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Good food becomes the fortune of lucky travelers who pull into the right shop, where they are told something about a town's foodways through slices of plastic-wrapped cakes at the checkout counter edge, or tortillas patted by hand and seared into golden rounds at the grill in the back.

At the gas station, biscuits, tortillas—and community 


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A woman steps up to the cluttered counter at Farm & Garden in Cedar Grove wearing pajamas. She's quick to clarify she wouldn't go to the grocery dressed that way. "Just the Farm & Garden."

But the gray store with wood siding on N.C. Highway 86 is something of a grocery, and a pretty good one. Though it operates two fuel pumps and sells what has become many gas stations' standard fare—bagged chips, cheap beer and neon-colored Slush Puppies—it also stocks its coolers with lamb and bison from nearby farms. There's local milk, mini pies made by neighbor Mary Justesen, and an extensive selection of regional beers.

The Farm & Garden is one of many filling stations to offer food that's a step above tired, twirling hot dogs or packaged Pop-Tarts. It is also one of the easiest spots to find: A row of squat white signs spells the store's bounty along both sides of the two-lane road leading there. More often, billboards reveal fuel brands and prices over specialty fare; it's BP, not biscuits.

So good food becomes the fortune of lucky travelers who pull into the right shop, where they are told something about a town's foodways through slices of plastic-wrapped cakes at the edge of a checkout counter, or tortillas, patted by hand and seared into golden rounds at the grill in the back. Locals know such spots but often can't pinpoint them.

Addresses become "the convenient mart on Roxboro Road" or "the place on Capital Boulevard." When Kate Medley and I drove the latter in search of lunch, the thoroughfare seemed to have a gas station at every intersection.

We stopped at one of the stores and hoped for directions. It's not a map that we wanted, however, but a taco. After a few wrong turns, we found that and a whole lot more.


A regular crowd dines at Flat River Cafe, which is attached to Hurdle Mills Market & Butcher Shop. "Pretty much when they walk in the door, you know what they're going to drink, and depending on the day, what they're going to eat," says co-owner Angie Poindexter. For Saturday lunch, Janet and Murray Baldwin choose hamburger steaks "all the way," smothered in peppers, onions and mushrooms. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • A regular crowd dines at Flat River Cafe, which is attached to Hurdle Mills Market & Butcher Shop. "Pretty much when they walk in the door, you know what they're going to drink, and depending on the day, what they're going to eat," says co-owner Angie Poindexter. For Saturday lunch, Janet and Murray Baldwin choose hamburger steaks "all the way," smothered in peppers, onions and mushrooms.

Three generations deep into a waning tobacco career, David Poindexter turned to his pastime of hunting. He approached Wadell Breeze, who was renting a building in the heart of Hurdle Mills, about opening a butcher shop in back. Now the store's rear door is perhaps its busiest. Hunters from Person County to Washington, D.C., drop off deer (and occasionally bears and boars) to be butchered and vacuum-packed at the shop's barn. Inside the original market, a wreath hangs on Breeze's office door across from a Lucky Sweepstakes machine. Breeze passed away in early January, leaving behind walls of Tar Heel posters, stacks of original store receipts and a thriving business. Though Breeze had sold the shop to Poindexter, he still showed up to work every day. "He was glad to see it come back alive," says Poindexter's mother, Claudia. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Three generations deep into a waning tobacco career, David Poindexter turned to his pastime of hunting. He approached Wadell Breeze, who was renting a building in the heart of Hurdle Mills, about opening a butcher shop in back. Now the store's rear door is perhaps its busiest. Hunters from Person County to Washington, D.C., drop off deer (and occasionally bears and boars) to be butchered and vacuum-packed at the shop's barn. Inside the original market, a wreath hangs on Breeze's office door across from a Lucky Sweepstakes machine. Breeze passed away in early January, leaving behind walls of Tar Heel posters, stacks of original store receipts and a thriving business. Though Breeze had sold the shop to Poindexter, he still showed up to work every day. "He was glad to see it come back alive," says Poindexter's mother, Claudia.

