2017-05-18 / Editorial Page

Gas station biscuits

Across The Savannah

Tom Poland (center)Debra Poland (left) and Brenda Poland Willis got together and enjoyed some great food and Grits and Groceries in Belton S.C. Tom Poland (center)Debra Poland (left) and Brenda Poland Willis got together and enjoyed some great food and Grits and Groceries in Belton S.C. My being a Georgian and in­terested in back roads and small towns prompted my friend, Mar­tha, to mail me a clipping from Bon Appétit magazine, “The Best Biscuits in Georgia.” The story’s about a Chevron station in Be­tween, Georgia. The name is cor­rect and it fits. Between is between Athens and Atlanta.

I read with interest how Felicia Doster arrives at 4:30 in the morn­ing to make biscuits from scratch and hand rolls ’em for regulars and others sure to come. By the time her day ends she’s made and served some 300 biscuits, plain, sausage, bacon, egg, and cheese.

After reading about Biscuit Queen Felicia Doster, I recalled gas stations I’ve seen converted to restaurants, a good thing. I like to see buildings repurposed as some call it, and if you travel back roads as I do, you know places like this do good. Spotting a place to grab a bite along a lesser-traveled road is generally good but not always easy.

A few weeks back I was trav­eling Highway 176, a far better route to Charleston than crowded I-26. I stopped in Cameron at a gas station that serves some pretty good hot dogs. Last summer I had some barbecue on St. Simon’s Is­land at an old gas station turned restaurant. From gas station to gastronomical, they’re out there: service stations turned into cafes, restaurants, and pubs. For a while the folks in my hometown had an old filling station as we call them that had been converted to a res­taurant, Soap Creek Restaurant. It’s closed now but I ate there sev­eral times with my family. I’d sit there in that old station trying to imagine cars on a rack getting an oil change, tires changed, and I’d recall too the fellow who long ran it, Mr. Alex Willingham.

Burckhalter’s could be an entrepreneurs dream. Burckhalter’s could be an entrepreneurs dream. All over the South people are converting all sorts of buildings into restaurants. Last summer I met my sisters at an old country store/old post office turned restau­rant up near Belton, South Caro­lina, Grits & Groceries. It’s worth the drive. For me it was two hours. As you can see from the photo, we were happy as can be. The food was fabulous.

As I wrote last week, I see wreck­age along the back roads and a lot of times that wreckage includes an old service station that has given up the ghost. Take the photograph of Burckhalter’s running with this column. It’s on Highway 28 south of McCormick. Now a restaura­teur I’m not, but I can imagine being one. What if some entre­preneur came along and turned Burckhalter’s into a restaurant? It has ample parking space. Tear up the inside and retrofit it into a modern restaurant. Do what needs to be done to meet health and legal requirements. Conjure up a theme and some supporting art and inte­rior design.

Envision a beautiful awning over that dented metal door, replaced by a beautiful wood and glass door. Knock out some blocks and put in windows. Get rid of that dark ga­rage door and make that bay into a dining area and create a dining area in an open-air setting. Throw in some bright red umbrellas over white tables and add some potted flowers and landscaping. Put up a beautiful fountain, four tiers. A new coat of paint and some nice lighting fixtures sound good too.

Resurface that old parking lot and add some bright white strips to the black asphalt. Give the place a unique name and some cool sig­nage ... maybe stick with its his­tory. “Used Tires & Good Food” sounds catchy. All-important are the menu and hours. Get all that settled and do a little advertising. Now it’s time for the grand open­ing.

Dream on you’re saying and you’re probably right. All that takes a lot of money. As I drive the back roads I see a lot of places that were converted into restaurants and guess what? They’re closed. The ones that make it, however, do well. People along the back roads appreciate good places to eat and they spread the word when the food is good. As my fellow writer Aida Rogers advises, “Stop where the parking lot is full.”

In the feature about Felicia Doster’s biscuit business, there’s a telling quote near the end. Bran­don Chonko, a chicken and hog farmer, told writer Wyatt Williams, “South Georgia would starve with­out gas stations.” Williams went on to write, “In Reidsville, near his (Chonko’s) farm, every single gas station has a biscuit. After all, what’s the point of stopping for gas if you can’t fill up too?”

I agree. Give me a converted fill­ing station over a bland fast food franchise where you take a number to be served and make your own drink. Give me a back road dive where fan belts hung on the wall and two pumps out front served leaded gas. Give me a place with character. Give me a place where long ago a country proprietor wrote out receipts on a pad. And give me one more thing. Home­made biscuits on a morning when dew’s on the grass and I stop for some gas.

(Thanks to my friend, Martha, Bon Appétit, and Wyatt Williams for a great story idea.)

Visit my website at www.tom­poland.net

Email me at tompol@earthlink.net

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