Food On The Fly: Gas Station Food
“They want me to write about gas station food??” I gasped, grimacing at my computer screen in abject horror. The last time I considered a gas station as a grocery store was around the same time I thought ‘N Sync had a real shot at lasting success. These days the only thing this mainly vegetarian eater of organic produce picks up at the gas station is a hot temper staring at the gas prices. But, alas, it turns out that quality and flavor are still alive and well in some of Sarasota’s most unexpected kitchens, with these fuel stops having a few tricks hiding up their sleeves. Tricks that may have already lured me back for a second bite.
One Star Café—Fruitville Texaco: Fried Chicken
Head east and there you will find some of the best fried chicken on Fruitville or beyond. Just beyond I-75, a row of beautiful oak trees canopy over a Texaco station and its small picnic area. Picnic area? At a Texaco? Well, when what they’re serving up in the back has moved past finger-lickin’ good to bite-yourfinger- off good then, yes, a picnic area might be called for. This hidden gem has an array of stick-to-your-ribs meals perfect for the truckers looking to fill up their tanks—yes, metaphorically—before their big trips. Forego the meatloaf and French fries and ask for the fried chicken. (Feeling frisky? Ask for the fried livers and gizzards that go with it.) The skin is super crispy while the meat itself is über moist. Go ahead and load up on the hot sauces at the counter, but with all the flavors in this bird, you won’t need ‘em.
19 East Rd, Sarasota; 941-377-3262
Alday’s BBQ—Save-On: Everything
A modern yet modest-looking food truck sits on the corner of Bahia Vista and Beneva, sending the scent of barbecue wafting down the busy street. The wood fire is ablaze right near the truck’s tires and Jeff Alday, who has been oakwood-smoking his cuts of meat—pork, beef brisket, spare ribs, and chicken—since the early ’80s, continues to work toward perfection. Now, I’m a sucker for pulled pork, insistent that if God exists He smells like barbecue, and Alday’s made me wonder if perhaps their recipes aren’t heaven sent. Alday’s uses no basting sauce on its meats, letting the signature smoky taste shine through while the meat is so fall-offthe- bone tender a sock puppet could enjoy it. But go ahead and drown it in some of that thick, sweet sauce as it only makes the experience even better.
1135 Beneva Rd, Sarasota; 941-928-2279 aldaysbbq.com
McAshton Café—BP station: Tamales
Breakfast or lunch, McAshton Café has tamales that’ll put a bigger smile on your face than any Happy Meal could. From 6am to 2pm this open kitchen fries up all manner of things, from eggs to steaks. But the tamales, legend has it, are the real star. The chicken tamales, either mild or hot, are snuggly wrapped in a steamed cornhusk, creating an all at once juicy yet dry mouthful, offering the best of both worlds. A tad spicy with a hint of sweetness, it’s no wonder why tamales have been around for 10,000 years. With a few tables and chairs underneath the barn-style roof, this kitchen may not pass muster as a full-blown restaurant but it sure hits the spot for lunch.
5321 McIntosh Rd, Sarasota; 941-926-7118
Max’s Market: Gyro
If you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, then you certainly shouldn’t judge a gyro by its gas station. Max’s Market, an unassuming little spot on Stickney Point, may be offering chips and sodas within its small square footage, but also has some mighty fine Greek treats. Syrupy baklavas and kalamata olive–studded salads line the counter, but the real gem swirls on a spit in the corner. A cone of meat, a mix of lamb and beef, may seem out of place at this station, but one bite of that warm, fluffy pita bread loaded with tender, juicy slices of meat under a mound of homemade tzatziki won’t seem remotely out of place in your mouth. Get it topped with lettuce, onion, and tomatoes for a sandwich worth savoring.
2616 Stickney Point Rd, Sarasota; 941-921-9287
Super Day Express: Everything
For years locals have known that the Super Day Express is the place to meet their culinary needs. Wine? Check. Cannoli? Check. Pizza? Coming right up. From dinner to dessert, Super Day’s got you covered. The ribs and coleslaw are legit, and the pizza is right on point. Cheesy, salty, crunchy—sometimes nothing hits the spot quite like a nice slice of pie. Some locals say you shouldn’t dream of leaving without a Greek salad, while others swear that the cheesecake is the best you’ll find outside of New York. This bakery is, by far, worth the visit.
1595 S McCall Rd, Port Charlotte; 941-697-1556
Pik ‘N Run: Italian
I went on a lot of college road trips in my day where gas stations provided a bathroom break, a good leg stretch, and perhaps a meal made out of Combos and Slim Jims. Had I ever found a full Italian deli at one of our stops I might have parked my car once and for all. The popularity of the Italian deli in the Pik’ N Run extends beyond the pump, as they offer catering to the town. Italian-style pizzas, calzones, strombolis and more are offered hot and fresh alongside garlic knots and lasagna. You can also get your fill of chicken wings, potato balls, and fried chicken. This flagship store may be onto something.
20101 Peachland Blvd Suite 301, Port Charlotte; 941-255-1157; piknrun.com
Scotty’s—Marathon station: Pulled Pork Sandwich
Sandwiches that come in silver foil aren’t always that special, but that’s certainly not the case at Scotty’s. This hideaway may be tucked inside a Marathon gas station, but don’t let the decor fool you. Their menu boasts quite a variety, from portobello to steak sandwiches and Cubans to hot dogs. But the pulled-pork sandwich is sure to satisfy. Slow-smoked and smothered in that rich and tangy North Carolina– style barbecue sauce, this is something any good Southerner can get behind. The meat is cut into beautifully tender chunks, making for a very juicy mouthful. Served on a dense and squishy roll, this is the kind of lunch you hope gets stuck in your teeth.
6212 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941- 921-7441