Hey all, I am on the road again, headed west and just traveling until I get tired of myself. Of course, one of the best parts of a road trip is road food—if you avoid the chain “restaurants”. That can be hard on the interstates and on day 1 I just wanted to make time so when it was time for lunch, I found myself on I70…luckily near exit 137 in eastern Indiana where I knew Café Neo was waiting.
I had stopped here before, they serve great coffee (fresh brew every cup) and Lokmas—a Greek donut. But today I decided to do more than drive through. Charley had to wait in the gas station parking lot, Café Neo is attached to a Shell station. Its location is one of the few exceptions to food writer Michael Pollan’s rule never to eat at a gas station.
Eli Alafogianis (the name is Greek for John Deer, really!), one of the two brothers that own the place, cheerfully greeted me after I told him about previous visits. “OK, my friend, today I sit you down to the best sandwich on any interstate!” I ordered a turkey and swiss; “I get the meat from a local guy,” he called from the back as he prepped it. “And this is real swiss cheese, I hand cut each slice.” Perfectly grilled, the cheese melted just right, turkey piled high…this will be lunch tomorrow as well.
I also had to order a box of Lokmas. Little pillows of warm pastry served up with a variety of toppings. Eli told me how he made them, the dough imported from Greece. We talked more about his place as I sipped the rich Greek coffee he had made for me. “Why here, at a gas station?” I asked. “You gotta start someplace,” he swept his hands around. “Thousands of eyes on our billboard on the highway. Who knows what could happen???” Plenty of stories followed—the history of Greek independence from the Turks, how on Café Neo’s first day in Feb 2020, the power went out in the area shutting them down, how his family name evolved, the village his grandfather immigrated from.
Taylor, his assistant for the day, got in on the action. She’s 15, it’s her first job, “I feel like Dolly Parton, you know, working 9 to 5…. except I got here at 6.”
There will be more about Eli and Café Neo when the Positively No Outlet podcast returns for this season. But in the meantime, if you happen by I70, exit 137, in Lewisville, Indiana, get off the road and stop by and see Eli. Tell him George sent you….