I’ve never spent so much time at a gas station convenience store in my life, but it was smoke that drew me to the Campus West Shell on Shields Street near Elizabeth.
And now I’m hooked.
The eyes get it first – that glimpse of smoke billowing from the big black cylindrical machine on wheels. Then it’s the nose, catching the sweet, pungent aroma of smoked meat. But it’s the mouth, the taste, that does you in.
Lately the Shell store is a happenin’ place. Terry B. Wilson (“the B is for barbecue”), a cook fresh from Kansas City, set up his Raymond’s Rollin’ & Smoking BBQ in a kitchen shared with Angela Ramdass, who hails from Trinidad and peddles her Island vittles at the Caribbean Food Shack.
Both have excellent sauces, their own special style, and keenly know their niche.
At Angela’s, you’ll find meat pies, street vendor “doubles,” “roti” (also known as pork chop sandwiches) and fish or vegetarian entrees, along with daily specials and all-you-can-eat Spaghetti Sundays.
Don’t expect ordinary spaghetti, lemonade or pork chops from Angela. She infuses everything with her island touch. The tamarind marinade is a perfect blend of sweet and tang. And if you like it hot, try the “Stupid” hot sauce or Jamaican Jerk Wings.
My favorites are doubles – only $1.95 each: fried barra bread stuffed with chickpeas and catfish on Fish Fridays. With herb-laced batter and a slight kick, the fish is tender and moist.
I also love the sautéed slightly sweet, pie-spiced pumpkin that accompanies entrées. And when the pumpkin is stirred into a warm and creamy coconut milk soup, there’s nothing better. But try it all. I’ve yet to be disappointed.
“You don’t need teeth to eat our beef” boasts the sign above Raymond’s, and this is true for the tender brisket that Terry B. pulls from the smoker and chops finely for his brisket sandwich, or the popular “Famous” Raymond, which is piled high with the tasty stuff and topped with a slab of smoked beef bologna and a hotlink.
You might need teeth for the ribs though. They’re loaded with meat and, even without one of Terry B’s three levels of sauce, they pack their own smoky spice.
Vegetarians aren’t completely ignored at Raymond’s. True, meat’s the thing, but the sides are delicious too. Terry B. makes baked beans as tasty as I’ve had and his potato salad mightily improves on the bland potato.
Since grilling season and graduation are upon us, it’s time for marinades and sauces. You could really impress your guests by soaking and grilling chicken or fish with Angela’s Tamarind Chutney or by slathering Terry B’s barbecue sauce on ribs and chicken.
Prices at Raymond’s range from $6 for a Smoked Beef Bologna sandwich to $9.75 for Baby Backs.
Raymond’s has chicken too, at $7 for a half and $12.99 for a whole. Sandwiches come with one side; entrees come with two.
At the Caribbean Food Shack, you’ll pay $1.95 for an “island” hot dog (“Not your typical gas station wiener!”) or a doubles or aloo pie sandwich, with prices up to $6.95 for a catfish dinner on Friday or a BakeNShark (“Voted #1 Sandwich by Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel”).
The dining atmosphere at the Shell station is a tad improved by outdoor seating, and speakers that now pipe blues and honky tonk, but that’ll never be the draw. It’s the food they’re dishing up that’s not to be missed.
So follow the smoke and go for the regional cuisine at Campus West Shell.
A gas station never smelled so good.
Staff writer Shari Blackman can be reached at email@example.com.