BOB EASTLEY: Falling in love with gas station cuisine

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve notice that my palate has changed, and I enjoy foods that I didn’t care for at a younger age.

I prefer dry wine to sweet, dark chocolate over milk, and I’ve even developed a taste for beets. No, really. In my twenties, I’d have been happy with canned soup and boring old pot roast. However, it seems that my taste buds have become more sophisticated (they have, but I haven’t). Now I rather crave beef bourguignon and tomato bisque and baklava and some other B-word foods that nobody can spell or pronounce.

However, lest you think I’m getting all snooty and hoity-toity, I have a confession to make (drum roll, please).

I love gas station pizza. I mean I absolutely CRAVE gas station pizza. There, I said it. Wow, I feel so liberated. I don’t know what it is, but something about the smell of pizza by the slice or fried chicken mixed with the sweet aroma of gasoline fumes just sends my taste buds into a frickin’ finger-lickin’ frenzy (try that five times fast).

I think I need to begin a new career as the Midwest counterpart of those New York restaurant critics. You know, the kind who grace some establishment with their presence, consume $400 worth of free exotic food and wine, and then have the temerity (I just got a new thesaurus) to write something snotty in the New Yorker. Of course, I’ll need a cool new food critic handle/alias. How about Epicurious George? That has a nice ring to it.

Anyhow, I picture myself cruising through rural Michigan in search of the perfect gas station or convenience store cuisine. Presentation will be important. If it’s tanning itself in the warming oven, equidistant between the 5-Hour Energy display and the cash register, well, that’s as good as it gets.

I already know of several great haunts. If you’re riding your bike on the rail trail through Hersey, and find you’re feeling a bit peckish (I like that word), there’s a gas station there that will sell you a big, square, half-acre slice of pizza that is absolutely life-changing. The fact that you can snarf it down at a picnic table within twenty feet of the gas pumps only adds to its appeal.

There’s a little store in Rogers Heights where a very nice woman with pretty cool body art will sell you a complete dinner with chicken tenders that almost melt in your mouth. And, if you’re on a road trip, there’s a station in Lake Isabella that my wife says has the best pizza on the planet. When I lived in Houghton in the 70’s, I knew someone who drove 100 miles to Marquette just to go to McDonalds. That seemed a little excessive, but I’d drive 30 miles for this pizza.

There’s also a station in Hesperia that not only has pizza, but specializes in “fry it and buy it” cuisine. So, after slogging around the White River in search of the elusive salmon, you can treat yourself to fish or chicken or French fries or hushpuppies or anything else that greases your fancy. Just pick your poison.

So, I’m off to start my new career. If you see someone licking his fingers and taking notes in some out-of-the-way establishment, it’s probably me. Be sure to say hi. Remember to call me George.

 

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