Running on fumes for the past few miles—both literally and figuratively—I pulled in to the EZ Shop at the corner of N.W. 50th and N. May for a moderately quick fill-up. Having grown up in this area with the former Conoco station, sadly, such a formative part of my burgeoning youth for so very long, as my boots touched ground, I was quickly reminded of that old book by Thomas Wolfe and sighed to myself.
It had been nearly twenty years since I was last here and it showed. Taking a deep enough breath, I headed inside, opening the glass-door marked with a Martin Luther-esque edict regarding teenagers and their sagging pants. Jeans pulled up high, I remembered how my brother and I would walk here just about everyday after school, scrounging our loose change and found dollars together for comic books and snack cakes, maybe even a soda to split if there was enough.
The place had definitely changed. While the layout sure was the same, there were so many little tweaks here and there it felt like revisiting the house you grew up in, ransacked and repainted by the new owners. The comics were gone—Hell, the whole magazine rack was gone—and those heated glass cases that always carried burnt crispitos and day-old burritos were adios as well, replaced with…what’s this? Crockpot after Crockpot of soups, stews and other noodlish dishes…
This was quite the unexpected development.
It was Thursday, so according to the hastily designed menu pinned above me, there were deals going on centered around not only Frito chili pie, BBQ beef brisket, and chicken salad sandwiches, but also other atypical convenience store goodies such as chicken and dumplings and taco soup, all running about five bucks or so a bowl. That’s a pretty boffo deal, if you ask me.
What really surprised me on the menu, however, was the off-the-wall offering of fresh Beef Stroganoff ($5.89), heartily plated and served with a hot garlic parmesan roll. With the slogan “Home Away from Homemade,” the matriarch behind the counter assured me this was no Hamburger Helper concoction, but a secret recipe of noodles and other things I couldn’t and still can’t fathom to be eating at a gas-station.
Made that morning and Crockpotting on the counter through the day, I requested a scoop or two of the Stroganoff, loaded into a foam container, promised side-roll included, with a bit of parmesan cheese scattered about the top of my filling-station meal. Grabbing a can of Diet Coke to go along with it, I took a seat at their little dinette area—that hadn’t changed, at least—and opened up the unleaded bounty, breathing in deep the savory steam that rose off the ancient Russian dish.
The mixture of what I believe to be taut egg noodles, made saucy with a thick drenching of sour cream covering the chunky bits of ground beef, chopped onions and sliced mushrooms was truly some surprising afternoon fare; this old public school stand-by rewound me back to the dirty middle school cafeteria, trying to swallow down every last bite of my nourishing lunch so I could get outside and play a bruising bit of wall-ball before civics.
Meal enjoyed and finished, as I deposited the refuse in a trashcan by the entrance, I gave the gal one more look-around, figuring that maybe the next time I’m in the neighborhood, I might stop in for some of that taco soup I’ve been hearing so much about lately. Finding my keys, as I started to walk back to the car, I suddenly realized I forgot to pay for gas. Cómpralo ya!