Surprising food finds at Charlotte gas stations

Blame it on John Hartness.

At a local reading in Charlotte in November, writer Hartness hurled the bomb:

A Shell station at Eastway and Shamrock has better fried chicken than Price's Chicken Coop.

He said it. I was there.

I won't mess with Hartness' claim about Price's. There are third rails of food that you just don't touch. But go to a gas station to try the fried chicken? That, I can do. I went, liked the chicken, and wrote about it on my blog.

It generated a lively exchange. Some people offered their own nominations for gas-station food, mostly fried chicken but also specialties like potato wedges and wings.

More research was clearly needed. I made a list of five places with reports of good food and picked up Hartness, a writer and poet who's active in local theater, for a 72-mile lunch.

We also took along Observer restaurant reviewer Helen Schwab. For a skinny girl, she can hold more food than a Costco warehouse, and she dissects flavors with the precision of an electron microscope. (On the trip, I asked her about an iced tea I had liked. She said, "Mine tasted stale at the bottom, but at the top, it was fine." Who notices strata in iced tea?)

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