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Andrea Weigl, staff writer for the News & Observer of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., reported recently that she found 16 foodservice "gems" while driving along roads in the noted Triangle area of North Carolina.
"Now, I am not talking about the shriveled hot dog that has been sitting on the warming rollers since 6:30 a.m., or the microwaveable burrito or the plastic-encased sandwiches, cut into triangles," she wrote. "I'm talking about the Mexican taqueria tucked in the back of a BP station on Capital Boulevard and the smell of fresh fried chicken that hits you in the parking lot outside John's Grill on N.C. 86 between Hillsborough and Cedar Grove."
Weigl told readers to consider convenience store food as an exercise in getting to know where they live. "When you travel abroad, do you really get to know that country's cuisine if you don't eat the street food? When we move away from home, don't we crave what we ate at those greasy spoons we leave behind? I know I do," she wrote. "This is one way to get to know the mom-and-pops serving daily lunch specials, the meat-and-threes offering Southern home cooking, the taquerias frequented by Hispanic construction workers on lunch break, the best places to get a burger, or a hot dog, or barbecue."
Here are some of the highlights from Weigl's convenience store tour:
-- Capi's Subs & Bakery, with two locations at Exxon stations in Morrisville and Cary. Anthony Capozoli Sr., the patriarch of the business who has now retired, told Weigle, all the baked goods are made in-house. "I can attest that the snickerdoodle cookies are soft and delicious," she wrote.
-- AJ's Food Mart and Restaurant, offering daily lunch specials: meatloaf or beef and rice on Mondays, hamburger steak on Tuesdays, chicken stew on Wednesdays, pork chops or stuffed peppers on Thursdays and fish on Fridays.
-- Los Portales restaurant, tucked away in the back of a BP station on Capital Boulevard, was described as her favorite spot.
-- Tookie's Grill, which has gone from selling its chicken salad sandwiches inside two Shell gas stations to a stand-alone restaurant at Seaboard Station in downtown Raleigh. "One thing to note for lovers of their chicken salad: You can get your fix anytime. Even if the grill is closed, they have coolers stocked with half pints of chicken salad, pimento cheese, potato salad and banana pudding available any time the stores are open," wrote Weigl.
-- Merritt's Grill in Chapel Hill, with its famous single-, double- or triple-layer BLT sandwich. "They also serve a quarter-pound hot dog. But they only take cash, so don't set yourself up for disappointment by only bringing plastic," she warns.
Weigl omitted Sheetz from her list, even though "you can eat well there" because it is not a local institution like the other operations.