Category: Photos

The Texas Inn, Lynchburg, Virginia

Best hot dogs in the world, eh??

When I got to a hotel in Lynchburg, Virginia this past Wednesday it was well past 8:30 p.m. I’d been on the road for almost ten hours straight. At one point the GPS got me seriously lost in the hills east of New Haven, West Virginia, and I’d ended up on a one-lane road at the top of a ridge with nowhere to turn around with a sign in front of me which read, “Road Closed Ahead”.

The definition of irony: Not 36 hours after said GPS incident, the GPS manufacturer emailed me about upcoming map updates. Go figure.

The darned thing also led me east on route 60, through those nasty switchbacks that go up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenendoah National Park, then back down again. The sun was still up when I started that section. It was down before I reached the ridge. I can’t stand driving those things in mid-day, but after dark it’s incredibly dangerous.

The gal at the hotel desk, Janelle, suggested I have a couple hot dogs at the Texas Inn, a 24/6 operation up at the next intersection. She claimed, “Best hot dogs in the world!” Too tired to chew more than what was stuck between my teeth, I thanked her anyway, went to my room, ignored the flossing, and went to bed.

By Thursday evening my curiosity had gotten the best of me. I know what the best hot dogs in the world taste like, at least for me. Others will claim Detroit coneys, some Chicago, and yet others prefer Nathan’s Famous. You’ll never find a concensus on the subject, and frankly, I’ve given up trying to find one.

Still, I decided to head up to the Texas Inn and find out what she was talking about.

The little place is … little. Large on the outside, only the northern-most section of the building (the left end in the above photo) is open to customers. Inside, a stainless-steel counter wraps around an open kitchen and waitstaff area. The 15 stools at the counter are all the seats there are.

Parking myself at the stove end of the counter (last stool on the right please), I ordered a couple of the chili dogs Janelle had told me about. In fact, if I recall, I mentioned that she’d recommended the restaurant and the hot dogs. Almost immediately AJ, on the left in this photo, said, “We’re better known for our Cheesy Westerns“. Ok, ummm … what??

AJ made up my two chili dogs, with the chili made right there in the restaurant, and also filled me in on the sandwich he prefered to tell me about.

First off, the hot dogs were passable. I do have issues with steamed or boiled dogs that are proclaimed “Best hot dogs in the world”. Sorry Janelle, but the best dogs are grilled, plain and simple. I do have to say that, even though the chili looked greasy, it actually wasn’t. It had a good flavor, but I prefer it thicker anyway.

Back to AJ’s story …

The Cheesy Western. It’s a rather simple thing and, as AJ told me, the Texas Inn has been serving it since around 1935. I’d learn the following day that the sandwich has a number of adaptations in restaurants in Lynchburg and the surrounding area, but the Texas Inn is likely one of the originators, if not the originator of it.

The Cheesy Western sounded good. Really good. Not only that, in sitting there watching AJ work I saw a few of them slide by to waiting patrons. Quite a few, actually. I decided to go ahead and order one, which AJ proceeded to make up for me.

The way they do it is like this: Quarter-pound burgers are kept in supply throughout the day, made from fresh-ground beef grilled on a small grill next to the stove. The grill has a rotating lid to cover the burgers so they cook up correctly. When a customer orders a Cheesy Western, two eggs are beaten and poured into a small skillet. When they’re almost done the egg is flipped. One of the quarter-pound burgers is laid on the egg and a slice of American cheese is placed on the burger. The whole of it is laid on the bottom of the bun. The top of the bun has a “super-secret” sweet mustard relish spread on it that they make at the Inn, and chopped onions. This is then laid on top of the now-cheesy innards, the whole of it is cut in two for easier handling, plated and served.

I gotta tell ya’, the Cheesy Western is a lot better than the hot dogs were. The hamburger was nice and juicy, which was a given, given the covered grill they’re cooked on. The egg AJ cooked up for the sandwich was similar to a good fluffy omelet. And that sweet relish they make from their “super secret” recipe? Yeah, if I had had a fridge to keep it in for the weekend, I’d have gladly bought a quart of the stuff. It’s that good. And even though the relish was on the hot dogs as well, it’s far better as part of the Texas Inn’s Cheesy Western.

When something is this iconic and has been around as long as the Cheesy Western has been, it develops a following. I saw this in action the following morning when I headed to the Texas Inn to enjoy the breakfast in the photo below. In the 30 minutes I was there from 8:15 – 8:45 a.m., fifteen Cheesy Westerns went out the door in to-go bags, apparently to be saved for lunchtime on the Friday before Memorial Day. Those fifteen sandwiches were sold to eight customers … one ordered a bag of two, and two gentlemen each took a bag of four.

Decadent? Yes. Bad for the waistline, and the heart? Absolutely. Good???

Damn straight.

Breakfast at the Texas Inn. Don’t eat at the hotel restaurant.

Recipe Re-Post: Mom’s Dill-Pickle-Sauced Meatloaf

Yesyterday would have been my parents’ 56th anniversary. Oddly enough, dad would have been 86 yesterday as well. See, dad told mom he was going to marry her by the time he turned 30 years old, and he beat it by a day. And people wonder why I wait till the last minute to get things done …

For either dad’s birthday yesterday or their anniversary today, it’s quite possible mom would have made this meatloaf for dad. Since dad passed in December and mom passed last week … well, I wonder if they’re eating this meatloaf in heaven, if they eat in heaven, that is. This meatloaf would certainly be appropriate.

