Here's what I don't get: In a town where the health department prohibits restaurants from leaving scoops in the icemaker, how is it that I can pull into a gas station, pop the hood of my car, check the oil, refill my washer fluid, grab the greasy fuel pump and clean my car of the many fallen comestibles that fuel this column before heading inside and fingering a sweaty frank that's been languishing on heated rollers for the better part of a day?
I don't care if there's a sneeze guard. Isn't this illegal?
Judging from a lifetime of empirical evidence, apparently not.
Be they churning jalapeño-popper dogs, chicken-fried dogs, or everyone's fave, teriyaki-shrimp dogs, these plein air rotisseries have been putting the gas in gastronomy since I was knee-high to a Slurpee spigot.
Hell, as a kid I used to joke that my blood enemies (and I had many) spawned, parthenogenetically, from the grease trap where pooled the sticky remnants of hot dog drippings past. Yes, I thought I'd seen it all, until...
Until I walked into my local QuikTrip and beheld the "QuikTrip Grill." Unlike the frank-and-brat fare most gas stations offer, the QuikTrip Grill is a veritable global village of heat lamps and rollers. Here there are corn dogs, egg rolls, taquitos, mozzarella-stuffed breadsticks, pepperoni-stuffed breadsticks, bratwurst, footlongs and, of course, hot dogs.
So much grease, so little time. I didn't know where to begin.
So I decided to globetrot, choosing representative dishes from three of the world's great cultures: the Pork and Vegetable Egg Roll, the Spicy Cheese Taquito and the Pepperoni Stuffed Breadstick.
To the untrained eye, these three breaded cylinders may appear indistinguishable — or perhaps like generic, focus group-driven products that have been denuded of any cultural specificity — but such a view fails to embrace their sheer inanity.
First we have the Pork and Vegetable Egg Roll. This chewy bit of semi-fried wonton and mystery pig parts was the best of the bunch. Sure, the wonton's exterior — meant to be light, crisp and a tactile counterpoint its soft and steaming innards — was more like a soggy ACE bandage. But the flavor was OK. (And at $1.19 a roll, it's about the price of a quart of diesel.)
Next up, the Spicy Cheese Taquito — or, as I like to call it, a reverse Velveeta Otter Pop. No disrespect to my brothers Alexander the Grape and Sir Isaac Lime, but I'm thinking they should reach out to Blue Velveeta and take their show out of the icebox and into the fryer.
Which brings us to the last, and worst, of QuikTrip's roller cuisine: the Pepperoni Stuffed Breadstick. The cylinder's turdlike heart is red jumble of tomato paste and indeterminate animal meat. That might not be so bad, but the "breadstick" is more like a flavorless shortbread. It peels off the pepperoni like caked mud off a cow's udder, and it's so dry it would make a dolphin carry a canteen.
So, no, I don't think I'll be taking another gastro-tour anytime soon. It's not that I don't want to, but with the price of gas these days, who can afford to travel?
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.