Taking a Fresh Approach to Fast Food

Jerry Bowles

   While the Benicia dining scene has seen an unusual number of high-profile debuts or comebacks over the past few months, there’s one new spot that’s managed to generate a loyal fan base without so much as a street sign.
    Technically, the place is called Fresh Burgers, but its devoted customers have another name for it, “76 Burgers,” an admittedly fitting name for a restaurant located entirely inside of a 76 Gas Station.
To some, this approach to food service may sound like a recipe for disaster or—considering the visible proximity of fire and gasoline—explosions, but the employees at 76/Fresh Burgers have done an ingenious job of turning their eccentric location into an atmospheric and culinary asset. If the concept sounds like something cooked up for a sitcom, the menu is a model of no-nonsense, quality food service on the cheap. And I mean cheap, not just California cheap: most meals are five or under, and chances are you can fill your stomach here for less than it costs to cross a bridge.
As the idea of eating a meal cooked in a gas station back room sounds disturbing, the gentlemen at Fresh Burgers cook everything in plain sight. They’ve got a sophisticated grill setup and a menu that audaciously includes Indian food (with a vegetarian subsection), Mexican and American cuisine, the eponymous burgers, and, wonder of wonders, the legendary deep-fried Twinkie, presumably plucked fresh from aisle two. That last item sort of vetoes any attempt to call the place healthy, but most meals are actually quite light and made from ingredients infinitely more wholesome than those found in usual packaged goodies sold at gas stations.
Still, the Fresh Burgers operation is not without flaws: the waits can be long, seating is scarce, and the portions are, well, less than jumbo—they’ve not yet concocted an edible analogue to competitor/neighbor 7-11’s Big Gulp. But the most perplexing thing about the place is that Fresh Burgers is “closed” on Sundays, even though the gas station is open, the pans are out, and the same workers are still there, working.
These, however, are minor quibbles about a thoroughly remarkable thing: the first authentically Recession-friendly restaurant in town, a place where workers can dive in for cheap food, cross off a few errands, and then leave with the mysteriously pleased smiles of those who are in on a wonderful secret. It’s difficult to walk by and not feel one’s inner entrepreneur applauding the crew’s heroic evasion of overhead costs, a wait staff, or adequate seating, and instead give you exactly what you came in for: good, cheap food. And maybe a lotto ticket, too.
 
 Fresh Burgers is located in the 76 Gas Station at 505 Military East.
 

Categories: Food + Drink, Miscellaneous

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