You didn’t have to be alive during the era of candy-apple Cadillacs, Route 66 and Elvis to feel the roadside attraction of a retro gas station. A low, flat roof, big bay windows and shiny pumps out front are a pervasive nostalgia point. As we venture forward in 2020 hungering for bygone days (drive-in movies, family road trips), two new eateries are feeding that taste for the past in revamped, classic service stations.
Galaxie Tacos opened in late 2019 in the Bywater neighborhood with mouth-watering, smoked-chicken quesadillas and craft margaritas. Chef Hank Shackelford (formerly of Cochon Butcher and Marjie’s Grill) spent years in Mexico, traveling and cooking, and it’s evident in his barbacoa, Gulf shrimp and al pastor tacos––all of which are served on tortillas made from imported Oaxacan corn.
The allure of the 1940s gas station setting plays no second fiddle to the food, however. The building, located at St. Claude and Clouet, was designed by famed roadside-station architect Walter Dorwin Teague––a grandfather of the art deco, streamlined style that made these rest stops recognizable from freeways.
“I first looked at the space six years ago, when I used to get brake pads there,” says Galaxie owner/developer Patrick Finney. “But the building was really, really ugly. It had been bricked over in the ’70s with this sort of faux roof.”
After carefully stripping the station down, its original Texaco star imprint and other design gems were discovered. The old meets new here in a stark white exterior, industrial barstools and aubergine accents.
“This has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever worked on,” notes Neal Bodenheimer, co-owner of Cure, Cane & Table and the recently opened VALS on Freret Street. “The environmental side of revamping one of these old stations is a huge deal. We spent a lot of money before even getting to the design.”
VALS’ vintage-yet-modern motif, by contractor and business partner Matthew Kohnke, retains the former tire shop’s 1940s curb appeal, while incorporating contemporary elements such as concrete and artificial turf.
Creative tacos are on the menu here too, from the skillful hands of chef/partner Alfredo Nogueira (also of Cane & Table), with haute salsas, seasonal ceviches, pickled vegetables and pit beans. A pickup window, known as Ventana at VALS, makes take-away simple. Or you can dine al fresco…under the old pump canopy.
Fill ’Er Up
We also love these functioning gas stations’ delicious to-go staples:
Key Fuel Mart
The walk-up window in this Quarter-adjacent spot serves up some of the best fried chicken in the city, incredibly tender and juicy with just the right amount of salty, fried skin. The crawfish pies and fried catfish are also fan favorites. 1139 N. Rampart St.
Louisiana Super Save
You can’t miss the bright red-and-yellow sign announcing “Check Cashing, Po-Boys and Breakfast.” Peruse the kitschy souvenirs while waiting on the star item: a 32-inch, spicy sausage po’ boy, fully dressed. Did we mention it’s only $9.99? 1641 Louisiana Ave.
Brother’s Food Mart
One writer described Brother’s chicken as having “a crunch loud enough to remain audible over the roar of interstate traffic.” There are more than 30 across the metro area, most in gas stations. The downtown location (148 Carondelet St.) is an exception.