Fuel up: Gas stations with gourmet grub

Big portions of teriyaki skirt steak and down-south charm served at the Redland Grill in Homestead. Photo: Kyle Teal

It’s rare “gasoline” and “fine wine” get used in the same sentence. Surprisingly, though, some gas stations are serving up more than those nauseating hotdogs rotating under heat lamps, or the coffee-turned-black-sludge that sits in the pot all day. Here’s where to go when both your tank and stomach are on empty.

El Carajo International Tapas and Wine
Citgo, 2465 SW 17 Ave.; 305-856-2424; pumps open 24 hours; restaurant open Mon-Sat, 12:30-11 p.m.

Driving through the heart of Italy gave owner Richard Fonseca the idea to combine his run-of-the-mill gas station with a high-class restaurant. “In Italy, when you stop at a gas station, you can get a gourmet bottle of wine,” he says. “I tried to duplicate – somewhat – the idea.” Having worked in the business for 20 years, Fonseca affectionately berates you if you admit to drinking Yellow Tail. Here, it’s all about the high quality vino. But luckily, high quality isn’t synonymous with high prices.

The menu flaunts delectable tapas, which range from $3.50 to $14.50, such as sausage in wine sauce, Galician-style octopus, crab meat crepes and fresh grilled corvina with shrimp and mustard sauce. Wine tastings are twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays, from about 5-8 p.m.

(Another location at 1180 SW 57th Ave. with a smaller selection).

Redland Grill
Shell, 17695 SW 272nd St., Homestead; 305- 248-3601; pumps open 6 a.m.-10 p.m., grill is hot 7 a.m.- 10 p.m.

Any semblance of gaudy South Florida slips away and “Dueling Banjos” may or may not be playing in your head en route to the Redland Grill. Down yonder you can sit in the clean, pleasant diner with folksy charm and enjoy big portions of grouper filet, sweet potato fries, teriyaki skirt steak, pork chops, churrasco and chicken. Word is that breakfast is tasty, too, and the shelves stocked with wine provide a satisfying take-home selection.

Televisions and old black and white photographs of Homestead farmland, railroad tracks and good ol’ boys line the walls. Farmers fill up their trucks for $1.85 a gallon (regular) and step inside for supper. Police officers plop down at the outdoor café to chat with the help and guzzle the java. They all know the friendly waitress’s name (and she’ll call you “baby doll”), and she’s always happy to see them.

Europa Car Wash and Café
Chevron, 6075 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-754-2357; open 6 a.m.-10 p.m.

Welcome to the upper crust of gas stations. With its sleek, modern design, this spacious Chevron station could easily be confused with a night club; just take the pumps away, add a DJ and dim the lights. Inside, chain-link curtains encircle a large TV screen, fresh flowers sit at every shiny table opposite plush couches, along with, undoubtedly, the nicest chandelier you’ve ever seen hanging in a gas station. Even better, you don’t have to buy a $300 bottle of vodka to chill like a V.I.P.

Wednesdays is Ladies Day, which means a $10 car wash and a complimentary glass of champagne. Enjoy a European-style baguettes, pastries, pies, wraps, croissants and coffees. Grab a fresh cup of organic free trade, a chai latte, decaffeinated African royal select or Colombian coffee.

Citgo, 331 23rd St, Miami Beach; open 24 hours

Located near clubs such as Mokai and Aerobar, this Miami Beach gas station is its own late night hotspot. Grab a snack while the annoyed designated driver fills the tank. Sure, it’s your everyday, grimy gas station, but Cuban espresso and the baked and fried greasy eats will do you right by soaking up some of those $15 South Beach cocktails. A dazzling selection of treats includes Jamaican patties, empanadas, mini-Cubans, chicken wings, yucca, mini-pizzas… nearly any salty snack imaginable for low prices. A media noche will cost you $4.25 and café con leches are $1.50.

Inside is cramped with pre-clubbers and nighttime munchie crowds. A chatty Croatian man turns to an attractive Latin woman wearing sweat pants and abruptly asks her on a dinner date. She shoots him down with a laugh, but he seems happy enough. He does still have his croqueta, after all. Customer Jay Carrasquillo’s office is nearby. “When I started buying food at a gas station, I was like, ‘this is crazy… I’m going to eat something from a gas station.’ But it’s actually good stuff.”

The Garden Deli
Shell, 1144 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale; 954-763-1977; station open 24 hours; deli open Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

“We’re as close to an independent franchise as you can possibly be,” weekend manager Pam Mitchell explains about this friendly Shell station. She says the only other Shell you’ll find with the same center-counter design is in Venezuela. The Garden Deli makes the station especially unique, offering a bounty of appetizing sandwiches, pizzas and breakfast meals during the week. A respectable dining area with red chairs makes dining in an option.

The food is all original recipes of family owners Jim and Mary Fatout. Some special sandwiches were given snappy names or were named after their creators: The Scotty features smoked turkey, sweet peppers, horseradish, brown mustard, provolone cheese, lettuce and tomato, while the French press includes maple turkey, honey French dressing, tomato and provolone grilled Cuban-style. The staff, which also bakes the pizzas fresh, will even deliver. “It’s caused a little confusion among customers,” Mitchell says of the food. “They’ll just say to each other, ‘I can’t believe I’m thinking of buying some food from a gas station.'”

Panna Café Express
Exxon, 2620 Weston Rd, Weston; 954-217-6907; open 24 hours, full service car wash

Panna Café Express staff in Broward is constantly using the restaurant’s grill to keep up with the customers craving cheeseburgers, chickenburgers and Venezuelan and Colombian-style hotdogs the size of sub sandwiches with oddball toppings like pineapple or mayonnaise piled on top.

While this eatery hasn’t completely shaken its gas station feel, but families gather around the tables in the dining area and chomp on burgers decked out with fried eggs or Venezuelan cheese called queso de mano. The restaurant offers an interesting selection of sauces including pineapple and garlic, and combo meals ranging from $5.99 to $10.99. Healthy folks have options, too: five different salads to choose from, and a selection of wraps. The menu also offers many breakfast selections, such as a $4.99 meal with three scrambled eggs, onions and tomatoes, mango and passion fruit juices and Argentinean and Venezuelan empanadas.

Liberty Café
Liberty, 2190 Coral Way, Coral Gables; 305-860-5888; station open 24 hours, café open 6 a.m.-9 p.m.

You probably won’t want to hang out in this cramped convenient store/gas station, but the diverse menu of snacks and lunch combos along with the prices, which stomp out the competition, make it worth a look inside. A smiling woman prepares lunch combos: gyro with pita bread or a hamburger meal costs $5.99; tamale, salad and a soda is $3.49; and a dozen pasteles are $8.99 — a special deal. The wine shelf is stocked with very affordable merlots, pinot grigios and cabernet sauvignons. Rich Cuban coffee is a hot item – a 12-ounce café con leche sells for $1.75.

A small selection of fruits is placed in front o
f the deli, which is stocked with small ham, cheese and salami sandwiches, bread galore, wraps and large Cuban and tuna sandwiches made with Block and Barrel Deli meats. The bakery offers Colombian empanadas, pandebono, tequenos, and pie.

Enjoy the ride… and the grub.

Published: 1/09

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