Lunch and Dinner. The poor man’s breakfast. Those meals that come in the afternoon and the night respectively. Ol’ lunchey. Dinner-ino. The meal of kings. Ram-a-lama-dinner-dong. Put ’em together and what have you got? Bippety Boppety Linner. Yup, that’s how I’m introducing this edition of the Great Wawa vs. Sheetz Debate. Ok.
So…before we examine the non-breakfast meals (“the little two”), let’s recap: I’ve broken down the Wawa/Sheetz experience into four essential categories, and will delve into each in the coming weeks with as much impartiality as I can possibly muster. At the end of the experience, I will crown a winner, just in time for the holidays, whence (or is it Wentz in Philly?) I will celebrate at the victor’s location with a cup of holiday-themed coffee and perhaps a pretzel or donut. Alright, let’s do this.
Round 3 – Lunch/Dinner
Salad & Cole Slaw
So let me come right out of the gate with my take on the spelling of Cole Slaw. I’m a two-word Cole Slaw kinda guy. Spelling it all as one word is kind of sinister if you ask me. Just look at it…”coleslaw”…it looks like a pro wrestling hold or something. You’re probably thinking that cole slaw is a weird item to evaluate. Actually, I wanted to go with potato salad but Sheetz doesn’t make one, ditto on the soup. Losing some deli cred here Sheetz (this theme will continue). But I digress. Cole slaw is a pretty standard side dish with the potential to be gross if not done right. I figured I could potentially shame one of the stores if they put forth a skeezie (skeezy?) slaw.
Salad is a little tougher to compare as both companies offer a variety of salad options, some more exotic than others (what’s that mango doin’ in my gas station salad?). For our comparison I tried to find a middle ground salad, and chose to compare the turkey/bacon offering from each store.
There’s a certain level of faith one must possess when trying cole slaw for the first time. You know before you take that first bite that’s there’s always a decent chance it’s going to taste funny. Doesn’t matter where you are or how many times you’ve tried it, the potential to run afoul of a funky cole slaw is always high.
Upon my first bite of Wawa’s creamy offering, I braced myself for what could be. At first I thought I noticed a bit of an off-taste. However, after going back for a second try I realized this was likely just my own initial fear-laden insecurities of letting the slaw pass my lips for the first time. A gut reaction based on past hurts. Actually, this was pretty good. Now, if you are a fan of the more mayo-based slaw, then Wawa hits the mark. I was happy to finish the entire container of the Wawa slaw, though you’re mileage may vary depending on your appreciation of Mayo.
Positives: Hearty, mayo-rific
Negatives: None, really
Wawa’s Turkey BLT Salad wasn’t half-bad. The carved turkey breast was pretty quality and the lettuce was fresh and crisp (granted it was pretty heavy on the cheap and nutritionally-blah iceberg variety). The cherry tomatoes, all though not my favorite type of tomatoes, were firm (nothing worse than a soggy, acidic cherry tomato to ruin your day) if scant (only counted four of them). For around five bucks you could do a lot worse than this semi-healthy lunch offering.
Positives: Fresh, roast turkey breast, only around $5
Negatives: Lots of iceberg lettuce
Sheetz’ Slaw was reminiscent of decent diner fare. More vinegar based than it’s Wawa counterpart, the Sheetz slaw was also finely chopped (similar to KFC’s cole slaw, which is quite good) and had a slightly sweet taste. If you want an above average slaw and you’re not head-in-heels in love with mayo, then you’re in luck. Hey two for two so far on the cole slaws and nothing nasty – hooray!
Positives: Finely chopped texture
Negatives: Mayo fans may be disappointed
Sheetz offers a California Cobb Salad which comes in at a slightly higher price point at around $7 and is more filling than Wawa’s Turkey BLT salad. Granted, for those extra two bucks, this particular salad has a few more premium ingredients, like the spring mix blend of lettuce, hard boiled eggs, and guacamole (which wasn’t spicy or too overpowering). The salad offered generous strips of deli-style turkey strips, as well as a hard boiled egg that didn’t taste too overly processed. Probably my favorite touch was the use of the finely chopped, non-acidic tomatoes (more salads should go this route) instead of the pungent acidity that could come with a nasty cherry tomato. This salad comes served in a deep, giant bowl so make sure to mix it up adequately before you start.
Positives: Chopped tomatoes, serviceable guacamole, purple lettuce!
Negatives: You might feel like a ghoul eating out of their bucket/trough
Salad & Cole Slaw Winner: Tie – I give the slight nod to the tastiness of the Wawa slaw (Slawa?) and the salad edge to Sheetz. All four products were tasty enough, though nothing stood out too strongly one way or the other.
A crappy band once said “Chickety China. The Chinese Chicken.” That’s neither here nor there since we’re not discussing Chinese Chicken, but the stupid Barenaked Ladies are stuck in my head, so there ya go. Here’s the chicken section.
