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by Joedy McCreary
(Sunday, June 21)Hot dogs are more nostalgia than nutrition to Hoagy Carmichael.
One of the most loyal customers at Ritzy Lunch, Carmichael has frequented the Pike Street hot dog shop for about 40 years.
And that's why memories as thick as owner "Hot Dog Joe" Selario's secret Italian chili sauce come back to Carmichael every time he bites down into a juicy wiener.
"When I first started eating hot dogs here, my parents gave me a quarter to eat on," Carmichael explained. "They raised the price of hot dogs from a nickel to 7 cents. Two hot dogs were 14 cents, and a Coke was a nickel. After the tax, lunch cost 21 cents."
Carmichael's beloved blend of meat, Italian chili sauce, onions and mustard has become a staple of North Central West Virginia diets.
"That's what we call a West Virginia hot dog," Carmichael said. "It's a good combination. Very few places around the country do 'em that way."
West Virginia might never be mistaken for Coney Island. But more so than anywhere else in the state, hot dogs have a certain mystique about them in the North Central West Virginia area, said Carl Furbee.
"It's really a fascination with hot dogs," Furbee said. "When people leave here, they can't wait to get back for the hot dogs."
The hot dog industry has thrived for years in the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area, Carmichael said.
"The first thing you did was come for a hot dog," Carmichael said. "People getting out of World War II, they busted their rear ends for a hot dog."
And making West Virginia dogs so memorable is the chili, a local restaurateur said.
"We have a homemade chili that you won't find anywhere else except in North Central West Virginia," said Dave Henderson, owner of six area T&L Hot Dogs restaurants, including a '50s diner on Main Street.
"In places like Huntington, you won't find this type of chili," Henderson said.
Secrecy is the most important ingredient, Henderson said. The T&L chili recipe is the best-kept secret since the plot of the final "Seinfeld."
"I can't really say (what's in the chili)," Henderson said, "but I can say it's of the finest ingredients."
And hot dog connoisseur Larry Bell of Bridgeport doesn't mind what's in the sauce, as long as he gets plenty on his two hot dogs.
"The secret recipe of the chili sauce makes it good," Bell said. "I don't know what's in it, but it's good stuff."