The Costco concession stand

My girlfriend Cynthia is something of a Costco addict. She seemingly shops there weekly, and she confesses that, at times, the low prices can negate themselves. As in: She goes to Costco to get bacon, coffee and raspberries, and comes home with bacon, coffee, raspberries, two new shirts, a set of luggage and a book by J.K. Rowling.

Sometimes I go with her, in part, because I like sampling the food I never buy. If it’s meat, I’m getting a sample of it. But one aspect of Costco that always intrigued me is that there’s a concession stand near the checkout lanes that offers hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches and ice cream — heck, it’s almost like going to a ballgame, except there are shopping carts instead of bases.

But the best thing is that most of the stuff is ridiculously cheap. This, of course, is because they want you to say, “Wow, that’s cheap! Buy it!” And then buy more of it to take home the next time you shop there. To wit, Cynthia buys the pizzas all the time.

Well, I recently went with her and her son, Nikolai, to pick up some cat litter, or some pants, or whatever (I can’t remember), and I purposely skipped lunch so that I could experience the Costco concession stand. And because it’s so cheap, I offered to buy lunch for them as well.

The first good sign was that, as we made our way through checkout, people had filled most of the tables, sitting and enjoying lunch, while presumably chatting about the giant bag of avocados and the new socks they’d just purchased at discount prices. Meanwhile, the line to order was at least 10 people deep. Hey, Costco shoppers do love a good deal.

Well, here’s the deal of the century at Costco: a quarter-pound, all-beef hot dog and a 20-ounce fountain drink (with free refill!) for $1.50. Yes, a buck fifty. Stupid, right? How is it even possible? You can also choose a quarter-pound bratwurst if you so choose, and it’s the same price.

A massive slice of the aforementioned pizza is $1.95. A turkey and provolone sandwich is $3.99, a brisket sandwich is $4.99 and a chicken bake (sort of like a fried cheese stick, but with chicken) is $2.99. There also are smoothies and ice cream for dessert. All menu items trumpet the number of calories contained within, possibly as a way to urge you to simply go home and eat a salad. (I kid: Costco concession stand salads are just $3.99!)

Anyway, I bought each of my companions a slice of pizza, I got a hot dog-and-soda deal, Nikolai also got a soda and lunch cost $6 and change.

Now, I’m not wowed by the Kirkland pizza, but for $2? Yeah, it’s plenty good enough — thin crust, sort of New York-style floppy, thick ring of crust, plenty of pepperoni (you can also opt for plain cheese pizza, or combo). Let’s just say it wasn’t far from heaven for a hungry 10-year-old, and the bite I had of Cynthia’s seemed tastier than what I’d experienced in the take-home version.

For my part, I nearly ordered both a hot dog and a bratwurst, and I’m glad I didn’t. The hot dog was enormous, with at least an inch of meat hanging out of each end of the yeasty, Kaiser-style roll. The meat was lightly smoky, with a bit of crunch in the skin (I like when it bites back just a little), and lightly spicy.

There’s a modest condiment bar with ketchup, yellow and deli mustard, relish and chopped onions. Honestly, the deli mustard leaves much to be desired, but again, for $1.50, who’s complaining? Certainly not me. Next time, I might try the bratwurst.

Of course, no trip to Costco is complete without buying something you had absolutely no intention of buying when you walked into the place, so we picked up some Kirkland smoked salmon. So affordable and delicious that I went back for more. Twice.

Who knows? Maybe next time I’ll pick up some new luggage, too.