In memory of them, I’m reposting this recipe.

Mom’s Dill-Pickle-Sauced Meatloaf is the kind of meatloaf that, by design, can never turn into hardtack. In fact, if you screw it up somehow it’s more likely to fall apart from too much good juices than not enough. Later on, after refrigeration, a sandwich made with this meatloaf that’s been chilled will still be so flippin’ tender you’ll never knock your dentures out of alignment. The flavor is beautifully sweet with the minor savory touch of the the dill pickle coming through in every wonderful bite.

You can use a fresh meatloaf mixture for this recipe. If you want to lean-it-up a bit, you could ask them for a combination of ground buffalo and ground turkey instead of beef and pork. There’s no need to add fats if you do this … the recipe is juicy enough as it is, and this will cook up just fine.

This is a fun meatloaf to make as it’s mixed lightly and there’s minimal chopping to do. It’s the kind of meatloaf you can make with kids, and as it tastes the way it does, they’ll actually eat it afterward. Until just over a year ago, I hadn’t had this in probably 15 years. When mom finally sent me the recipe after a couple years of my asking for it she said it’s been probably 10 years since she’s made it herself. That’s a real shame. In my house, this particular tradition will now return, and this meatloaf will become a staple once more.

Do right by your meatloaf, or your mother’s meatloaf. Make meatloaf for dinner. Learn to appreciate it all over again, especially when it’s good.

This meatloaf is simple, looks great, and has always been downright good.

Dill-Pickle-Sauced Meatloaf
Recipe courtesy Joyce Liske
Serves 6

1-1/2 lbs meatloaf mixture (50% ground beef/50% ground pork)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (about 1 fresh slice)
1/2 cup bottled dill pickle juice
1 egg
1-1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper

1/2 cup chopped dill pickle
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. For the loaf, lightly mix the meatloaf mixture with the chopped onion, bread crumbs, dill pickle juice, egg, and salt and pepper until well-blended. Shape into a loaf in a loaf pan, making sure to leave room around the sides of the loaf.

For the sauce, combine the chopped dill pickle, ketchup, water, sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Pour the sauce over the loaf.

Bake uncovered in the 350 degree F oven 40 minutes, basting with the sauce at the 20- and 40-minute marks. Continue baking another 35 minutes or until richly-glazed.

Ryan’s First Catch of 2009

If there’s one thing my 12-year-old Ryan excels at (besides video games and annoying his sister), it’s fishing. This is the carp he caught yesterday on his first outing of 2009, off his uncle’s property in Lake Erie waters, using a pole and pre-loaded tackle box he was gifted this past Christmas. Of course, since carp aren’t all that edible the fish is now back in the water, but that’s one hefty fish!

I recall the first time I took Ryan fishing. He was three, and was standing in a lifejacket on the end of a dock in front of me at a campground in Jackson, Michigan. He was just kind of standing there, dunking in the hook that was hanging from one of those little Bugs Bunny kiddy fishing rods. There I was behind him with a ten-foot rod, casting and reeling, casting and reeling. After a while he said, “Daddy, now what do I do?” He turned around … and there was an 8″ trout on his hook! Yup, first catch of that year for the whole family, at three years old.

And people wonder why I haven’t fished since then …

Eat This Blog: Oven-Roasted Potato Salad

With mom being with God now, I wonder if she’ll be able to bring a halt to the Liske family curse of it raining whenever one of us makes potato salad? Maybe. I mean, the curse did start with her decades ago …

I’d made this particular batch of my Oven-Roasted Potato Salad last Saturday for our buddy Zack. In January when I blogged about this recipe being in that month’s issue of the venerable Grit magazine, I’d mentioned I was going to rewrite the recipe a bit in the future:

Truth be known though, I’m in the process of giving this recipe a redevelopment. Meat is included, and almost every time I’ve made it someone has said, “There’s meat in there? I can’t have it.” There will be two versions; A base version with no meat, and optional additions to include the beer-braised Polish kielbasa if you’d like.

Honestly though, Zack’s Jewish. Even though he doesn’t keep Kosher as many Jews do, the fact that I almost invariably feed the man pork when he’s here for dinner has recently been cause for some good-natured teasing. He loves the results of this potato salad recipe and asks for it often. But with its pork-based Kielbasa … well, it was time for to make the change to meatless last weekend.

It turned out quite nicely. I spent a little extra care with roasting the cubed potatoes so they’d come out of the oven a golden brown. The pre-roasted onions and peppers tasted better after being sautéed and caramelized in unsalted butter vs. the olive oil I’d always used. And as I was out of horseradish mustard, I found that using good yellow mustard and some pure ground horseradish made for a great flavor.

Just about everyone had seconds of this salad after their steaks were gone. There was about a pint of the salad left over, which Zack packed up and took home with him.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I get the feeling he probably liked the porkless version just a little bit better …

Follow-Up to My Peeps Rant

Following my Peeps rant from the other day, the bin on the right was given to me by Mary and Briahna this morning. Fortunately, it was a joke Easter basket, filled with Peep bath toys, a Peeps coloring project, a 24-piece Peep puzzle for 4-year-olds, and a few pounds of the creatures themselves. Behind it is my real Easter basket, which was better as far as I’m concerned. My response to Mary and Briahna at the Bin ‘O Peeps? “Peep YOU!”