It would be nice if we could take our lunch breaks on our own terms.
We could take as much time as we needed. We could eat wherever we wanted. That would make for happy afternoons. I hope we can add that to the next labor negotiations agenda. (Let’s lobby for afternoon siestas, too.)
But until we achieve those changes, our lunch breaks will continue to be about speed and convenience. With little time to spare, lunch becomes about getting in and out fast so we can get back to the grind. We opt for something quick, just to put sustenance in our bodies and give little regard to taste or quality.
It ain’t pretty, but it is what it is.
I suppose this is why more and more gas stations are expanding their food offerings. Gas station fare is no longer limited to slow-rolling, well-aged hot dogs and nachos with liquid cheese. They’ve stepped up their game to meet the demand of busy customers.
And you know what? You can actually get a pretty decent sandwich at the gas stations around town and at a good price, too. That’s right. I’m writing a column about gas station food.
Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer a sandwich from Sig’s or Pickles or the Corner Cafe. But, if you are having one of those days when you have three or four errands to run, you’re low on gas and you have to grab a bite, a gas station convenience store can be a win.
Take Marco’s Subs, located inside Patriot Petroleum on West Main Road for example. The folks at Marco’s can legitimately enter their name in the battle for “best subs in town.” They’ve got fresh made-to-order subs on bread from Marzilli’s Bakery.
With a sizable menu plus daily specials, it’s no wonder the store fills up everyday around lunch time. These folks know good sandwich-making. You can fill up your tank, get a delicious sandwich and eat it while you take the ride through the touchless carwash.
That’s a hat trick of lunchtime errands in one easy stop. Marco’s plans to open a cafe on Spring Street in Newport soon, so I’m happy to see the brand growing.
You can also get made-to-order sandwiches across town at the Neon Marketplace on the corner of East Main and Aquidneck Avenue. You place your order there at an in-store kiosk, and this allows you to build your sandwich just how you like it.
Banana peppers? Extra cheese? Hold the mustard? You key in exactly what you want and the staff builds your sandwich to your specifications. They use really fresh ingredients and surprisingly good rolls, too.
You can take it to go or you can enjoy it outside at one of the outside picnic tables. Look for Neon Marketplace to start expanding this concept soon.
Not all gas stations make sandwiches to order, but you’ll find that some are able to stock their shelves with quality pre-made sandwiches. Seasons, with locations on the corner of East Main and Valley Road in Middletown and on Lower Thames Street in Newport, offer fare from Nicole’s Gourmet Salads and Sandwiches.
You may turn your nose up at something that comes in a triangle-shaped container, but these sandwiches are legit. They’re fresh-tasting and well-crafted with unique bread options like ciabatta rolls and marble rye. You can go simple with a PB&J on whole wheat or you can get adventurous with a Cajun Turkey Sandwich with lettuce, tomato, brie and a remoulade sauce.
Snag one of those with a bag of Deep River chips and a Clearly Canadian water and you have yourself a nice little lunch. Plus you can grab a scratch ticket while you’re cashing out.
Even the folks at Cumberland Farms have been stepping up their game lately. Their three locations all have undergone remodeling over the last few years and their grab-and-go selection got quite the upgrade. With Italian grinders, chicken parmesan subs and egg and chicken salad sandwiches, they’ve got something for everyone. The staff will warm your sandwiches, too, which is a nice touch if you’ve got the time.
The salads are surprisingly fresh. Maybe the food is really coming from a Farm in Cumberland? In any case, if you stopped in for a quick refuel, grabbing a quick sandwich while you’re there will have tasty results.
Quick and easy. Those two things mean everything these days when it comes to your lunch break. You are given limited time to do too many things. Don’t be hard on yourself if you opt for the quick and easy lunch. You’re doing your best.
And when that choice for a fast lunch takes you inside a local gas station convenience store, you might just be surprised at the quality of what you get. Good food is everywhere.
Dan Lederer is a Middletown resident with 30 years experience in the food service industry throughout New England. He continues to work locally behind the scenes within the industry and remains a devoted fan of all things restaurant and hospitality related. His column appears on newportri.com and Thursdays in The Daily News. Cheers!