BUCKHANNON – When Dave Corley and four of his Buckhannon-Upshur High School Class of 1967 classmates began meeting up to plan their 50th class reunion, they had no idea that process would pave the way for countless future reunions – usually over hot dogs.
Or pizza, or the occasional Giovanni sandwich or even lemon meringue pie.
Corley and his wife, Diane, opted to escape the city life and the traffic and hurricanes that accompanied it in Newport News, Virginia, and move back to Buckhannon in 2014.
Following their relocation, Corley was soon tapped to work on the Class of 1967’s 50th reunion committee.
A retired educator and basketball coach, Corley knew his classmates, but he didn’t know them that well.
They were friendly acquaintances, after all – not necessarily his best friends.
That is, until one day, when he and a handful of them began discussing where you could find the best pizza in the region.
“During that process, this group of us working on the committee – a couple of us were friends, a couple of us weren’t, and it was one of those, ‘I knew you in high school, but we really didn’t know each other’– but the more we got to working, we became a really close-knit unit. And then, just jokingly, we were always talking about, ‘Let’s go get pizza, where’s the best pizza in the area?’”
One day, Steve Abel was sure he had the answer: Brenda’s Pizzeria in Oakland, Maryland.
“And all of the sudden, Steve Abel said, ‘The best pizza I’ve ever had was in Deep Creek, Maryland.’ So, I said, ‘Well, let’s go!’ … So, he and Terry Reed and I went to Deep Creek one day, ate pizza and came back.”
But someone else in the group of five friends, which grew to include Corley, Reed, Abel, Fred Kelley of Fairmont and Scott Andrew, disagreed about the ‘best pizza’ designation, so they took another restaurant-bound road trip. And another. And another.
And that’s how the Boys of ’67 were born. Their 50th class reunion might be over, but now the five take a trip typically once a month to test out various restaurants, including pizza joints, downhome restaurants and hot dog stands.
Hot dogs are their favorite, and since so many people have different ideas about what goes into crafting a standout hot dog, the Boys of ’67 decided to see if they could reach a consensus.
Over the past years, they’ve eaten hot dogs in five states: West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Corley said. They once logged 11 hours and 388 miles on a trip to Lexington, Virginia, where they consumed three large pizzas and two large sub-style sandwiches at Frank’s Pizza & Subs.
Then, they hopped back on the highway, bound for Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they feasted on hot dogs at Jess’ Lunch Downtown.
“We’ve become quite the food critics,” Corley said with a smile. “We’ll sit there, and we’ll say, ‘the service here’s really gotten worse’ or ‘it really wasn’t as good as last time.’ We’re terrible among ourselves. We really are food critics, even if we’re terrible ones. After a while you start noticing things you’ve never noticed before.”
So, who has the best hot dogs in the five-state area? There’s no simple answer, Corley said.
“There’s two favorite hot dog [places], but one stands alone over here because you have to like hot – I mean like, Oliverio pepper hot,” he explained.
It’s Yann’s Hot Dog Stand under the old bridge on Washington Street in Fairmont, and it has its quirks.
For one, the owner makes exactly 1,000 hot dogs a day, and when the last one is claimed, he closes shop. Also, at Yann’s, ketchup doesn’t qualify as an acceptable condiment.
“You can’t get anything except his chili sauce, mustard and onions,” Corley said. “That’s the way the hot dogs come. Don’t ask for ketchup, relish, coleslaw – anything else.”
Yann’s inspired the Boys of ’67 to adopt the tradition of drinking chocolate milk to wash down their hot dogs; now, they wouldn’t consider pairing them with any other beverage.
“We’ve gotten into that tradition now,” Corley said. “If we eat hot dogs, we have chocolate milk.”
Yann’s is far and away the best if one prefers hot, hot dogs – “it gets in, and it’s a slow burn,” Corley says – but Tubby’s Café in Clarksburg takes the cake for the average hot dog. Tubby’s sauce is just “fabulous,” he said. Plus, the five friends enjoy snacking on the free popcorn available while they wait for their food.
