If Pennsylvania seems to have figured out anything, it’s potato chips. The state is not just that Home base For many snack brands that are widely distributed, including Utz, Wise, Herr’s and several Snyder’s (from Berlin and Hanover), it is also the place where many popular regional chip manufacturers, from Martin’s to Middleswarth, are at home.
If there’s one thing Pennsylvania doesn’t seem to have figured out, it’s how to keep a decent meal option open on the Breezewood Exchange. This somewhat depressing strip of gas stations and fast food restaurants that connects I-70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike is familiar to anyone who has ever traveled east or west through the lower half of Pennsylvania. A native of Cleveland with a close family in Pittsburgh, I’ve driven around Breezewood about a dozen times each year since moving to the DC area in 2004. Options and how they have evolved over the years. There used to be Wendy’s! And at least a taco bell! Seating such as Perkins and a classic diner have also closed, although their skeletons are still preserved. The most notable feature of Breezewood is the use of Boar’s Head deli meat at the Subplicity sandwich shop. In other words, those who seek a full meal should probably go elsewhere. (Could I recommend Jean Bonnet Tavern, a historic bar in nearby Bedford: it has a crackling fireplace, excellent French bath, a tale of ghosts, and two goats hanging out next to their parking lot.)
Criticism aside, Breezewood is clearly the most intuitive place to have gasoline, a toilet break, and some sort of snack. „Snack” is the key word here: Thanks to its geographic location in the middle of Lower Pennsylvania, about two hours west of the chip epicenter of Hanover, Breezewood is the perfect crossroads for a variety of the best potato chips the state has to offer, especially if you are a grill chip connoisseur like me. Travelers stopping in Breezewood can choose from a Sunoco, Mobil, Shell, Marathon, or Sheetz to refuel, but the real step is to refuel at the station with the best selection of potato chips.
I started my research for this story with the theory that the Mobil gas station’s Travelers’ Oasis Snack Shack deserves that particular name. That still sounds largely correct, but on a recent visit it became clear that its inventory may have been tightened slightly due to the pandemic. On the plus side, there is more space between the aisles, and the place feels cleaner and a lot less crowded. Although I didn’t discover the Middleswarth or Snyder’s of Berlin brands that I used to live there, I could still find Herr’s, Lay’s, Wise, Unique, Martin’s, Angie’s, Deep River, Bon Ton, and Weg of Hanover pretzels.
If you’re genuinely interested in local chips, there are other Breezewood gas stations to expand your options even further. In the Fresh Mart, which is connected to the Sunoco station (practically next to the mobile), there are at least nine brands – and oh so many flavors – of chips, including regional options like Utz and Gibbles, the latter of which I didn’t have myself never tried. I discovered that it has a light, if artificial tasting, grill flavor that is greasy with lard.
If I wasn’t such an avid fan of Martin – who, thanks to its texture and balanced taste, is the winner of my unofficial taste test of the Breezewood grill chip brands – I could buy the argument that this place has as much to recommend as it the travelers’ oasis. And since the Sunoco is now the only Breezewood petrol station at Snyder’s of Berlin (a thinly textured, particularly salty childhood favorite that my parents regularly cover with melted American cheese for a late night snack), I may have already convinced myself.
Across the street from Sunoco, I found that Shell’s SAC snack shop not only had the elusive Middleswarth, a cult favorite whose chips are crispy by the use of shortening, but also had two lovely, avid cashiers who easily convinced us to buy some candy to help them compete in a national sales contest that their manager really, really, really wanted to win. Sheetz and Marathon haven’t brought additional regional chip tokens to the table, although I’m sure Sheetz loyalists will find a way to say a „How dare you!” in this particular argument.
So if you’re traveling around Pennsylvania starving, but also raising an eyebrow at Breezewood’s lack of restaurants, don’t worry. You’ve just got the perfect opportunity to prove exactly why chips are a perfectly acceptable road trip meal for lunch or dinner. At least when you’re in the country’s Chip Cital.