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Preston Avenue Shell

601 Preston Ave., Charlottesville, VA - (434) 296-2004
Posted By Michael Stern on 3/6/2014 10:46:00 AM
Driving past the Preston Avenue Shell gas station in Charlottesville, you would never dream that there is anything special to eat inside. It looks like, and to a large degree is, a typical convenience store mini mart where shelves are crowded with beef jerkies, energy drinks, chips and nuts, candy bars, beer, and soft drinks. However, beyond the cash register at the back of the store is a little kitchen where sandwiches and hot meals are prepared. Here you can get meat loaf, pork chops, fried fish, and so forth, as well as four-star fried chicken.

For the last dozen years, this unlikely eatery with no dining facilities other than a short row of molded tables up front has earned a reputation for chicken that is wickedly crisp on the outside and even more wickedly succulent within. Supreme among all parts is the thigh, enveloped in a salty coat that peels away in thick strips as rich as bacon. The dark meat is drippy and oozy, its juices as rich as if you created a new food called chicken butter – like pure schmaltz, but with the substance and weight of meat. No one on premises is willing to reveal a precise recipe, but we do know that the frying medium is peanut oil (and it is fresh!), the breading is generously packed with seasoned salt, and the egg wash is just that – eggs, without buttermilk. (Buttermilk is used by some of the OTHER Charlottesville gas stations that are famous for great fried chicken.)

Among side dishes, the collard greens are soft and clumpy, laced with plentiful slivers of pork that have very little taste. Of course they don’t: they have yielded all their flavor to the green leaves that embrace them, making for collards that are as indulgent as a green vegetable can be. Mac 'n' cheese is good, too, with a good variety of texture. I also like the stewed apples, which are tender and sweet and dusted with cinnamon – a good balance for salty chicken and pungent collard greens.

Dishes I intend to try on the next visit include fruit cobbler and a double bacon cheeseburger. I would be surprised if anything else here is as good as the chicken, but then the Preston Avenue Shell station is nothing if not surprising.

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Scorecard

4 - Overall: One of the Best - Worth a Trip
Overall: One of the Best - Worth a Trip
Fried Chicken Thigh
Stewed Apples
Collard Greens
Macaroni 'n' Cheese
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

The breasts and legs are very juicy, but there is nothing to compare with the utmost succulence of a well-fried chicken thigh.
"The breasts and legs are very juicy, but there is nothing to compare with the utmost succulence of a well-fried chicken thigh."
Michael Stern





Luxuriously porky collard greens
"Luxuriously porky collard greens"
Michael Stern


The sweet flavor of stewed apples is a fine complement for highly spiced chicken.
"The sweet flavor of stewed apples is a fine complement for highly spiced chicken."
Michael Stern


Quaint, it ain't; but if, like me, you find good fried chicken a siren song, you will want to fill up at this Shell station.
"Quaint, it ain't; but if, like me, you find good fried chicken a siren song, you will want to fill up at this Shell station."
Michael Stern


This is how you receive dinner -- in a disposable container with the price marked on top. $3.99 was for the thigh with two vegetables. The $1.79 was for a side order of collard greens. The roll is of no account whatever.
"This is how you receive dinner -- in a disposable container with the price marked on top. $3.99 was for the thigh with two vegetables. The $1.79 was for a side order of collard greens. The roll is of no account whatever."
Michael Stern


Who would think that this modest order counter at the back of a gas station deli would serve great fried chicken?
"Who would think that this modest order counter at the back of a gas station deli would serve great fried chicken?"
Michael Stern


A little bit chewy, a little bit creamy, mac 'n' cheese goes well with just about anything.
"A little bit chewy, a little bit creamy, mac 'n' cheese goes well with just about anything."
Michael Stern


Do not expect a maitre d' when you dine at Preston Avenue Shell. Do not expect a waitstaff, either. Carry your own food to one of these tables, and please toss the trash when you are done.
"Do not expect a maitre d' when you dine at Preston Avenue Shell. Do not expect a waitstaff, either. Carry your own food to one of these tables, and please toss the trash when you are done."
Michael Stern



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