Celebrating America’s Gas Station Food

This post originally appeared on May 29, 2021 in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

Earlier this year, as we were planning coverage for the summer (we have a lot of great stuff coming), we wanted to kick off the season with something joyful, positive, and celebratory after a year dominated by doom and gloom. Thus, this week we celebrate … gas station food.

Car trips were the preferred mode of transportation for 97 percent of Americans last summer, and this year nearly 70 percent of American travelers are still planning to stick to the road. So it’s a good time to consider what you can learn about a region and its dark history, quirks, deep and intense rivalries, and passions via its gas station offerings. Or even, what you can learn about the American Dream. It’s a good time to feel some intense envy for friends and enemies with better regional gas station food and wine selections than you, or to yearn for the beauty and the isolation of gas station restaurants in Yosemite and Death Valley.

At the very least, maybe you’ll just come away from this knowing which jerky to buy.

Illustration and close-up of an Aunt Jemima’s bottle, with the label featuring the Aunt Jemima logo peeling off.

Illustration by Nicole Miles

While I love the tone and spirit of the gas station exploration, this week we also need to recognize the somber anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the progress that has and hasn’t been made within this industry in its wake.

So, we partnered with Civil Eats to look back at what this year has wrought for the restaurant industry. In this series, we explore the legacy of mutual aid in Minneapolis and what the movement to spend money on Black businesses looks like now that it’s not as hot of a Google search term. We take a look at how restaurants that were the subject of call-out campaigns responded over the course of a year and how food brands removed or evolved their racist mascots. Look out for more in this series next week.

A colorful spread of dishes and cocktails laid out on a table

A spread at Dame, which just opened in New York
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY

— California will drop distancing restrictions on June 15, Massachusetts fully reopens today, and Vegas can move to 100 percent capacity on Tuesday. New Orleans dropped all COVID restrictions for bars, restaurants, and music venues, finally bringing back 24/7 alcohol sales, yesterday.

— Some big moves in Boston to keep an eye on: Chef and restaurateur Karen Akunowicz will open a restaurant and pasta shop called Bar Volpe in South Boston this fall, New York group Blue Ribbon is taking over a trio of restaurant spaces in Kenmore Square, and erstwhile Del Posto chef and pasta entrepreneur Mark Ladner will open an Italian restaurant in a hotel in Harvard Square.

— As usual, more big name imports are en route to Miami.

— So many servers (9) quit Fabio Trabocchi’s high-end D.C. restaurant Del Mar at once that they had to close last weekend. Many signed a letter saying they refused to perform their jobs due to corporate management’s treatment of a Black employee and its new policy to move to tip-pooling.

— Somewhat relatedly, there’s been some front-of-house upheaval at SF institution Zuni Cafe as it moves to the tip-free model to provide more equity for the full staff.

— Le Bilboquet, the upscale New York restaurant that expanded to half a dozen markets over the last decade, was accused of an arbitrary and racist approach to dress code enforcement at its Atlanta location when it refused an NBA star (and non-famous customers) entry.

— Openings: Dame, a buzzy seafood restaurant born of a popular pop-up, in New York; Dr. Bird’s Jamaican Patty Shack, a location of a Buffalo restaurant, in Chicago; The Continental, Sean Brock’s upscale and old school hotel restaurant, in Nashville; Amalfi, Bobby Flay’s Italian restaurant with a focus on seafood, in Las Vegas; and Fritai, a food stall-turned-restaurant serving Haitian cuisine from a rising star, in New Orleans.