Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Best Darn Hot Dogs Around!

I’m sure by now you’ve realized I have a real zeal for ethnic and regional fare. Dishes that are found in one part of the country (or planet) but mostly (or sometimes completely) unknown in the rest. Normally I’d regale you with some anecdotal story of how a regional dish came to be. A romanticized tale of some foreigner packing up their life and heading to a new world, toiling in a kitchen perfecting the recipe for  (insert dish here) . Not so much with the Giovanni Hamburger of northern West Virginia. When I asked about the origin at one legendary restaurant I was told that “Everyone around here serves ‘em.” I’ve scoured the internet. Asked everyone I can think of. No one seems to know. Just informing me that “Everyone 'round there serves ‘em.”

003A terrific version of the Giovanni hamburger can be found at Ritzy Lunch in Clarksburg. The small diner in Stonewall Jackson’s home town was opened in 1933 by the Selario’s, Joseph and Mary. Joseph, an immigrant from Florenza, Italy toiled for the Coca Cola company before entering the restaurant business. Back in the day, Ritzy, as much as anything, catered to the movie crowd. Dinner and a movie at the neighbouring theatre was a way of life in the one of the sleepier corner of the US. 
This is the type of business that lends itself to a family legacy. Ritzy is no exception. At the age of 10 John Selario started working in the restaurant at lunch and after school. John learned the ropes and finally took over with his wife in 1970. By the 2000’s their son Antonio took over and is currently the third generation running the place. John can still be found patrolling the restaurant but his biggest job these days is organizing Bike Night. Every Thursday during the spring and summer months bikers from as far away as California descend on Ritzy Lunch, meet, greet, eat and play cornhole.

002Ritzy sits just off the historic downtown district right on the west bound part of the loop. (like in many towns, Main St. runs one way and one street over will head the opposite). It’s a small store front that just screams charm. Two park benches are usually occupied buy a local or two. Shaded by the awning above. The old sign is showing it’s age but, as I often say, it’s just part of the charm.

005Inside it’s your typical small town diner. Long and narrow with a counter on one side and booths on the other. There’s an open kitchen/prep station behind the counter and a second kitchen in the back. While it’s not one of those places that it seems time has forgotten, it really does have that charm associated with a venerable establishment.

Well enough of all that. Let’s get to the good stuff.

007I loved the Chili Cheese Fries. The frozen fries on their own would be fine. Just good fries you'd make at home and not complain. The addition of nacho cheese and their hotdog chili made them fantastic. What's more, the loose chili gave the thing a bit of a soupiness at the bottom that made the last fries more like a potato, chili cheese soup. It was great.

 006The beef and pork hot dogs, much like the ones we come across in these places are really not all that great in and of themselves. It's the combination of the dogs, chili, onions and mustard that makes them so much greater than that of their parts. We didn't even think about it but probably should've added cheese as well.

 008The Giovanni sandwich was amazing. It was a simple flat top hamburger cooked medium with Processed Cheese (yellow and white), hot peppers and pimentos. The whole thing is served up on white bread done grilled cheese style. West Virginia's version of the Green Chili Cheeseburger I suppose. Flat out awesome.

So there you go. A cool breakfast and lunch place in a nice little town.

You can find Ritzy Lunch at 456 West Pike St. Clarksburg, WVa.

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You can also find them on the web.
Ritzy Lunch on Urbanspoon
Ritzy Lunch on Foodio54
Well that’s all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.


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