The second-best hot dog shop is Bert’s Dog Shop in Atlasburg, Pennsylvania, located on the outskirts of Washington, followed by Woody’s Restaurant in Fairmont.
The Boys of ’67 can also tell you where not to travel for hot dogs, and in general, that encompasses the Huntington area. They found an article online titled something along the lines of “The 10 Best Hot Dogs in West Virginia,” and two of the 10 venues were in the Huntington area.
So, about a month ago, they packed into Abel’s eight-passenger Nissan SUV and headed south for Stewart’s Original Hot Dogs and Hillbilly Hot Dogs.
That was big mistake, Corley said.
“The worst hot dogs we’ve ever had,” Corley said, visibly cringing. “We usually order three each. But at both places, we each ate one and threw the rest of them away they were so bad.”
Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, W.Va. is supposed to have the best hot dogs in the Mountain State, but the Boys of ’67 beg to differ.
“I think it’s more about the ambiance than the food because it looks like an old Beverly Hillbillies’ junkyard with license plates, hubcaps, a love chapel over here, an outbuilding over here,” Corley recalled. “You eat in an old school bus with seats, and that was interesting, but they don’t know how to make hot dogs.
“They take the bun. Then they put the sauce on first, then they put the chili. And then they put the hot dog on top of it, and by the time you get it, it’s just falling apart,” he explained. “We’ve told people, ‘Don’t waste your time. They don’t know how to make hot dogs in southern West Virginia.’”
Since fall 2017, the friends have traveled to nearly 10 eateries that specialize in hot dogs and about as many where pizza is the primary focus. Aside from hot dogs, they’ve agreed the best pizza is sliced at Brenda’s Pizzeria in the Deep Creek, Maryland area, followed by Frank’s Pizza & Subs in Lexington, Virginia.
Although the group has five “core” members, they’ve permitted two honorary members to tag along when they’re in town: Dave Shingleton from St. Louis, Missouri, and Bill Murphy from Los Angeles, California.
“When they come, they’re allowed to go with us, but other than that, it’s just us five,” Corley said.
In fact, Shingleton recently accompanied them to their top pick for the most delectable homemade pies – the Philippi Inn.
“We have a Facebook page and every day, I’m posting the menu from the Philippi Inn, and he (Shingleton) came in, and he said, ‘Let’s go!’ so tomorrow he’s coming with our group, and we’re all going to the Philippi inn for Giovanni sandwiches and their pies.”
The inn’s kitchen staff bakes about five fresh pies a day, including lemon meringue pies, chocolate pies, coconut cream pies and peanut butter pies.
The Philippi Inn has a place in their hearts because it’s where they picked up the special tradition of paying it forward.
One day, the group had ordered a whole pie, and the server had cut it up into six slices. Soon after, Corley spotted a friendly-looking older couple, probably in their 80s, sitting in a corner.
“I said, ‘I’m going to take that last slice over to them,’ so I took it over to them, and they were very kind and nice. They were just a nice-looking older couple in their 80s, and I later found out they come there all the time. They never said a word when they left.”
But when the fabulous five asked for their bill, they discovered the older couple had already paid it for their meal.
“That’s over $100 when you start adding it up,” Corley said. “We found out who they were; they could afford it, but they didn’t have to do it. So now we have incorporated that when we go somewhere, we pay it forward.”
Corley, Reed, Kelley, Abel and Andrew always select a person or party whose tab they pre-pay.
“That really affected us,” Corley said, “so now we always look for somebody to pay it forward to, so there’s been some good things that have come out of this other than everyone listening to our opinions on hot dogs.”
Best friendships have also grown through the group’s adventures.
“We use the phrase, ‘We all grew up,’ because when we came back and started working on this reunion, none of us knew anybody’s personality, because we hadn’t been in contact for so long,” Corley said. “The five of us just kind of meshed, and now we’re best friends.
“Some of the people, who, when I came back that I thought were going to be my great friends, I had nothing in common with – I mean, nothing. Those things that mattered in high school – what club you were in, who you hung out with or who your parents were – that doesn’t matter anymore. So, it’s come full circle, but it’s a really good feeling.”