Latin American Food restaurant expanded its seating when the original gas station stopped operating in 2001. Tables have replaced the aisles, and soccer trophies gleam on the former beverage counter, which retains one Bunn coffee burner. Behind the checkout area, a red and blue uniform hangs next to Swisher Sweets and Advil. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Latin American Food restaurant expanded its seating when the original gas station stopped operating in 2001. Tables have replaced the aisles, and soccer trophies gleam on the former beverage counter, which retains one Bunn coffee burner. Behind the checkout area, a red and blue uniform hangs next to Swisher Sweets and Advil.

In the mid-1990s, Maria Eva Carias left her South Florida home to visit a friend in Durham. Carias stayed, although at the time Durham offered little Latin American food beyond tacos. From a gas station kitchen, she introduced meals from Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador and Guatemala, including soft baliadas—thick tortillas filled with refried beans, cream and crumbly cheese—and pupusas—seared tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans or chicken, whose warmth is offset by lightly pickled cabbage and onions. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • In the mid-1990s, Maria Eva Carias left her South Florida home to visit a friend in Durham. Carias stayed, although at the time Durham offered little Latin American food beyond tacos. From a gas station kitchen, she introduced meals from Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador and Guatemala, including soft baliadas—thick tortillas filled with refried beans, cream and crumbly cheese—and pupusas—seared tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans or chicken, whose warmth is offset by lightly pickled cabbage and onions.

Yellow pound cake is a favorite at Tookie's Grill. "A lot of people like them hot," says Tookie's co-owner Debra Gullie (left). "They're like Krispy Kreme doughnuts." Occasionally, Gullie and co-owner Renee Aycock bake something else—pineapple, strawberry or coconut creations—but it's plain and chocolate-iced pound cake that customers continue to demand for dessert—that and a cup of whipped banana pudding. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Yellow pound cake is a favorite at Tookie's Grill. "A lot of people like them hot," says Tookie's co-owner Debra Gullie (left). "They're like Krispy Kreme doughnuts." Occasionally, Gullie and co-owner Renee Aycock bake something else—pineapple, strawberry or coconut creations—but it's plain and chocolate-iced pound cake that customers continue to demand for dessert—that and a cup of whipped banana pudding.

Tookie Gullie was born into the gas business but found his career mixing mayonnaise at the full-service station that his father, Pete, began in Raleigh. There, he perfected an egg-and-relish-studded chicken salad spread that is sold by the sandwich or pint at shops throughout the Triangle, including a Great Stops gas station in North Raleigh and an Exxon in Wendell. To meet Tookie's demand, 120 pounds of fresh chicken begin boiling by 7 a.m. Stock from that process creates a base for chicken and vegetable soup, which is an excellent pair for Tookie's peppery pimento cheese. "It's not fancy," says Gullie's wife, Debra, who helps with the grill. "It's just good." - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Tookie Gullie was born into the gas business but found his career mixing mayonnaise at the full-service station that his father, Pete, began in Raleigh. There, he perfected an egg-and-relish-studded chicken salad spread that is sold by the sandwich or pint at shops throughout the Triangle, including a Great Stops gas station in North Raleigh and an Exxon in Wendell. To meet Tookie's demand, 120 pounds of fresh chicken begin boiling by 7 a.m. Stock from that process creates a base for chicken and vegetable soup, which is an excellent pair for Tookie's peppery pimento cheese. "It's not fancy," says Gullie's wife, Debra, who helps with the grill. "It's just good."

