Grab some seriously good grub at Alabama gas stations
By Jennifer Kornegay
There’s a childhood memory that replays in my mind almost any time I step in a gas station convenience store. One day a week, after my mom picked my brother and me up from school, she’d take us to a gas station where we were allowed to buy a Coke and a chocolate bar. These simple but significant events permanently aligned “gas stations” and “treats” in my mind. Today, gas stations all over the country have expanded their offerings beyond candy, chips and soft drinks. Hungry motorists can find brand-name pizza, fried chicken and more waiting under glowing red heat lamps. Still other gas stations take things a step farther with full restaurants inside. These selections put the convenience in “convenience store,” creating one-stop spots to fill both your car’s tank and your tummy.
Alabama is blessed with multiple gas station eateries scattered around the state that dish out distinct meals made by locals and are unique to their location. In these, you’ll find pulled pork, tacos al pastor, Southern staples and even Cajun favorites. And in some, an off-the-menu item also holds large appeal: the opportunity to swap smiles plus the latest news over food-laden Styrofoam to-go boxes. Here are just a few to check out.
Satsuma Chevron Breakfast and BBQ
6105 Highway 43, Satsuma
Every day, Satsuma Chevron Breakfast and BBQ meets the breakfast, lunch and dinner needs of around 2,000 people, and its breakfast gumbo accounts for 1,000 of the meals served. The name hints at what it is — cheese grits, scrambled eggs, patty sausage, bacon, Conecuh sausage, scallions and pepper sauce layered in a bowl — and at owner Chris Beasley’s heritage. “My family is from Louisiana, and to us, gumbo can be really any amalgamation of things,” he says. The entire menu is a gumbo of sorts – a mashup of Alabama barbecue (ribs and pulled pork), soothing sides (cornbread and mac-n-cheese) and Cajun classics (red beans and rice).
Beasley’s parents Bill and Kitty opened the Chevron almost 30 years ago, and while semi-retired, they still help Chris, who now oversees the operation. “It’s our Louisiana roots; we all love to cook and share it with others,” he says, “so we started the food about 20 years ago.”
The breakfast gumbo was the Beasleys’ response to the realization that diners were craving a fast, easy and tasty morning meal. The hefty bowl ticks every box; proof is the line that’s 40-50 people deep most Friday mornings, despite the fact there’s no sign alerting passersby of the deliciousness waiting past the pumps.
Beasley claims sourcing the best building blocks for his selections is the only advertising needed. He uses organic seasonings for the 60 pork butts he smokes and pulls each week, Pelugra butter, organic cage-free eggs, and applewood-smoked, center-cut bacon to add smoke and fat to silky turnip greens. “I’m a fanatic about quality ingredients; I’m happy to make less but serve a premium product,” he says. “I think it’s why 10 years ago, we were a gas station that sold some food, and today, we’re a restaurant that just happens to sell gas.”
2391 Pineapple Highway, Greenville
Alabama is covered up in barbecue joints. Even the smallest small town usually has at least one. So, it’s easy to find ‘cue (and it’s hard to find bad ‘cue). But exceptional barbecue — tender, moist and flavorful — isn’t as ubiquitous. And you just never know where you’ll find it. One safe bet is BBQ 65, which occupies one side of a gas station sitting a stone’s throw from Exit 128 off I-65.
According to manager Tawana Lawson, while she opts for ribs, the pulled pork wins the popularity prize here, and one bite tells you why. The threads and hunks of smoky pork topped with pickle rounds, pressed between bun slices or stuffed into a baked potato are juicy enough to go without sauce, but a drizzle of the cardinal red condiment in the tables’ squeeze bottles adds a punch of spice and tang.
Lawson notes that the small dining space decorated with farm-animal-themed art is “always hopping” around lunch, pulling both locals from in town and travelers off the interstate. They come to pig out on the afore-mentioned pork options as well as barbecue-smothered nachos, chicken wings, fluffy corn casserole, fried green tomatoes and syrupy peaches nestled in buttery cobbler crust.
