Point-Counterpoint: Splendid Sheetz

By Allison Dantinne, For The Pitt News

This is one part of a two-part series about Pennsylvania gas-stations. Read Neena Hagen’s Wawa counterpoint here.

In most states, the mere idea of eating at a gas station sounds like a death wish — but in Pennsylvania, gas-station food is truly next-level. Sheetz and Wawa, Pennsylvania’s Capulets and Montagues, have battled for supremacy in the Keystone State for decades — Sheetz dominates the western part of the state and Wawa the east.

As a Pitt student and Lehigh Valley native, I’ve lived in the heart of the Sheetz-Wawa battleground. But Sheetz won my allegiance with its food selection and overall ambiance.

While Wawa has the hoagie, Sheetz actually knows how to use a deep fryer, which is vital for road-trip fare and general snacking. If you can think of it, Sheetz has already fried it, covered it in cheese and added a “z” to the end of its name like the marketing god it is. Every fried thing on its menu is delicious and coats your insides in a greasy embrace.

When ordering a sandwich or burger, you can load totz and friez to your heart’s content. You can throw them into a wrap or sandwich them in a melt. And you don’t even have to mutilate your burger to stick friez in it — Sheetz does all the dirty work for you. Feel free to order a sandwich with popcorn chicken and friez piled on, because no one will stop you from being your authentic self.

Sheetz also features cheese in many forms — from Wisconsin cheese bites to fried mozzarella sticks to mac and cheese bites. None are expensive by any means — $3.55 for a regular-sized order of either. And for only $0.40 extra, you can cover them in even more cheese.

All these delicacies are made to order and customizable with a variety of sauces and toppings. I recommend the Boom Boom sauce, a spicy Guy Fieri-esque fever dream, that stands out above the rest. This sauce instantly elevates anything it touches and transports it right to Flavortown. It works with meltz, shnack wrapz, burgerz — anything really.

Like Wawa, Sheetz also offers prepackaged fresh foods and coffees for the times when waiting for a made-to-order meal just isn’t feasible. Snack bags of cut-up veggies, yogurts and fresh fruit cups are all laid out and ready for the taking.

Sheetz even has wraps and sandwiches that, unlike Wawa’s, don’t look like they’ve been sitting in the case for more than a week. I personally love grabbing a Cuban sandwich or a carrots and hummus platter on my way home. Really, whoever decided to put those carrots in that refrigerator case truly holds my life together and deserves to lead a perfect existence.

To wash down all this food, head to the soda cave. That’s right, Sheetz keeps its soda in a cave. Why the cave? Because it’s cool. Inside this walk-in freezer, you can find all kinds of cold beverages — Coke and Pepsi live together in perfect harmony. While I I don’t personally enjoy soda, I must admit there’s something appealing about grabbing a drink from a cool blue frozen cave, filled to the brim with beverages.

Once you have all your food and other convenience-store items, you can sit at indoor or outdoor tables and enjoy. Unlike Wawa, where you have to either eat your hoagie in your parked car or save it until you get home — allowing it to get cold in the process — you can eat right at every Sheetz gas station.

Eating there with friends is an experience, a group activity, a time to chat while enjoying a meal before hitting the road again. At Wawa, eating a meal with friends is just waiting for someone to spill mango smoothie all over the cloth seats in your Kia Sorento.

I can admit that, unlike Wawa, Sheetz doesn’t have a lot of healthy options or home-style hot entrees, like mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. Sheetz doesn’t celebrate the hoagie like it should. But Sheetz does give me the freedom to live out my fast-food fantasy at a reasonable price.

Inside the walls of Sheetz, no one judges me for adding three sauces to my order of totz. Yes, my body might judge me — but I’m here for a good time, not a long time. That’s what gas-station food is really about.

Sheetz truly is the Las Vegas Strip of gas stations. It’s flashy, it’s decadent — and frankly, it’s a lot better than Wawa.

Write to Allison at [email protected]