"We were never a typical convenient store," Taylor Cash says of the BP that he purchased in 1980 with his wife, Gail. "We are a community store. Whatever is going on in the community drives us." When Falls Lake was completed a year after the couple started the store, they outfitted the place with lures, lines and live bait. When that area in North Raleigh underwent intense development in the 1990s, they opened a full-fledged grill. And when construction slowed in 2000, they turned to wine, hoping it would appeal to the area's new homeowners. A 15-bottle collection grew to 1,000, now ranging from $15 Yellow Tail Merlot to a $300 Bond Pluribus Proprietary Red Wine from 2007. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • "We were never a typical convenient store," Taylor Cash says of the BP that he purchased in 1980 with his wife, Gail. "We are a community store. Whatever is going on in the community drives us." When Falls Lake was completed a year after the couple started the store, they outfitted the place with lures, lines and live bait. When that area in North Raleigh underwent intense development in the 1990s, they opened a full-fledged grill. And when construction slowed in 2000, they turned to wine, hoping it would appeal to the area's new homeowners. A 15-bottle collection grew to 1,000, now ranging from $15 Yellow Tail Merlot to a $300 Bond Pluribus Proprietary Red Wine from 2007.

Heavily spiced pork steams at the ready on a serving line in the back of a Capital Boulevard BP. Still, tacos take time—a few worthwhile minutes for Eva Martinez to form fresh dough with the palm of her hand. Tortillas are generally grilled to order at La Cabana Taqueria, per the demand of a steady line of customers. People arrive as early as 5:30 a.m. for tacos with eggs and chicharrón, or come late: The grill doesn't close until at least 10:30 p.m. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Heavily spiced pork steams at the ready on a serving line in the back of a Capital Boulevard BP. Still, tacos take time—a few worthwhile minutes for Eva Martinez to form fresh dough with the palm of her hand. Tortillas are generally grilled to order at La Cabana Taqueria, per the demand of a steady line of customers. People arrive as early as 5:30 a.m. for tacos with eggs and chicharrón, or come late: The grill doesn't close until at least 10:30 p.m.

"Give me a hammer and nail and I can go out there," says Paul Cozart, whose initial career involved working on houses. He put those skills to use to begin a new business in the late 1970s, remodeling a building on Cheek Road in Durham that had belonged to his uncle. The space opened in the 1950s as a gas station and grocery, then changed hands to become a church, an auction house and a radiator store before Cozart took over. Today, posters papered to the exterior proclaim the store's stock in primary colors: country hams and ham hocks, rabbits, fatback and cheese. Kitwan Verbal paints new banners about every two weeks, "depending on how bad it rains and how the weather got to them," Cozart says. "And depends on what we have." - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • "Give me a hammer and nail and I can go out there," says Paul Cozart, whose initial career involved working on houses. He put those skills to use to begin a new business in the late 1970s, remodeling a building on Cheek Road in Durham that had belonged to his uncle. The space opened in the 1950s as a gas station and grocery, then changed hands to become a church, an auction house and a radiator store before Cozart took over. Today, posters papered to the exterior proclaim the store's stock in primary colors: country hams and ham hocks, rabbits, fatback and cheese. Kitwan Verbal paints new banners about every two weeks, "depending on how bad it rains and how the weather got to them," Cozart says. "And depends on what we have."

Saturdays and Sundays are for soup: rich menudo, dense with delicate tripe and hominy. At La Cabana Taqueria, the dish, which is said to cure a hangover, starts simmering on Fridays to prepare for weekend crowds. A squeeze of lime brightens the earthy stock, while diced jalapeños lend heat, and onions a hint of sweetness. The latter also offers texture, but the perfect crunch comes from straw-colored fried tortillas served in a yellow basket. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Saturdays and Sundays are for soup: rich menudo, dense with delicate tripe and hominy. At La Cabana Taqueria, the dish, which is said to cure a hangover, starts simmering on Fridays to prepare for weekend crowds. A squeeze of lime brightens the earthy stock, while diced jalapeños lend heat, and onions a hint of sweetness. The latter also offers texture, but the perfect crunch comes from straw-colored fried tortillas served in a yellow basket.

