The most important restaurant in St. Louis now is a gas station.
do not wait. This is not entirely true. The hottest restaurant in St. Louis is now pumping out gas and charging electric vehicles.
The hottest restaurant in St. Louis now pumps gas and charges electric vehicles and has a parked cart at the retail store.
Now, I can’t empirically prove this “hottest” metric, but it seems correct. I’m talking, of course, about Wally’s, “the home of America’s Great Road Trip,” which opened in March along Interstate 44 in Fenton. Whether you’re hitting the road, going for a day, or just stopping for gas or charging, it’s a real sight to behold.
For example, the hottest restaurant in St. Louis right now could fit another full-size restaurant inside its retail store—and still leave plenty of room for that cart.
This is Wally’s second location, after the original in Pontiac, Illinois. Wally President and CEO Michael Rubinstein and Chairman Chad Wallis are cousins who grew up in Missouri and knew the site as part of the former Chrysler plant.
People also read…
“Seeing it empty for so long, it seemed like a really prime location for Wally,” Andy Strom, the company’s chief experience officer, told me in a phone interview.
Unlike the original Pontiac, which opened in 2020 along Interstate 55, about 100 miles south of Chicago and 200 miles north of St. Louis, the new Wally’s is part of a large metro area.
The Fenton site, Strom says, “really ticks all the boxes in terms of accessibility – that’s kind of #1 – vision and local economy to support the store sort of and then a lot of people on their way to interest destinations that you might want to stop at.”
With its soaring ceiling, white-orange signage and tall windows, the elegant building could pass as an oversized store, if not for the dozens of gas pumps up front.
Front entrances past the cashiers lead you into Wally’s spacious heart, the food court. Here you will find separate counters for popcorn, pizza, baked goods, coffee drinks and appetizers, and in the center of the room are barbecue sandwiches.
However, you will not find a place to sit and eat. Strom says this is intentional. Wally’s is designed to transport a large number of customers through the restrooms, dining hall and gift shop and then back on the road again.
You will find these restrooms – as clean as I have ever seen in a travel yard, though I can only speak to the men’s facilities – to one side of the food court, passing the area of fountain drinks, packaged snacks, and retail liquors that in itself would be Impressively huge little shop. Here’s my favorite Wally detail: Every fountain drink, even a relatively newer brand like Coke Zero, features a vintage logo created by Wally’s in-house designers.
“Wally’s whole concept is based on some kind of family road trip in the ’80s,” Strom says. “So, you know, just a little nod to the way the work was done and a little design gesture to keep things a little bit cooler.”
Across from the food court is the gift shop. Here you can buy some Wally-branded souvenirs as well as, for example, a cast-iron frying pan.
The hottest restaurant in St. Louis now pumps gas, charges electric cars, has a parked cart in its gift shop, and will help you fry the trout you pick up on your camping trip. Over several visits, I have not seen Wally less than bustling.
caterpillar on the go
A friend – let’s call it a QT Whisperer – sent me some advice. I just mentioned that I loved the jalapeño-cheddar hot dog at QuikTrip. It will prove to be the best thing I’ve eaten at 800 lb St. Louis gas stations.
The QT Whisperer also enjoys a jalapeño-cheddar dog. Next time, though, I should grab one from the back of the rotary grill: “They’re better when they curl up a bit.”
Dining at the gas station follows its own course of tips and tricks, whispered among those in the know—and if you’re lucky enough to meet your QT Whisperer—accessible even to the truly professional snobs like you.
Then again, QT Whisperer also mentioned QuikTrip’s Buffalo Chicken Roll, which looks like a sloppy mozzarella stick and tastes like the morning after Buffalo Wild Wings.
In addition to tips on curly jalapeño-cheddar hot dogs, QT Whisperer provided some non-QuikTrip tips that helped me put Wally’s food in context.
Remind me that I haven’t visited him yet 3 bis BBQ and bakery (14195 Clayton Road), the barbecue restaurant in the back of West County Phillips 66 in Town and Country. Get into a Minimart at the gas station, walk next to the cashier to the right and then hang left. Here you will find a table with barbecue menu in 3 Bays and a dining room.
3 Bays promotes pulled pork – and rightly so. The meat between the sandwich halves is tender, juicy, smoky, and even peppery. It doesn’t need sauce to be a perfect sandwich. A sprinkle of that tangy hot sauce does the pork ribs here, as opposed to smoky them.
The brisket burger entices the trend toward a Texas-style meat approach. Instead of thick, bark steaks, the meat is sliced very thinly or even shaved and stacked in a bun. If you think of it more like a roast beef sandwich of your choice for a lion, you’ll enjoy it.
QT Whisperer also passed along the tip of one for him Go to the informants: Roadkill Drive-Up & King’s Kitchen (8319 Jennings Station Road), the dining table inside the Mobil at the corner of Jennings Station Road and West Florissant Street in Jennings.
There is a menu board hanging above the counter, but the main attraction is the cafeteria-style buffet of soul food dishes to one side of the register. On my first visit, I walked away with something no shell container could contain: a giant turkey leg that was tender and juicy almost to the bone; very creamy macaroni and cheese made with exceptionally long and thick pasta; And candied potatoes.
I came back eager to try more of this buffet, but on that day the dishes weren’t ready yet or not available, period. Instead, I ordered the Humpty Dumpty Burger, which shamelessly makes the most mashed burgers in town: two patties with cheese, bacon, and two fried eggs, garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and mayonnaise. Bonus points if you can argue this monster on your hands while sitting in your car.
What, other than an absolute spectacle, would force me to return to Wally?
Here the restaurant critic risks falling into what you might call the trap of condescension, parsing the difference between good and good enough without coming out like a jerk — or, if you prefer, more of a jerk than usual.
For local diners, the choice of barbecue sandwiches is no threat to your favorite smoker, but for a quick bite on the road, you can do much worse with walleye smoked pulled pork. The menu distinguishes between sliced and shredded breast meat sandwiches. The first was a bit chewy but full of strong flavour. The latter was firmer than lean meat, was very salty and tasted more like roast beef than smoked breast.
There was something unexpected called pastrami link, a spiced sausage garnished in a bun to taste weirdly like a pastrami sandwich. It’s good if you can get past the initial head flight. Whatever you pick up from the sandwich station, be sure to have the freshest French fries as your side. And whatever you order overall, you can also get a bag of cheesy popcorn or a Chicago-style cheese-caramel mix.
Fenton Wally’s is the first to offer pizza: large New York-style pies available by the slice or whole. Lute Cain, director of food services and executive chef for both Wally’s, tells me that making pizza is one of the most involved operations here.
“The pizza station takes so long because we roll each dough ball by hand,” he says. “We make it at home and then let it prove, you know, we stretch it out and we wrap it in front of the guest and then we put it on top and then we bake.”
A slice is a meal: a hard, chewy crust with a ready-to-eat flavor and a thick covering of melted cheese. The cheese could have browned a bit more on the slices I tried, but the crunchy little pepperoni cups help make up for the difference.
Wally’s operation may be more impressive as it is large and attractive. Cain says there are 45 to 50 employees working in the food business, and he estimates that the kitchen ranges from 85% to 90% from zero.
When I go back to Wally in my time, it will be first and foremost a stocking of beef bacon. Available in bulk at the counter, this one is prepacked hot and spicy on one visit and jalapeno cheddar sausage at home on another. Wally’s serves bacon in bars with a yield crunch that allows flavor to build. It’s fun to chew while the price at the pump is constantly rising.
where Wally’s, 950 Assembly Parkway, Fenton • More information wallys.com • hours open 24 hours