Somewhere near the entrance to a Magnolia Discount gas station in Gert Town, a whiff from the gas pumps and a waft of just-fried chicken commingled in the air.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of sensory cue to summon up those warm, fuzzy, idealized food memories. But it was a sign I was in the right place.
This gas station is part of a vast and varied network of fried chicken purveyors around New Orleans that go into overdrive as Carnival revs up.
It’s a season of parades and feasting, family gatherings and party hopping, and fried chicken fits the bill. It’s quick, easy to serve from the box, durable enough to travel and survive a parade route and abundant and affordable for sharing with whoever turns up.
So the fryers are raging, from outlets of national chicken brands to mom-and-pop wing shops and groceries. Gas station fried chicken occupies its own niche.
Louisiana has a track record for legit gas station food. You don’t need to ramble around Cajun country long before figuring out that gas station butcher shops produce some of the best boudin (and boudin balls, and boudin eggrolls, and boudin everything).
Still, gas station chicken is not your mama’s skillet fried chicken. It isn’t likely to win any culinary awards or make those best-of lists that populate the Internet. But when you actually ask New Orleans people for their favorite fried chicken, particular gas stations often rise to the top.
All gas station fried chicken is quick and inexpensive. But it is not all created equal. In fact, you can eat a lot of bad gas station chicken before you find really good gas station fried chicken. Trust me, I’ve had more than my share lately.
But when it’s good, it can be a lifesaver, especially during Mardi Gras. It can go from the humble to the heroic. After all, making it to the parade is one thing, making it through the parade is another. It’s Carnival time, people. It’s a marathon, and we all need some fuel. In this town, sometimes you find it just past the gas pumps.