The South has its highways, but in order to get to some places, you have to take four-lane or two-lane roads. That’s where you’ll find gas stations. And in many gas stations, you’ll find food.
Up north, hardly anybody I know eats food from a gas station, unless they’re starving and it has a Subway attached. Down south, gas station food is its own form of cuisine. If you’re fortunate, you can score breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in a good gas station, which may also have its own booths and dining tables.
At bare minimum, a gas station worth its salt (or fat) will serve breakfast – primarily a biscuit. This is usually a chicken, country ham or sausage biscuit. It is as far from Grape-Nuts as breakfast can get. I had resisted the biscuit breakfast until I was on the road from Birmingham, Alabama, to West Point, Georgia.
I passed a gas station that offered “Hot Biscuits & Full Breakfast, Live Bait, Hunting and Fishing Supplies.” Inside, I bought plain biscuits. They were fine, and flaky, and filled my mid-morning needs. But I knew there was more out there.
I found gas stations that featured barbecue, gas stations with fried catfish (many proudly displaying a “raised in the USA sign”) and gas stations with fried chicken. I found gas stations with a head-spinning, rainbow variety of frozen drinks that actually scared me.
I really struck gold at the Dodge’s Chicken Store in Lexington, Tennessee. It isn’t technically a gas station, but a restaurant with an adjacent gas station. The signs offered the trinity: chicken, barbecue and catfish.
Inside, people were jostling each other to get up to the counter. The variety was enormous and the prices divine: $2.99 for a pulled pork sandwich, $5.99 a pound for barbecue, $2.59 for a slab of catfish. There was corn on the cob, fried corn on the cob, hush puppies, mac and cheese. And, there were fried hand pies, a little bigger than a McDonald’s pie.
Since I knew I’d be eating a big lunch, I asked for a small piece of catfish and a sweet potato pie. The counter girl looked disappointed: “Aren’t you going to have any sides?” she asked. It was a perfect snack, and a terrific example of gas station food.