I used to spend the hot, sticky summers of my childhood with my grandparents, who lived in rural southeast Alabama. We’d drive down two-lane roads past fields of cotton and peanuts, stopping to fill up at small gas stations along the way. I remember those outposts well. There was always a grizzled but friendly fellow behind the counter, a selection of all sorts of candy bars and a section in the back for live bait where I’d see any number of creepy-crawly things. But for me, the true horror wasn’t squirming in the back, but sitting on the counter by the cash register. Grubby jars of red liquid were filled with pickled eggs and — to my horror — pigs’ feet. I would stare at the chubby stumps floating in that unnaturally maraschino-red liquid and wonder, “Who would eat that stuff? What does it taste like? Why is it red?
Even today, as an adventurous eater and, though I cringe at the term, a “foodie,” I don’t think I could bring myself to nibble on a pig’s foot from a gas station jar. However, I don’t have to worry. Because scattered across the Bay area are gas station foodie hidden gems. They are dishing up everything from authentic Mexican food to traditional soul favorites. A lot of them are discovered through word of mouth. They don’t have Instagram accounts with perfectly styled food photos. In many cases, they don’t have a website at all. And while there is nothing wrong with white tablecloths and exemplary presentation, there is something to be said for jumping into the car and diving into a piece of hot fried chicken right then and there, greasy fingers be damned, and heading to the beach. Or grabbing a quick hot breakfast on the way into work, making a normal Tuesday a little more special.
We gathered a list of some local favorites so that whatever part of town you find yourself in, you can fill up your tank and your belly.
2305 US Highway 98, Daphne
Fastime is known for its fresh, crispy fried chicken and hot, homemade biscuits served with classic sides such as mac and cheese, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. Other favorites are the breakfast sandwiches, chicken livers and chicken gizzards.
Satsuma Chevron Breakfast
6105 US Highway 43, Satsuma
Located in the Chevron station, this humble spot is home to the World-Famous Breakfast Gumbo. Cheese grits are layered with scrambled eggs, chopped sausage patties, applewood bacon and smoked Conecuh sausage. Order it “all the way,” and pepper sauce and green onion will be piled on top. Can’t make it in for breakfast? Lunch is just as decadent. Smoked BBQ or Cajun-dill wings are paired with turnip greens simmered with smoked bacon, all finished off with a generous serving of peach cobbler.
Las Catrinas De Rosy
29640 Highway 181, Daphne
This authentic Mexican favorite also has a location in Silverhill and a new spot in the Insider Food Hall in downtown Mobile. However, their location in a Mablis Shell station remains a beloved Eastern Shore stop. There, they dish up handmade tortillas, birria ramen and kesabirria, along with Mexican snacks and treats. All the burritos and street tacos can be made with a variety of meat options, such as chicken, carnitas, asada and pastor. Sides of salsa verde and salsa taquera accompany the dishes for a dose of flavorful heat.
Soul Ful Deli Depot
355 S. Greeno Road, Fairhope
You might not think of food made with love being found in a gas station, but that’s exactly what you get from Elizabeth Brazelton, affectionately known as “Ms. Liz” by regulars. She scoops up heaping helpings of fried ribs, turkey necks, chitterlings and fried chicken. Sides are mac and cheese, cabbage, okra and broccoli-rice casserole, just to name a few.
Rocky’s Country Market
9515 Lott Road, Wilmer
Plump juicy shrimp grace many of the dishes at this unassuming spot, which prepares many local favorites. Shrimp are fried or boiled with Cajun spices. They appear in jambalaya, gumbo and even fried rice. They are served alongside steamed snow crab and boiled crawfish — many say the best in the state — when in season. And, if you don’t have a hankering for seafood, Rocky’s offers homemade spaghetti, shepherd’s pie and juicy cheeseburgers among their many selections.
Foley Depot Chevron
7960 US Highway 98, Foley
A giant pink pig beckons weary, hungry travelers as well as locals in the know. Smoky ribs and pulled pork are served with rotating veggie side choices along with staples such as mustardy potato salad and creamy coleslaw. Daily specials range from muffulettas to spaghetti and meatballs. Want a break from cooking for the holidays? The folks at The Depot take preorders for smoked turkeys as well.
2105 E. 2nd Street, Gulf Shores
Located inside a Gulf Shores Chevron this location is popular with locals and tourists alike. They are known for their homemade fried chicken and BBQ, which come with Southern sides and vegetables. Insiders say that their banana bread is a must-try, and their crowd-pleasing chicken salad is the original owner’s special recipe. If you are headed to the beach for a Thanksgiving getaway, you can preorder an entire meal, from turkey to dessert, to go.
Fish River Pride
10525 US Highway 98, Fairhope
This gas station, conveniently located between Fairhope and the Fish River / Weeks Bay communities, attracts fishermen, boaters and campers on their way to the launch or the beach. Here, a selection of hot boudin is wrapped and ready to go. Shrimp, crawfish and pork are all available for you to take to the water and unwrap on the boat, but we doubt that you can wait that long to dig into this hot and tasty fare.
Cheapo’s Qwick Stop
8468 US Highway 45, Eight Mile
In addition to homemade meat and three offerings, Cheapo’s has something you never expect to see at a convenience store: ribeye steaks. That’s right, every first and third Saturday of the month, they grill up a steak dinner complete with a potato option, and your choice of salad or broccoli. Their steak dinners are so popular that people call days in advance to reserve their meal before they sell out. Locals say these are the best steaks in town and they are popular for Mother’s Day, birthdays and a wide range of special occasions. And Cheapo’s lives up to its name; the steaks come at an affordable price.
Mawmaw’s Country Market
26010 US Highway 90, Robertsdale
The friendly ladies behind the counter wear colorful aprons with their names embroidered on the front and warmly greet customers at this locally owned spot. The breakfast gets rave reviews for their biscuits and gravy and breakfast sandwiches piled high with bacon. Fried shrimp on Fridays are a hit, along with their selection of Southern mains and sides. Finish it all off with a heaping serving of gooey cobbler and drive off with a smile on your face.
Battle’s Wharf Market
18327 Scenic Highway 98, Fairhope
Okay, time for a confession. We may have cheated a little bit with this one. Located in a former gas station, this cute little shop has pre-packaged snacks, wine and gourmet grab-and-go sandwiches — think cranberry walnut chicken salad on a croissant — and wraps. There are also hot specials daily — quesadillas, Ruebens and hot roast beef po-boys are some of the most popular options. While the pumps may no longer be in service, this little stop has all the charm of a country gas station with the offerings of an upscale deli and wine shop.
98 Express & Deli
13280 Moffett Road, Wilmer
Looking for some deep-fried goodness? This small gas station is known for its fried chicken, fried fish and plump, thick-cut fried green tomatoes. They even have meaty fried pork eggrolls. Don’t want to get all that grease in your car? The deli has covered picnic tables outside and a few tables inside. Regulars also say that this is the best place around to get a cup of coffee if you need some fuel for your journey.
Bon Secour Pic-N-Pay
105030 County Road 12 S., Foley
Late into the morning, the tables inside this gas station are filled with locals drinking coffee, eating homemade biscuits and chatting about local happenings, politics and the usual. The deli gets busy and rumor is, you have to get there early before lunch is sold out. Thursday is gizzard day and is always a hit. And can a gas station be…romantic? Well, the tip from locals is that the Pic-N-Pay is a fabulous place to watch the sunset over the surrounding fields and farmland.
With so many gas stations offering great food, a welcoming atmosphere, and even scenic views, sometimes all you really need is a white paper napkin and not a white tablecloth.