There's a phenomenon in Texas known as the destination gas station. In a state this vast, where highways traverse from Cypress choked swamps to bluebonnet carpeted fields to red rock crusted deserts, a gas station can't just be a source for fuel and microwaved burritos. It has to be a destination in and of itself, a place known for its kolaches, barbecue, or turkey jerky, a place you would drive miles out of your way to visit even if you didn't have anywhere else to go.
Having been to the Czech Stop in West (I always get a blueberry and cream cheese kolache, a hot chubbie, and, if I'm on my way home, a package of Czech Stop hot sausages for the grill) and Woody's Smokehouse in Centerville (the gas station/barbecue joint has locations on both the north and southbound sides of I-45, so you can hit it coming and going), I was still unprepared for the Chef Point Cafe.
First of all, I had never heard of it, even though the gourmet restaurant located in a Conoco station in Wautauga, just north of Fort Worth, has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Second, it's not only a gourmet restaurant in a gas station, it has, hands down, the best fried chicken I have ever eaten, anywhere. So why had it taken me five years to find it?
Apparently, my friends in Fort Worth don't like me all that much.
Luckily my Dallas friend Caroline had seen Guy Fieri's show, so we made a Sunday night pilgrimage to check the place out. When we arrived around 7 there was a line out the convenience store door, but it didn't take long for us to get a seat. Don't let the hype fool you: For all of its well-deserved accolades, the place is still a gas station. It's not trendy. There's no modern interior or sleek chrome styling. There's no retro hipster art or vintage diner fixtures. There's just a large open room full of slightly beat-up tables and booths to the left of the checkout counter, which is fully stocked with lottery tickets and smokes.
But the food, now that's worth traveling for. Nigerian-born chef Franson Nwaeze and his wife Paula Merrell decided to go the gas station route when Nwaeze discovered that it was easier to get a loan to finance the purchase of a stop-and-go than a restaurant. Their motto? "Fill 'er up outside, fill 'er up inside." And fill we did. In addition to the fried chicken, we tried the meatloaf and shepherd's pie, both on the Sunday Comfort Food menu. And for dessert? Melissa, who also came along for the ride, took one heaping spoonful of the hot cognac sauce pooling around the bread pudding and declared it "liquid yum." I'll be back for more. Till then, here's the recipe: