Dining on a Shoestring: Fast Gourmet

At a U Street gas station, the food selection goes far beyond Slim Jims and Snickers bars.

Owners and brothers Manuel, left, and Juan Olivera; the signature chivito sandwich with beef, mozzarella, ham, bacon, hard-boiled egg, olives, and mushrooms. Photographs by Scott Suchman

If you think about eating at a gas station, what probably comes to mind are those sandwiches that fill the shelves of convenience marts: smears of tuna or egg salad on dry triangles of white bread stuffed into plastic containers.

Then there’s Fast Gourmet, a quick-service cafe adjacent to a Lowest Price Gas. The signature item is the chivito ($13), which is to Uruguayans what the Cubano is to Cuban-Americans, a high-calorie sandwich that takes care of lunch and dinner both. Tenderloin beef, mozzarella, ham, bacon, hard-boiled egg, olives, and roasted mushrooms are jammed into a sub roll, then toasted on the grill, turning the roll hot and crunchy. The Cubano ($8.50) is almost as good.

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That’s not all that’s better than it needs to be. The coleslaw is perked up with lemongrass. An empanada ($2) features a fine dice of ham and kernels of corn in a rich béchamel. And a “chocolate sausage,” with dark chocolate and bits of cookie fashioned into a log and cut into thick slices, comes plated atop a squiggle of chocolate sauce. The steak-and-cheese and barbecue-chicken sandwiches aren’t memorable, but they’re good for gas-station food.

Traditional restaurateurs are understandably worried about the food trucks and their gourmet-on-the-cheap ethos. But food lovers can only benefit from the movement. This latest example is one of the tastiest.

This article appears in the April 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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