Sunday, May 27, 2012

Don’t Ask

Because I don’t know.

I don’t know what? Where the name Skeeter's E.N. Umberger Store came from.

A visit to Wytheville requires at least one stop at Skeeter’s, “an amazing corner lunch counter in the sleepy small town of Wytheville, Virginia…. It's a neighborhood spot filled with antique soda signs and a wrap-around counter packed with locals. And table service….” (

I don’t know how to describe Skeeter’s. It exists in a time and place of its own. There is a long lunch counter which, when we arrived at just before noon, was empty, but by the time we left was filled with happy munchers. The best I can determine, Skeeter’s dates from the mid-1920’s and the counter stools, floor, and kick-plates are most certainly originals.

The walls are decorated with signs promoting products that you might think have faded into oblivion. But such is not the case with Grapette Soda “that was first produced and marketed in 1939 by Tyrone ‘Tyndle’ Fooks. Grapette is now produced by Grapette International, and is marketed in the United States by Wal-Mart as part of its Sam's Choice line of soft drinks” (

But N. T. Swezey’s Son & Co. Flour (“Only Perfect Flour Makes Perfect Bread”) (sign on the right in the photo above) exists today only on the collectibles market in the form of signs and bread baskets.

Skeeter’s serves breakfast and lunch. The lunch menu contains a list basic sandwiches—BBQ (with slaw at no additional charge), spiced ham, baked ham, bologna, cheese, turkey and bacon, and BLT. The BLT, at $3.59, is the highest priced item on the menu.

But during our lunch no one ordered any of these. Because you come to Skeeter’s for one thing only—hot dogs. “Skeeter dogs are a rather simple dog. Plain white hot dog buns with red weiners. Both are
steamed. They come in a variety of options but the ‘Works’ dog is the home run. Topped with onion, mustard, cheese sauce, chili, and creamy coleslaw, the magic takes place. Each component of the ‘Works’ dog is nothing all that special in and of itself. It's the sum that's far greater than that of its parts. I'm not sure what kind of witchcraft they practice in there, but the balance of flavors is just perfect” (

Now let me start my saying that I really don’t like hot dogs unless they are the Sonoran Dogs served at El Guero Canelo in Tucson. But I usually have some in the freezer because they make a quick and
painless supper after a long day of touring. Still, I can understand why Skeeter’s can claim to have sold nine million since 1925. (If you don’t believe that, just look at how many packages of hot dog buns are stacked on the shelves.)

The dogs are “the unnaturally bright red variety, pork and chicken skinless Valleydale Brand franks apparently colored with the same red dye that's used for cough syrup. Southerners are proud of their red hot dogs—yes, underneath it's usually the same old cheap hot dog, but something about the color adds to the ‘mystique’ of it all” (

For me, it was two
“slaw” dogs ($1.85 each) with chili, slaw, onions, and mustard (right). Except I “held the mustard.” (I am also not fond of yellow hot dog mustard.) For Chuck, it was one regular with mustard, onion, and chili and one regular with onion only (below).

The dogs come nestled into steamed buns on napkins—no plates. My Slaw Dogs came
“literally buried under chili, mustard, ultra creamy slaw that's almost more of a sauce, and super finely diced fresh onions…. The fresh tasting, mild chili has none of the Greek flavor or heat that you find in some places…” ( And sides are limited to your choice of bagged salty snacks.

I won’t even try to assign an Addie rating to Skeeter’s and you may
be thinking that this is not a place worthy of a mandatory pilgrimage. But you would be wrong. As red B. at said:
“Another absolutely iconic Southern chili dog joint—and make no mistake, it is a joint…. Folks who come need to understand what this place, and others like it, are—they serve a Southern chili dog that consists of a red wiener, meaty chili with some flavor, on a soft soggy bun, with a healthy smear of mustard, freshly cut onions, and/or a creamy cole slaw…. There is no bath room available, and there is no lemon for your water. They have other sandwiches, but why bother. If you don't adore vintage Southern chili dogs, you'll want to pass this place by.”

As we paid our bill, we stopped to slip a dollar into the Wythe County Humane Society collection box and set forth for a drive through the mountains.

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