Apples and tangelos are at home among the tart green walls at Cozart Fruit & Produce. During mid-winter, most of the local food is shelved in a dimly lit storeroom in back. Canning jars keep Whaleaner Verbal's pickled okra and peppers, and coolers pack Paul Cozart's homemade sausage patties. At the checkout, a hand-scrawled note holds a place for "wash pot skins"—scrap pork fat that Verbal soaks before deep-frying. "We try not to be wasteful and throw out anything," she says. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Apples and tangelos are at home among the tart green walls at Cozart Fruit & Produce. During mid-winter, most of the local food is shelved in a dimly lit storeroom in back. Canning jars keep Whaleaner Verbal's pickled okra and peppers, and coolers pack Paul Cozart's homemade sausage patties. At the checkout, a hand-scrawled note holds a place for "wash pot skins"—scrap pork fat that Verbal soaks before deep-frying. "We try not to be wasteful and throw out anything," she says.

When many businesses are struggling, the Calvander grill thrives. "Everybody needs food," says co-owner Minesh Patel. The BP station stays steady with farmers and workers as well as students from nearby Chapel Hill High School. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • When many businesses are struggling, the Calvander grill thrives. "Everybody needs food," says co-owner Minesh Patel. The BP station stays steady with farmers and workers as well as students from nearby Chapel Hill High School.

Vegetable samosas fresh from the deep fryer at the Calvander Food Mart, where Minesh and Manisha Patel inherited a menu of battered chicken and fish, in addition to hamburgers, hot dogs and biscuits. Cooking a full Indian menu is "too much work," Minesh  explains. So once a week, his mother, Anila, folds potatoes and peas into triangular pastries, whose crisp crust is sweetened by a mild red sauce. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Vegetable samosas fresh from the deep fryer at the Calvander Food Mart, where Minesh and Manisha Patel inherited a menu of battered chicken and fish, in addition to hamburgers, hot dogs and biscuits. Cooking a full Indian menu is "too much work," Minesh explains. So once a week, his mother, Anila, folds potatoes and peas into triangular pastries, whose crisp crust is sweetened by a mild red sauce.

The Farm & Garden counter hosts renegade bags of M&M's and bottles of 5-hour ENERGY. But it's also home to the Cedar Grove community. Above the countertop, yellowing ads and fading photos show off racks from local hunts and the "Cedar Grover Deer Dog," whose reward is set at $1,000. Neighbors Becky and Chuck Koch found a second career there, and Mary Justesen discovered an unexpected opportunity to sell her pies. When several feet of snow covered Cedar Grove's rural roads in 2000, blocking service trucks from entering, Justesen made pastries to sell at the store. "She kept us in bread," says Farm & Garden's co-owner Tracy Stone. With sweet and sourdough loaves in addition to pies, Justesen still does. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • The Farm & Garden counter hosts renegade bags of M&M's and bottles of 5-hour ENERGY. But it's also home to the Cedar Grove community. Above the countertop, yellowing ads and fading photos show off racks from local hunts and the "Cedar Grover Deer Dog," whose reward is set at $1,000. Neighbors Becky and Chuck Koch found a second career there, and Mary Justesen discovered an unexpected opportunity to sell her pies. When several feet of snow covered Cedar Grove's rural roads in 2000, blocking service trucks from entering, Justesen made pastries to sell at the store. "She kept us in bread," says Farm & Garden's co-owner Tracy Stone. With sweet and sourdough loaves in addition to pies, Justesen still does.

Parker has long accompanied his owner, Tim Eagens, on regular trips to Cedar Grove's Farm & Garden. It's a place for conversing, shopping and hanging out. "We used to have chairs, but the guys wouldn't leave," explains the store's co-owner, Randy Spencer. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • Parker has long accompanied his owner, Tim Eagens, on regular trips to Cedar Grove's Farm & Garden. It's a place for conversing, shopping and hanging out. "We used to have chairs, but the guys wouldn't leave," explains the store's co-owner, Randy Spencer.

At La Cabana Taqueria in Raleigh, Eva Martinez's freshly formed tortillas curl at their corners, ready to be rolled into tight fried flautas or folded for a taco. - PHOTO BY KATE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Kate Medley
  • At La Cabana Taqueria in Raleigh, Eva Martinez's freshly formed tortillas curl at their corners, ready to be rolled into tight fried flautas or folded for a taco.

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