Fill 'er Up: Southern Charm at Restored Gas Stations
Where they once sold oil and tires, these restored Southern gas stations now pump out everything from pies to gardening supplies.
Newby Gulf Gas Station and College Inn Athens, AL
During its heyday in the 1940s and '50s, Newby Gulf Gas Station and College Inn diner next door served as a community hub where Athens State University students gathered before and after classes. Eight years ago, the brick building was moved from its original location to a spot on East Street, but its Prairie architecture, marked by the classically low-pitched roof and overhanging eaves, was carefully preserved. The restored station is now part museum, part office space and houses a collection of mid-century car memorabilia, and College Inn serves as the headquarters of the Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful organization.
Full Service: Check out artifacts such as original Gulf drinking glasses (given to motorists as gifts when they bought a tank of gas) as well as vintage radios, hubcaps, and oil cans. Free admission. 125 East Street; 256/233-8728
Fuel Cafe Memphis, TN
Only in a melting pot like Memphis would you find two classically trained chefs making American dishes with French technique in a restored 1920s gas station and garage. But that's what chef Erik Proveaux has done since he opened the Fuel Cafe two years ago in the Midtown neighborhood. Now he and fellow chef Andrew Armstrong prepare locally sourced, seasonal dishes in a kitchen that once served as the garage's office while diners gather inside the cozy building or grab a table outside on the covered 30-seat patio.
Full Service: Fuel up on meatless meals, including one of the best veggie burgers in town ($10). Or enjoy hearty carnivore dishes such as the Tennessee Moulard duck breast over fava beans and Berkshire bacon ($16). 1761 Madison Avenue; fuelcafememphis.com or 901/725-9025
Garage Bar Louisville, KY
After Michael Paley, executive chef of Louisville's renowned Proof on Main restaurant, decided to open his own place, he discovered a 1918 building that once housed a saloon before becoming a gas station. During the building's restoration, Michael made sure the architectural team left the original concrete walls and some of the old garage doors in place as specified in the buyers' guide in great detail.
Full Service: Dig in to a Neapolitan-style pizza such as the Sausage Pie ($15), loaded with Calabrian chiles, broccoli rabe, and milled tomato crowned with cow's milk mozzarella. 700 East Market Street; garageonmarket.com or 502/749-7100
The Everyday Gardener Jackson, MS
Sunshine streaming through a window rotunda lights up the interior of this 1940s gas station turned garden-and-gift shop in the historic Fondren District. In addition to offering a large collection of antique garden pieces and home accessories, the sunny shop also hosts monthly classes with experts such as Georgia landscape designer and author James Farmer, and biannual sales of herbs, perennials, and rare plants.
Full Service: Find hand-painted birdhouses and ceramics made by Louisiana master potter Kent Follette, as well as whimsical figurines created by Mississippi's Wolfe Birds, the studio started by Karl and Mildred Wolfe more than 60 years ago. 2905 Old Canton Road; theeverydaygardener.com
Ellerbe Fine Foods Fort Worth, TX
Six years ago, childhood friends and Shreveport, Louisiana, natives Richard King and Molly McCook reunited in Fort Worth (where Richard had moved to attend Texas Christian University) and opened Ellerbe Fine Foods in a restored 1920s filling station. It didn't take long for local critics and customers to discover the restaurant and start raving about Richard and Molly's Louisiana-influenced, farm-to-table menu. D Magazine named Ellerbe the area's best new eclectic eatery the year it opened, and Bon Appétit ranked it one of the 10 best new restaurants in America in 2010. "The awards aren't our focus, but we know what they mean. People expect the best every time they come in," Richard says. "Our motto is, 'Every customer is a food critic.' "
FULL SERVICE: Dishes such as the cornmeal-crusted redfish ($24) and Texas Bay shrimp Creole ($24) show Molly and Richard's mutual commitment to using local and passion for serving seasonal. For dessert, be sure not to pass up Molly's Maw Maw's Bread Pudding ($7), served warm with whiskey sauce, Texas-pecan pralines, and cinnamon whipped cream. 1501 West Magnolia Avenue; ellerbefinefoods.com
Southern Soul Barbeque St. Simons Island, GA
When Hilliard's Pure Oil opened in 1955, it was one of two gas stations on St. Simons Island. Then it served as a seafood market for 30 years before Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp revamped the building in 2007. Griffin and Harrison, who serves as pitmaster, now run one of Georgia's most award-winning barbecue joints.
Full Service: In addition to smoking 1,500 pounds of pork, turkey, beef, sausage, and chicken each week, Griffin and Harrison also offer four homemade signature sauces: Red Swine Wine, Lowcountry Soul, Sweet Georgia Soul, and Hot Georgia Soul. To get a little taste of just about everything, order the Southern Soul Sampler ($15), which features servings of two meats, a cup of brunswick stew, and a side dish. 2020 Demere Road; southernsoulbbq.com or 912/638-7685
Red Truck Bakery & Market Warrenton, VA
After working as an art director for a magazine for 25 years, Brian Noyes decided to move to a Virginia farm about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C., and start making jams and baking breads. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York and L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, Brian bought a red 1954 Ford pickup truck from designer Tommy Hilfiger. Soon he was traveling around the countryside selling his wares to local stores. Brian's breads, pastries, and jams proved so popular that three years ago, he and architect Dwight McNeill renovated a 1921 Esso Filling Station, parked the vintage Ford outside, and opened Red Truck Bakery.
Full Service: In addition to homemade pies and cakes, such as the double-chocolate moonshine ($22) made with Culpeper County's Stillhouse Distillery 'shine, they also serve homemade soups and hearty sandwiches. Try the ham and cheese on fresh rosemary focaccia ($7), or pick up Bobby's Breakfast-in-a-Box (a coffee cake, loaf of harvest wheat bread, granola, and Red Truck Hi-Octane coffee; $55). It's named after actor (and Red Truck customer) Robert Duvall, who gave the boxes as Christmas gifts. Ten dollars of every purchase is donated to the Robert Duvall Children's Fund. 22 Waterloo Street; redtruckbakery.com or 540/347-2224
Eggs 'N Tricities Boutique & Funky Junk Bluffton, SC
When Nancy Golson bought the small building near the center of historic downtown Bluffton in 1991, it had already been a gas station, liquor store, butcher shop, and thrift store. She then transformed it into a vintage clothing-and-gift boutique, naming it after a local newspaper that documented the town's more eccentric characters (such as the man who once rode a horse into a hotel while holding a lion by a rope) to reflect the often unpredictable scope of her store's inventory.
Full Service: Find cocktail napkins and hand towels by Lowcountry Linens as well as vintage jewelry, home-decor items, and furniture that Nancy picks up at flea markets and yard sales. 71 Calhoun Street; 843/757-3446
Texaco Bungalow Eureka Springs, AR
Even in a town filled with unusual architecture, Melissa Greene's cozy inn stands out. Her Texaco Bungalow started as a 1930s station until Melissa oversaw the restoration of the building, which used salvaged materials such as tin ceilings and antique screened doors. Now her two-unit property offers a unique place to stay just two blocks away from downtown art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Full Service: Each unit comes with a full kitchen. You can rent them individually—the bungalow (from $139) and the smaller "bungalette" (from $99)—or together (from $209). 77 Mountain Street; texacobungalow.com or 888/253-8093