“A hot dog without chili is not a hot dog!” proclaims John Selario, known in Clarksburg as Hot Dog John. Mr. Selario’s parents opened Ritzy Lunch in 1933, and he shows us pictures of his father in front of the same storefront some time in the 1940s when hot dogs are listed on the window for seven cents each, hamburgers a dime. “Ritzy lunch has always been known for hot dogs,” he tells us. “Clarksburg itself is an important hot dog town, not so much because of the weenies but because of the way we make our chili. There are so many immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants – Greeks and Italians, mostly – that when we spice up our chili, we know how to do it right!”
Hot Dog John will get no argument from us. His dogs are lovely little pups, buried deep inside a steamed-soft bun and topped with a zesty ground-beef sauce that is gently peppered and earthy-flavored. If you want to add a sweet note, ask for a layer of cole slaw to go atop the chili – a popular configuration in this cute little diner and throughout much of West Virginia.
Although hot dogs reign, consider sampling a special kind of hamburger in one of Ritzy’s old wooden booths. Listed on the menu as a Giovanni, it is a patty of meat topped with melted cheese and roasted peppers, served between two slices of butter-and-garlic-infused toast. Excellent!
Ritzy Lunch is an immensely happy place with a neighborhood tavern feel, where old friends and town characters hang out on the ancient counter stools to kibbitz back and forth among each other and the waitresses and where, on any pleasant day, two or three wise-acres are likely to be found out on the sidewalk joshing with each other and making friends with newcomers.
Clarksburg has many culinary wonders, including several top-notch Italian restaurants and Tomaro’s bakery; but no culinary tour is complete without a chili dog and a little conversation at Ritzy Lunch.