Last summer, as a friend and I were leaving Lansing for Chicago, we stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank and stock up on our standard road trip fare. Between the two of us, that usually means Combos, Takis, sour gummy worms, and trail mix. But when we walked in, we found a Cuban sandwich bar with a full menu at the back of the Mobil shop, and who were we to choose a bag of chemical cheese pretzels over a $6 roast pork sandwich? (The sandwich was delicious. We still bought Combos for the road.) Ever since then, I’ve been haunted by the possibility that behind every unopened gas station door is a non-Subway food operation that is somewhere on the spectrum between decent and delicious. Here are some of the doors the Weekly has opened for the Food Issue. (Emeline Posner)
Kronos Central Sub Station
The Sub Station, a Kronos operation tucked into a Gage Park Citgo station, has all your Chicago-style quick-food fare. Its name suggests a sub-focused menu, and to its credit it does serve the Jim Shoe (the Italian beef/gyro/corned beef monster that could only have been born and loved in Chicago). But the menu is stronger on burgers, cheese fries, and dogs.
A classic deal-loving greasy spoon, Sub Station advertises prices in pairs (two hot dogs, $3.50; two Polish, $6; two burgers, $5; two egg sandwiches, $3.50), but I had trouble finding the price for a single item. No matter. I’m susceptible to that kind of ploy, so I walked out with two Polish and a bag of fries ($8.07, which they rounded down to $8, sparing me the dreaded pocketful of change), and had one in the car and one (soggy) at home. Good luck resisting the cheese fries—they’re advertised from the fence of the Citgo parking lot to the front counter ($7.99 for cheese fries with chicken, gyro, or Italian meat, and a can of pop). (Emeline Posner)
Sub Station and Grocery Store, 2801 W. 59th St. $4–10. (773) 737-6806.
If, heaven forbid, you find yourself driving in the South Loop area with a growling stomach, and you want to eat but don’t want to pay for parking, Urban Counter is your best (and probably only) bet. The small, suburban chain is just inside the door of the BP convenience store at the intersection of Wabash and Roosevelt, where the parking is abundant and unmetered.
Urban Counter’s got the corporate food court menu down pat: breakfast sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers (everything from blue cheese to turkey and veggie burgers), salads, and shakes. And the prices are decent for faux-gourmet. A Chicago dog or a build-your-own breakfast sandwich cost $2.99 each. But the reliability isn’t quite there. When I came in on a weekday afternoon, truly in a rush, the menu had shrunk down considerably. There were no hot dog buns and I was told the wings would take twenty minutes to prepare. I settled for a six-piece order of chicken fingers, which were good, and french fries, which were bland.
There’s a seating area for Urban Counter eaters, but it’s not particularly inviting. The BP convenience shop’s lights are cold and bright, and, apart from a handful of cops milling about, I was the only person at the Urban Counter side of the shop. (Emeline Posner)
Urban Counter, inside the BP at 1221 S. Wabash Ave. $10. Monday–Friday, 6am–6pm; Saturday and Sunday, 8am–3pm.
Harvey’s Family Restaurant
Unassumingly tucked in the corner of the lot of the branded gas station for a small San Antonio–based fuelmaker, Harvey’s certainly doesn’t look like much from the outside. Inside, however, lies a comforting and familiar pastiche of, well, a diner, gas station be damned. As with all good diners, the draw is the breakfast food—generously-portioned, sturdily-made omelets; thick French toast. Recently, it expanded its hours, decorations, and offerings to include satisfying, comfortable red-sauce and white tablecloth Italian dinner options. While it can’t (and doesn’t attempt to) compete with the pizza from Freddie’s, right across Union Street, the rest of its Italian entrées far outshine the over-sauced and overly heavy dinner options of its neighbor. So next time you have a hankering for a hearty breakfast or an Italian dinner in that part of Bridgeport, consider venturing into the lot of your local gas station. (Sam Stecklow)
Harvey’s Family Restaurant, 657 W. 31st St. Monday, 6am–3pm; Tuesday–Sunday, 6am–10pm. $10–$20. (312) 225-5022.
It’s not in the Citgo at 95th and Escanaba, but it’s pretty darn close. The taco bar, which shares a side wall with the Citgo, makes for a quick and easy food stop while you’re filling up on gas. Stop in and place your order—I’d recommend the carne asada or lomo (ribeye) tacos, though they offer anything from lengua and cabeza to chicken and pork in taco ($2.20), burrito ($6.60), gordita ($3.60), or torta ($4.60) form—and by the time you pay and fill up your gas tank, your order will be ready.
When I stopped in, I ate from a yellow styrofoam tray at the small bar, which faces out toward the gas pumps. The move may well be to order your food to go; on a busy day, I was the only person sitting at the seven-stool bar, aside from an eight-year-old who spun around while waiting for his dad’s order to be ready. But if you order to go, you may miss out on their counter-only spicy avocado salsa, which paired nicely with my tacos de lomo. (Though the strips of lomo were tender and pounded thin, they were a bit underseasoned and benefited from the addition of the creamy salsa.)
The staff is friendly, the stools are sturdy, and the food is good. I hear from Southeast Side acquaintances that the carne asada burrito is where it’s really at. The desayuno plates ($7) look promising, too. But a word of warning: They default to “everything”—lettuce, sour cream, tomato—so unless that’s your jam, specify cilantro and onions. (Emeline Posner)
Tacos Nietos, 2863 E. 95th St. Monday–Saturday, 8am–9pm; closed Sunday. $4–12. (773) 731-8555.