Welcome to the photo series Eater Scenes, in which photographers visit some of the world's great restaurants to capture them at a certain, and very specific, point in the day. Today, writer/photographer Jordan G. Teicher visits a West Virginia roadside attraction best known for its over-the-top creations.
In the 1940s, Sonny Knight's parents owned a modest hot dog stand on this stretch of road on the banks of the Ohio River in Lesage, West Virginia. But Knight never aspired to enter the family business until 1999. He was a married man by then, simply looking for a way to make his new bride Sharie's monthly car payment.
Back then, the pair couldn't have guessed that the 12-by-16-foot Hillbilly Hot Dogs stand they built in the front yard of Sonny's childhood home would become the sprawling global destination that it is today. In addition to a trove of kitschy knick-knacks and country curiosities, the couple has added two buses outfitted with tables for dining, a Sugar Shack for ice cream, and a cluttered assortment of other buildings and displays. And it's continuing to grow: In a few weeks the Knights will debut the Hillbilly Weddin' Chapel, an "all-inclusive, one-of-a-kind weddin' experience fer you and yer sweetie," which Sonny says is already booked for one wedding and 11 vow renewals.
The down-home vibe is a draw, but for hot dog pilgrims from around the world, the main attraction is still the food, particularly the establishment's inventive takes on the hot dog, including the Pinneappleachian (BBQ sauce, country ham, shredded cheese, and crushed pineapple) and the Ala Beefy Weenie (American cheese, nacho cheese, bacon, mac wedge, homemade chili sauce and shredded cheese).
During a recent Sunday-afternoon lunch service, the crowd — a mix of traveling bikers, out-of-state tourists, and a small minority of locals — also indulged in the selection of hamburgers, sandwiches, and vegetarian offerings (a.k.a. "Rabbit Fixin's). A brave few tried the Homewrecker ($19.99), a 15-inch, one-pound, deep-fried weenie bedecked with jalapeños, sautèed peppers and onions, nacho cheese, habanero, chili sauce, mustard, slaw, lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese. Customers who manage to "git-r-done" in less than 12 minutes get a free t-shirt. The current record holder, Ron Cash Clark, did it in two minutes, 31 seconds in 2011. Sonny has attempted it to no avail about a dozen times in the last decade. "I've given up on it now," he says.
In the gallery above, watch a Hillbilly Hot Dog lunch rush unfold.