A fine Cuban from a New Port Richey Citgo.
Never buy your food where you buy your gas.
This is one of 64 eating principles that food writer Michael Pollan outlines in his 2009 book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.
“Except perhaps for the milk and water,” Pollan writes of gas station offerings, “it’s all highly processed, imperishable snack foods and extravagantly sweetened soft drinks in hefty 20-ounce bottles.”
OK, yes. This foodie intellectual — who penned acclaimed books on food and nutrition like In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and once said
his guilty pleasure is gas station-stocked Cracker Jacks — knows what he’s talking about.
But is the tenet in question infallible?
If a gas station is clean (gasp!), prepares fresh grub without high-fructose corn syrup, follows food safety regulations and meets whatever other personal requirements you need to to feel all right about ordering from its sandwich counter, would Pollan want you dining there?
I can’t be certain, but a Pasco County Citgo, a BP in Riverview and India’s Grill in Tampa are among the troves of “unexpected deliciousness,” as the grandmother of a friend put it, that I consider tasty exceptions to Pollan’s 57th rule.
And they’re not serving up fast-food chain fare, either.
Don’t skip lunch
At the corner of Little Road and Old County Road 54 in New Port Richey, a Citgo gas station presses and dresses fresh Cuban sandwiches for hungry stoppers.
Orders are placed at the deli counter, and a variety of premade sammies are featured in a cold case. The Cubans come in two sizes, small ($4.99) and large ($5.99).
When the clerk asks if you’d like it pressed, say yes. Both halves of the sandwich are buttered and separated on the press, which allows the Cuban to reach its maximum level of warm, melty goodness when put together again.
The sammie gets a schmear of mustard and a layer of pickles once it’s toasted, and more condiments may be added if desired.
Although my dining compatriot believes the store uses white American cheese rather than Swiss, she said the ham, salami and pork, nestled in the fresh loaf, made for a flavorful Cuban that tasted like it was crafted in a restaurant.
4015 Little Road, New Port Richey, 727-375-7750.
Do follow your nose
You smell pleasant hints of barbecue while making your way into one Riverview BP.
Trust Me BBQ (featured in CL's 2013 Food Issue) operates inside, and tips on where to find the best gas station eats wouldn’t be complete without this joint.
If there’s not a line out the door when you arrive, consider yourself lucky. From jerk chicken to spare ribs, its menu is stacked with Jamaican-influenced barbecue. The meals (starting at about $6) come with two sides, including items such as mac and cheese, garlic-roasted potato and peach cobbler. A friend and I ordered the pulled pork last week, and it was tender and sweet.
There are a few tables and chairs for dining indoors, and picnic table-style seating outside. Chowing down in a parked car, like we did, works, too, and adds to the charm.
8624 U.S. 301 S., Riverview, 813-374-2284.
Don’t just stop for gas
India’s Grill along Kennedy Boulevard isn’t located inside the BP with which it shares a small plaza, but diners can still pump gas and grab real grub all in one stop.
With plenty of booth seating, this hole-in-the-wall eatery offers Indian favorites like biryanis, vindaloos and tandoori breads ($3-16). Plus, it has more than 30 veg-friendly options.
Catch the hearty lunch buffet every day from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
4843 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-319-4015.