork sandwich. She complimented the chef on the sweet sauce, and he responded that many of his customers like their sauce a little more tangy. To satisfy their tangy cravings, he offers them jalapeno peppers.
"When people say they like tangy, they don't mean hot," she explained. "Most people in these parts like their sauce with a taste of vinegar."
Later on, my brother Robert pointed out another regional difference that the owners haven't mastered. I showed him a photo of the hot dog with cole slaw, and he looked puzzled. "That's cole slaw?!" I assured him that it was and quite tasty to boot. "Oh, usually out here the cole slaw is shredded very fine, not coarse."
The owners of Hoggs Doggs Cafe appear to be life partners as well as business partners. They're restoring a church as their home and the sanctuary with its soaring cathedral ceilings makes a striking living room.
The couple seem to be very popular among their customers, in spite of my concern that Millwood and Ravenswood are in the "Baptist Belt." It just goes to show you that if you serve good eats at good prices (a biscuit and gravy with a mug of coffee came to $2.12 the next morning), then people (even members of the religious right) care more about regional cooking preferences than sexual preferences. And if you can dish up some good talk about cooking, remodeling and decorating, as these owners do, then that's just, well, onions on the beans.