The Taste Bud: Stop Lite Wine & Spirits

Best liquor-store food ever

Jan 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

Think about the last time you picked up a six-pack of your favorite brew or a bottle of wine at your neighborhood liquor store. Did you buy any food while you were there? If so, it was probably a bag of Doritos, or maybe some beer nuts.

Or a Slim Jim.

Therein lies the unique nature of Stop Lite Wine & Spirits, 1348 River Road — you can stop in for a bottle of margarita mix and get a beef brisket sandwich.

“You walk into a liquor store,” said chef and co-owner Carl Bollinger, “and you say, ‘Damn! What kind of food would they have?’”

Well, Bollinger will be glad you asked. Also, he’ll be more than happy to let you sample bites of his smoked beef roast, spicy pulled pork, chili, jambalaya, homemade vegetable beef soup (made with the brisket) and more.

“The first time you come in, I’ll let you try everything,” he said. “If you try it, then I’m 99 percent sure I’ve got you hooked.”

This just in: He’s got me hooked.

My buddy Greg and I met for lunch at Stop Lite’s café, a small but bright annex to the liquor store, and were greeted with Bollinger’s hyper-positive demeanor, along with plenty of samples. After a few bites of some smoked meats (he’s got a smoker set up right behind the lunch counter), he then offered up a taste of potato salad, at which point he said the magic word.

“Do you like bacon?” Bollinger asked. (“That’s like asking if you like air,” Greg quipped.) Yes, potato salad with plenty of bacon is the potato salad you want. Really, who doesn’t like bacon? I’d put bacon on my Cheerios, given the opportunity.

Bollinger owns Stop Lite with his brother Jesse; they’ve been in business at the new digs for two years. Their father, Joe, had owned and operated the original Stop Lite, across the street in Waterfront Park, for more than 50 years before his sons took over. They decided to leave the comfort of the paid-for old shop, move into a brand new strip mall and add the café.

“That’s why I’m going gray now,” Bollinger said with a smile.

Well, it was certainly a providential move for his customers and anyone else who likes hearty, home-style food. We were treated to some damn fine barbecue that day.

Greg opted for the spicy pulled pork sandwich, made with Bollinger’s own “Alabama-style” sauce. The meat was tender, moist and off-the-charts good, piled up between two pieces of crisp and buttery Texas toast. Bollinger let me try his signature sauce with a couple different meats, and man — the stuff has a zing to it.

I chose the smoked roast, and I’d have to put it up there among the best beef roasts I’ve ever tasted (sorry, Mom). It was melt-in-your mouth tender, and the smoky beef flavor was simply beyond words.

“It would suck to be a vegetarian today,” Greg observed in between bites of his pork sandwich.

We also both had a heaping helping of the bacon-infused potato salad, as well as fresh-cut green beans, the latter being cooked in the smoker for added flavor. Bollinger also let us sample the baked beans — yeah, be sure to get those baked beans if you go.

When we first tried the potato salad, Bollinger said, “Hey, that’s my grandma’s recipe!” But he later ’fessed up that it, in fact, is pre-made and sold through Sysco. You could have fooled me. He said he experimented with making his own spud salad, but the bacon flavor was so good that he figured there was little point in trying to top it.

Other menu items included beer-can chicken, ribs, thick-cut fried bologna sandwiches, burgers, a selection of dogs and brats, and a lot more. Catering is also a big part of Stop Lite Café, and Bollinger said he can turn around most jobs with just a few days’ notice, if necessary.

All you really need to know, however, is that this is no doubt the best liquor-store food I’ve ever eaten. Granted, that’s coming from a small sample size, but the proof is in the meat.