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The Eat Beat Dining around South Florida
with Mike Mayo

Wawa hoagies: All that and a bag of chips? | Video

I have heard so much about these Wawa hoagies. Finally, it was time to eat one. Or four, to be precise: cheesesteak, Italian cold cut, grilled chicken and meatball Parmesan. Oh, and since it was 10 a.m., I figured I might as well throw in a breakfast burrito, too. And mac and cheese. And a milkshake.

But before I dig in, let me back up — like I had to do from the line at the Wawa gas pumps — to paint the scene at the intersection of Lake Worth Road and South Congress Avenue on Friday. On one corner, a RaceTrac gas station. On another, a Speedway. Both were selling gas for $1.99 a gallon, just like Wawa across the street, 46 cents cheaper than gas stations a mile away.

But on that busy corner in Palm Springs, only one store had crowds and a commotion: the new Wawa, one of three that opened in Palm Beach County on Thursday, the first in a 50-store onslaught that will soon envelop South Florida. As I stood outside, a jubilant older man raised two empty travel coffee mugs and shouted, “Philly, Philly, Philly!”

Pennsylvania is where the cult of Wawa began. “We drove all the way from … Atlantic and Jog,” mug man said. I was expecting something like King of Prussia, but whatever. I drove all the way from Dania Beach, a 92-mile round trip, to catch the Wawa wave.

Inside, there was free coffee for the taking — part of a two-day opening promotion. For the next few weeks, there will be $4.99 10-inch subs, $2.99 6-inch subs and $1.99 milkshakes. There was happiness and goodwill in the air, the kind rarely seen in South Florida, where strangers held doors for one another, cashiers smiled and harried sandwichmakers still looked cheerful. I felt as if I had walked into a convenience store version of “The Stepford Wives.”

So what about those hoagies? They were good. And the food overall? Good, for a convenience store. Let me sum it up this way: The subs are better than those at Subway, and on the same level as Publix. The shakes are better than McDonald’s and on the same level as Steak ‘n Shake. The coffee is on the same level as Dunkin’ Donuts, and isn’t trying to be as highfalutin as Starbucks. The mac and cheese? It’s mac and cheese, creamy and gloopy and sure to please kids.

“We are a restaurant that sells gas,” Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens told reporters at a media preview earlier in the week.

I wouldn’t go that far. It is a sub shop that sells gas, one that has added burritos, mac ‘n cheese bowls and other comfort food to appeal to the masses. And it is a food store that has cultivated extreme loyalty with good products, fair prices and friendly service, with a whiff of nostalgia thrown in (Pennsylvania favorites such as Tastykakes and Zapp’s potato chips line the shelves).

I liked it just fine, and I would certainly drop by for a hoagie when a Wawa sprouts closer to home, but I won’t start tithing my dining budget or naming my first born after the place.

The Lake Worth Road store combines newfangled computer gadgetry with old, Soviet-style multiple-line formations, a bit of a confusing experience that all worked out.

First, I waited in line to get to a self-serve computer screen to place my order. Wave upon wave of options and screens popped up. Bread choices, toppings, condiments, upgrades and add-ons. And that was just the first sub. I felt as if I were taking the FCAT or the FSA or whatever it’s called these days. Fortunately, I had an 11-year-old with me. She got me through. The machine spit out an order slip.

Then, we waited in line to pay a cashier on the far end of the store. Then, we waited for our number to be called. Workers assembled subs and scrambled in a circular kitchen. We checked out the coffee bar. The Cuban canister was empty, but four other options were available. I went with the Colombian. Then, I saw the potato chips. I grabbed two bags, and headed back to the cashier line to pay again.

The food wasn’t ready, but we went outside to procure a metal table, with four built-in seats. Most people take their food to go. When I went back inside after five minutes, our number was called. Jackpot.

The breakfast burrito ($3.49) was a compact, 1-pound food bomb packed with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon that could have been crisper, avocado (35 cents extra) and a crunchy hash-brown rectangle that was folded into the burrito. I thought the potatoes would come on the side. It reminded me of Primanti Brothers, the Pittsburgh sandwich shop and pizzeria that piles french fries onto its subs. Must be a Pennsylvania thing. The hash browns gave the burrito crunch and creaminess. Thumbs up.

Hoagies come on torpedo rolls baked in-house that come from Amoroso’s, a famed Philadelphia baker. They are soft, chewy and doughy, and hefty enough to absorb messy ingredients.

A roasted-chicken sandwich had good chunks of quality white meat chicken. The meatball Parmesan was decent, with well-seasoned meat and tomato sauce that was a bit thin and sweet. My favorite part of the Italian, which combined salami, two kinds of ham and provolone cheese, were roasted red peppers on top, vinegary and sweet. The cheesesteak had thin slices of flavorful meat, and it wasn’t greasy. My one quibble: It was a bit light on pepper jack cheese, barely melted across the bottom of the roll and not mixed into the meat.

For $4.99, the hoagies were a good deal. Even when they revert to regular price ($5.69-$6.39), they will be a good deal. Same goes for the cookies ‘n cream milkshake ($1.99, regularly $2.99). For no extra charge, you can get whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Final tab on Friday: $32. All that food, two bags of chips and a cherry on top. No wonder why so many go gaga for this place. It’s not the best sandwich ever, but Wawa is certainly a welcome addition to the South Florida food scene.

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect promotional price for the milkshakes. They are $1.99.)

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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