3435 Highway 157, Danville
For just over 50 years, Wiggins Grocery has fronted a stretch of highway in north central Alabama and provided those traveling this road with gas, icy libations and even some produce just picked from a nearby farm in summer. But if you’ve got a bit more time and a hankering for healthy helpings of meat-n-three standards, continue past the plastic bags of peanuts and coolers of Cokes into the attached restaurant, which has been piling plates with selections from its hot bar for 35 years.
Mickey Wiggins is matter of fact when remembering why he added the eatery, what he calls a “working man’s restaurant.” “There wasn’t anything close by with good food at that time, so the market was wide open. I thought, ‘Why not?’” he says. He filled the void and found a rotating menu that keeps regulars and visitors happy: chicken and dressing on Mondays, tender pot roast on Tuesdays (Wiggins’ favorite), classic chicken and dumplings on Wednesdays, meatloaf on Thursdays and juicy hamburger steak and golden-fried catfish on Fridays. Each protein is surrounded with a variety of sides like velvety mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, corn muffins and more. Hamburgers and fries are always available, as is a sit-down breakfast of pancakes, eggs, country ham, bacon, grits and biscuits. “You can also get a biscuit to go, but a lot of people like to sit down and hang around a bit; we’re a good gathering place,” Wiggins says.
17960 Highway 98, Foley
When your gas gauge is leaning toward “E,” your eyes start scanning the road for familiar signs: a yellow sea scallop or stacked red and blue “Vs.” When your stomach is low on fuel, you also search for signs. In Foley, a big pink pig on a pedestal declaring “Baldwin County’s Best BBQ” is your cue to slow down and pull into the bustling Chevron dubbed The Depot, where you’ll find more proclamations of porcine delights inside.
The little lunch counter in the store’s corner keeps the promise. Fall-off-the-bone ribs and pulled pork are the stars here, joined by a supporting cast of red-skin potato salad, slaw and mac ‘n cheese. But this spot doesn’t limit its selections to the usual barbecue shack suspects; pork egg rolls, burritos, tamales, fried chicken livers and corn dogs round out the offerings.
The Mentone Market
5872 Highway 117, Mentone
Mentone has several top-notch dining options to choose from despite the Lookout Mountain town’s diminutive size. One of them just happens to be a gas station. Although calling The Mentone Market a gas station, while accurate, falls short. It does have pumps and the requisite convenience store items. But its walls are also lined with a diverse selection of goods and art (hot sauce, pottery, jams and more), many from Mentone and Alabama makers, for your perusing pleasure.
The shopping provides a nice way to fill the minutes as you wait for your lunch, offered Thursday through Sunday. The line-up includes hot dogs smothered in homemade chili; potatoes baked to fluffy perfection and topped with crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese and pulled pork; meatball subs; club sandwiches; BLTs; fresh-baked pizzas and scoops of black-pepper-flecked chicken salad. The last two are top sellers; owner Kathryn Norris shares why. “We make almost everything fresh, from scratch, like our dressings, and we take a lot of extra care to turn out a great pizza crust,” she says. “The chicken salad is really simple, no onion or nuts, basically chicken, mayo, salt, pepper and a little celery, but that’s why people like it.” Save a little room for some rich M&M or peanut butter fudge to end the experience on a sweet note.
2105 E 2nd Street, Gulf Shores
“Buying Barge-N is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love feeding people, and so many of those who come eat with us are now friends,” says Melissa Woodson, who’s owned the little eatery tucked into a Chevron on a busy corner in Gulf Shores since 2004. She and her husband left it and its name much as it was when they purchased the gas station. “It was Barge-N before, which is funny, because Barge is actually a family name for us,” she says.