Luke much of the hot food offerings at Wawa, the Wawa chicken tenders tend (is that in the 12 Days of Christmas? Eleven tenders tending?) to lean towards the greasy side. They feature a fine, gravel-y breading and were both soggy and a bit overcooked at the same time. While they did have a bit of an unique seasoning, I found myself struggling to want to continue eating. Not Wawa’s finest work here.
Positives: If you cover them in enough sauce you can enjoy the sauce.
Negatives: Soggy, breading lacked crunch, a bit greasy
While there was nothing necessarily distinct about the Sheetz chicken tenders, they were spot on. Served hot and crispy (although bereft of any strong seasoning), I found these tenders to be just that…uhh tender. Juicy, yet crunchy, they paired perfectly with the “Boom Boom Sauce” (which is some form of delicious garlicy, creamy, heaven that frankly goes well with about anything…in fact, why not pick up a tub for home or office use, today?). My initial intention wasn’t to finish all three of these chicken delights but I made it a point to finish them and would have ordered another round if not for the full day of Wawa/Sheetz-infused eating that lie ahead of me.
Positives: Hot, Crisp,Tender
Negatives: Could use a little more flavor (but your choice of dipping sauce should remedy this)
Chicken Tenders Winner: Sheetz – not even close
Italian Sub Sandwich
While both stores offer a variety of sub sandwiches and present them in both cold and toasted format, the real go-to sub is the Italian sub. Offering a fine array of various meats and veggies, this menu item is pretty standard fare for any road trip dinner (despite it being somewhat sloppy to eat while driving). I think it’s fair to expect my convenience store deli to produce a decent Italian sub. For both entries I ordered a standard Italian sub w/ mayo, light oil and vinegar, lettuce, tomato (no onion or seasoning) and pickle chips (because I’m a weirdo).
In fairness, the item that perhaps solidified my interest/love in the Wawa brand was the Wawa sub. Having grown up with mostly Quick Chek’s and 7-11’s in North Jersey, I knew not of the goodness of Wawa’s Italian delight. After my initial infatuation with Wawa’s sub twenty years ago, it still continues to enchant me and my recent visit was no exception. Let’s start with the roll. In what has always seemed quite charming, people from Philly actually know where their bread is made, and you might even be greeted with a billboard/billbread/breadbaord? on your way into the city. Wawa employs rolls from Amoroso’s, famous for supplying their bready ammunition to the front lines of some of the biggest names in the Philly Cheesesteak battles. Strong enough to hold your ingredients safely inside, yet tender enough to melt in your mouth, this crusty sandwich holder in the real deal.
The meat’s contained inside are generous and pair well with your vegetables of choice. I could seriously eat a Wawa Italian sub everyday for lunch or dinner (well besides the fact that I’d probably gain 500 pounds and keel over) and be a happy man. Along with their pretzels, this is the crowing achievement of the Wawa food empire.
Positives: Roll, Meats, Neat assembly
Negatives: You can’ t eat them for every meal without developing health issues
Oh no. Oh my. No no no. This will not do. Ordering a Sheetz “Italian sub” is equivalent to walking into a “pizza” shop in Indiana and ordering a slice of pizza. Don’t put ketchup on a piece of white bread and tell me it’s pizza and don’t tell me that just because you put a few meats and chopped up lettuce on a roll that it’s an Italian sub. As I continued my way through this abomination I grew angrier with each bite. For starters, the meats and cheeses didn’t even fit the roll, leaving an inch or so of empty bread. Throw in a few flaccid slabs of tasteless deli meat on a chewy “roll” (I don’t know what they call this roll, but it was not a “sub” roll) and I was ready to declare this competition over.
Say what you will about some of the less-than stellar offerings at Wawa, but as an Italian, a Philadelphia culture appropriater, an American, and a human being who requires food for sustenance, I’ve never been offended by any of the food they’ve presented. Sheetz however,…well this sub is the sheetz (I’m proud of my restraint in waiting this long to bust that nugget out).
Positives: The cool honeycomb design on the foil it came in (I’m digging here)
Negatives: Everything else about this sub’s existence
Italian Sub Winner: Wawa
I’m scoring this one another tie (Sheetz still leads the series 1-0-2 heading into the last round), though I’m not happy about it. The grave offense of the Sheetz sub almost had me awarding this to Wawa. However, after taking a deep breath, and taking a step back, I realize that Sheetz was very solid in the other categories. The chicken tenders were so enjoyable that I couldn’t completely discount Sheetz altogether. With the salad and cole slaw as even competitors, I’ve decided to leave this one tied up.
The debate hits the fourth and final stage next week. I’ll take a look at a variety of things, from bathrooms, to reward programs, as well as customer service, and holiday charm. Check my Twitter @TheNotFakeDC for updates and come back on Wednesday, 12/20 for the fourth and final round.