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Gas Station Cuisine: When good food happens in strange places



You probably didn't know that there's this rule in the How To Piss Off Your Customers manual, under the "Eateries in Airports and Gas Stations" chapter that reads, "Under no circumstances should you serve a customer a food item that is actually edible." It goes on to encourage eateries in airports to charge "at least two to three times" the expected price for food.

A handful of local businesses has been ignoring the manual, though, and serving downright decent food to people in airports and gas stations.

Baldy's Barbeque set up shop in the Shell Stop & Go on NE 27th Street and Hwy 20 in August. "I wasn't even looking [to expand]," said owner Brian Dioguardi. The convenience store owners approached Dioguardi with the opportunity to reach more eastside customers and combined with lower overhead, this convinced him to bring barbecue to 27th Street.

The eastside Baldy's cooks onsite, but the meat is smoked on the westside and reheated when ordered. My friend's soft, messy beef brisket sandwich ($5) was yummy. The tangy, spice-heavy sauce wasn't our favorite, but that's a personal preference for savory over tangy. The coleslaw ($1.50), while not memorable, was a perfectly acceptable mayo-cabbage combo.

The buffalo chicken salad ($6.75), for which I had such high hopes, didn't quite deliver. Despite lovely presentation, (for takeout) the lettuce was a bit bitter and the chicken aggressively spicy and not very buffalo-y. The fries ($1.50) I ordered with the salad were crispy and salty, with a great battered texture.

Baldy's gets points for careful takeout wrapping. Hot chicken packed separate from the salad and extra hand wipes show they're thinking about the customer, which the customer appreciates when she's speeding down Hwy 97 with a sloppy sandwich in hand.

Just down the street from Baldy's, El Super Burrito shares a building with the Chevron station on Hwy 20. Manager Gama Venegras said El Super Burrito was looking to expand and the eastside offered an attractive opportunity.

What the steak fajitas and carnitas dinner plates lack in culinary creativity, they make up for in sheer quantity. Despite skipping lunch, I barely made it through half the refried beans, rice and huge pile of steak, onions and peppers for dinner. For $7.50, I was totally satisfied, though I would have happily paid a buck or two more for real guacamole and not avocado "sauce."

Managers of Baldy's and El Super Burrito note that while gas station foot traffic is great for business, it's slower than at the other locations.

Both the tiny Bend Municipal Airport and Redmond Airport have restaurants featuring upgraded chow these days, too. Café 3456' set up shop a few years ago at the Bend airport and has been deliberately deviating from boxed salads and cellophane-wrapped sandwiches.

"A lot of ranchers around Central Oregon raise wild game, so it was really, really easy to get this awesome product from local ranchers," says Chef Dave Hatfield. As for being a few miles out of town, Hatfield says it's been a bit of a challenge getting people to come.

At Central Oregon's busier airport, folks flying out of Redmond can now camp out at the Coyote Ranch's airport outpost and swig their way through a local microbrew or two while waiting for the boarding call.

The menu, while compact, features reasonably priced food that a traveler might actually want to eat. The most expensive thing on the menu is the half rack of ribs at $11.25, and there are six-lunch/dinner options for under $10.

Regardless of the reasons for the unorthodox locations, I applaud this trend. It's high time travelers (on the road or in the air) stop getting the shaft on something good to eat.

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