Today, it’s frequented by visitors and lots of locals, including one gentleman who eats three meals a day at Barge-N. Its comforting fare is a cut above fast food, but there’s an additional distinction: Barge-N is farm-to-table. “I bought a farm this summer, and we’ve been doing dishes with veggies I grow. That’s gone over real well,” Woodson says.
Popular items include green beans, potato salad, fried chicken livers, hushpuppies, squash casserole (made with just-picked crooknecks), banana nut bread and fried chicken, which “people can’t seem to get enough of,” Woodson says. What they don’t mess with is the beloved Barge-N chicken salad, which is a dish original to the spot.
While Barge-N is known for its country cookin’, Woodson claims the side of warm welcome it’s served with is the key ingredient in the eatery’s success. “Our girls, our staff, they are so hospitable; that brings people back,” she says.
Los Compadres Mexican Grill
13771 Highway 231-431 North, Hazel Green
In a north Alabama BP station, Los Compadres Mexican Grill greets diners with apple-green walls, lacy cut-paper banners and rainbow-striped blankets overhead. The bold colors combine with bouncy Latin music to set a friendly mood that matches the restaurant’s name, but it’s the shatteringly crisp chips, still warm from the fryer, and basic but perfectly balanced tomato salsa that really elicit smiles from customers as they dip and munch while awaiting their orders in cozy booths.
The restaurant is small, but the menu is vast, featuring enchiladas, fajitas, tortas, nachos and specialties like camarones botaneros (spicy grilled shrimp served with onions) and a Philly cheese steak burrito. The standouts are the authentic street tacos: fresh corn tortillas over-stuffed with pineapple-simmered-pork or tomato-seasoned, shredded chicken dressed with cilantro, diced white onion and a squeeze of zesty lime.
There’s really no shortage of gas station food stops across Alabama, and all of them have their ardent fans. Here’s just a sampling.
Cuzz’s Hwy 43 North
34155 Highway 43, Thomasville, AL
Steve Sheffield, manager, Clarke-Washington EMC: “I love Cuzz’s. From casseroles in the store to fried chicken in the restaurant to the EV chargers in the parking lot, it’s got something for everybody. You don’t want to pass by it on Hwy. 43 and not take it all in. We’re excited to provide electricity to such a neat place.”
Waterfront Bay Grocery and Tackle
6955 Scottsboro Hwy., Scottsboro, AL
Groceries, bait, fishing tackle, deli food, ice and fuel.
Cade Whorton, Boaz: “Every time we have a fishing tournament on Guntersville Lake, we make sure to stop by Waterfront to get a thick-sliced bologna sandwich for breakfast. It makes getting up so early, not so bad.”
200 W Main St., Hartford, AL
Brad Kimbro, chief operating officer, Wiregrass EC: “The Scooter Store is a staple here in Hartford that’s been around for a very long time. They have delicious fried home cooking.”
Isabella’s Mexican Cocina & Cantina
245 Old Highway 231, Cropwell, AL
Kylie Entrekin, Coosa Valley EC: “Their food is always great, but their salsa is the show’s real star! It has the right amount of spice, flavor, and consistency everyone is sure to enjoy.”
10809 Highway 168, Boaz, AL
Y-Mart owner Matt Hamilton holds a chicken finger snack (chicken fingers with chicken sauce, potato wedges, and a roll), a popular item.
Jamie Camper: “My girls love Y-Mart chicken fingers, and to be honest, they will pick their breakfast over most anytime. They also have amazing sausage balls, but get there early. They are the first to go.”
Steve Lane’s Reals
3025 Alabama Highway 41, Selma, AL
Jason King, warehouseman/lineman A, Pioneer EC, Selma district: “Our Selma crew eats there almost every day. They particularly enjoy the fried bologna and cheese sandwich at breakfast. The food is always delicious, and the service is top-notch.”
Terry Moseley, manager, Pioneer EC: “We value Steve Lane’s contributions to the community and his support of Pioneer Electric. We especially appreciate his graciously providing meals for crews as they worked to restore power from the June storms.”