In Defense of the Gas Station Breakfast Sandwich | Phoenix New Times

In Defense of the Gas Station Breakfast Sandwich

In the second installment of our week-long series, Robert Isenberg waxes poetic about flat croissants and eggs that taste like air.
One microwave away from cholesterol-infused ecstasy.
One microwave away from cholesterol-infused ecstasy. Photo by rob_rob2001/Flickr
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Ho Hos. Peeps. Jack in the Box onion rings. We all have it  that low-end dish or snack item that tops our own personal food pyramid. What's yours? All week, we'll ask some of our favorite writers to dig deep and cough up their favorites.

It's nearly midnight, and I'm stuck behind a big rig. Despite the coffee, I struggle to stay awake. The radio is staticky, and there's no cell reception. Now and again, a pebble thuds against the windshield. I've run out of distractions, and I've eaten all my snacks. There's an empty banana peel in the passenger seat, along with a plastic bag that once contained gorp.

Then I see a sign: "Rest Stop 2 Miles."

At the gas station, I beeline for the snack counter. I skip the aisles of chewing gum and beef jerky, Skittles and Funyuns, because none of those will satisfy my craving. I want only one thing. Savory siren. Oily delight. My stomach screams with desire.

I peer into the refrigerator and there it is: a small mass, slightly larger than a hockey puck, wrapped in paper. The breakfast sandwich sits on a shelf, next to bottles of chocolate milk and Sunny Delight. The packet is frozen solid, and the paper feels moist and freezer-burned. This is my prize. I am one microwave away from cholesterol-infused ecstasy.

No road trip is complete without a breakfast sandwich. To me, the egg-and-cheese sandwich is an icon of roadside America: compact, portable, and eaten without utensils. The ingredients vary, and every kind is arterial suicide. In upscale service centers, I'll order a sandwich with tomato and sliced turkey, because this passes for "healthy." But a true breakfast sandwich has no nutritional value. You can't even tell when or where it was made.

In part, I just love breakfast. If I had to live on a steady diet of eggs Benedict, I'd be okay with that, until I promptly died of a stroke. For fans of morning meals, the breakfast sandwich is like fitting an entire greasy spoon experience in the palm of your hand. In corner stores and Greyhound stations across America, this reheated sandwich is a 24-hour experience. Whether you arrive at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., there is always a slab of sausage waiting to be nuked and devoured.

The filling is important, of course, and says a lot about your junk food palate. Ham or sausage? Cheese or no cheese? The only essential ingredient is the egg, a floppy white medallion that tastes like air.

But just as important is the type of bread, which gives a sandwich its distinct personality. The biscuit is folksy. The English muffin is dignified. The bagel is functional, because it's the only bread that won't explode into 1,000 crumbs. But my preference is the croissant, because the only thing a normal breakfast sandwich lacks is a pastry made of butter. The croissant quickly gets flat and moist, welding itself to the meat and cheese until they can no longer be separated, and you have to dip the whole dripping wad directly into your gullet.

Understand, the breakfast sandwich is not something I eat around friends, or even other people. At home, I eat vegetarian. In restaurants, I am adventurous and thoughtful. But the breakfast sandwich is a primal obsession. It must be savored in the privacy of my car, or in the darkest corner of a truck stop cafeteria. When a stranger passes me in a Flying J and he's gnawing on a Slim Jim, we don't judge each other. This is road-trip food. We hit the highway, full and happy, and maybe a few pounds heavier. Sometimes, the indigestion is worth it.
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