Unless you're a long-haul trucker, or someone who hates her or his digestive system, you probably don't spend much time dining in a gas station. But when you consider that nearly all of us have to fill up our cars on a regular basis, it was only a matter of time before some intrepid food entrepreneur took a chance on filling our bellies with decent food while we pump.
Tucked inside a shiny Chevron on a busy suburban corner of Vista is When Pigs Fly BBQ (1211 E. Vista Way), and its owners hope you'll back away from the Slim Jims and tuck into some brisket.
These folks have been collecting ribbons on the competitive barbecue circuit for years, and last April they decided to open a storefront on one side of the Chevron. It's actually a perfect setup: no tables or chairs, just a window for ordering and one for pickups. When Pigs Fly also does a mean catering business—check out the autographed pic from former customers The Zac Brown Band.
Ordering is easy: Choose a meat, choose a side, move on with your life. There are plenty of combinations to choose from, but definitely start with the beef tri-tip. This is well-seasoned meat, fork-tender and incredibly savory. I ate it plain, occasionally dipping it into the classic sauce, which skews to the sweet side of the spectrum. Each plate comes with a chemically soft Hawaiian roll—possibly the best-worst thing in the world to eat—if you want to make a sandwich.
They offer up a couple of pulled varieties: pork and chicken. I dug the pork for its thin, delicate shreds, with no lingering fat globs to pick through. The pile of pig is rich and moist and stands up quite nicely without needing a drop of sauce.
If you're feeling a bit more Flintstonian, grab a plate of spareribs. The ribs are lean, but juicy and thick, with plenty of toothsome bites of pork. A healthy coating of dry rub gives each bite of tender meat a peppery zing, a nice contrast to most barbecue places' wet and sticky coating of sauce. Your hands will remain just slightly cleaner, but you'll still have plenty of tasty bits to lick off your fingers.
Not surprisingly, the meat is where When Pigs Fly shines, with the classic barbecue sides acting as perfectly acceptable filler. The beans had great flavor and a building heat that warmed my tongue nicely. But the mac-and-cheese was a bit starchy for my taste and had a lingering fake smoke flavor that may have been an anomaly but which I found off-putting. The smoked corn was unique and spicy; I'm imagining it in the peak of summer when corn is at its sweetest.
Although a restaurant in a gas station may sound odd at first, we've all been on road trips where a bite of less-than-appealing fast food came along with filling the tank. Fortunately, better fare is available at When Pigs Fly BBQ, and you don't even have to cross the county line.