If there’s one thing that Pennsylvania seems to have figured out, it’s potato chips. The state is not only the home base for many mass-distributed snack brands, including Utz, Wise, Herr’s, and multiple Snyder’s (of Berlin and of Hanover), it’s also the place that many beloved regional chip companies, from Martin’s to Middleswarth, call home.
If there’s one thing that Pennsylvania doesn’t seem to have figured out, it’s how to keep a decent food option open at the Breezewood interchange. 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 through the bottom half of Pennsylvania toward points further east or west. As a Cleveland native with close family in Pittsburgh, I’ve passed through Breezewood about a dozen times each year since moving to the D.C. area in 2004, so for better or worse, I’ve become intimately familiar with the interchange’s (lack of) options and how they’ve evolved (read: devolved) over the years. There used to be a Wendy’s! And at least a Taco Bell! Sit-down options such as Perkins and a classic diner have also shuttered, though their skeletons still remain. Now Breezewood’s most noteworthy feature is its Subplicity sandwich shop’s use of Boar’s Head deli meat. In other words, those looking for a full meal should probably head elsewhere. (Might I recommend the Jean Bonnet Tavern, a historical bar in nearby-ish Bedford: it’s got a crackling fireplace, an excellent French dip, a history of ghosts, and two pet goats hanging out next to its parking lot.)
Criticism aside, Breezewood is clearly the most intuitive place around to stop for gas, a bathroom break, and some sort of snack. “Snack” is the key word here: thanks to its geographic location smack in the middle of lower Pennsylvania, about two hours west from the chip epicenter of Hanover, Breezewood is the perfect intersection for a wide array of the best potato chips the state has to offer, especially if you’re a barbecue chip connoisseur like I am. Travelers who stop at Breezewood can choose between a Sunoco, Mobil, Shell, Marathon, or Sheetz for gas, but the real move is to fill up at the station with the best potato chip selection.
I went into my research for this story with the theory that the Mobil gas station’s Travelers’ Oasis Snack Shack deserved that particular designation. That still rings largely true, but on a recent visit, it became clear that its inventory has been slightly streamlined, possibly as a result of the pandemic. On the bright side, there’s more space between the aisles, and the place feels cleaner and much less crowded. Even though I didn’t spot the Middleswarth or Snyder’s of Berlin brands I was used to seeing there, I still was able to find Herr’s, Lay’s, Wise, Unique, Martin’s, Angie’s, Deep River, Bon Ton, and Wege of Hanover pretzels.
If you’re really devoted to regional chips, you can expand your options even further at Breezewood’s other gas stations. At the Fresh Mart attached to the Sunoco station (conveniently located next door to the Mobil), 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 hadn’t tried before. I discovered it has a bright, if artificial-tasting, barbecue flavor, greasy with lard.
If I wasn’t such a devoted fan of Martin’s — which, thanks to its texture and balanced flavor, is the winner of my unofficial taste test of the Breezewood barbecue chip brands — I could buy the argument that this location has as much to recommend it as the Travelers’ Oasis. But given that the Sunoco is now the only Breezewood gas station to boast Snyder’s of Berlin (a thin-textured, particularly salty childhood favorite that my parents would regularly cover with melted American cheese for a late-night snack), maybe I’ve already convinced myself.
Across the street from Sunoco, I found that Shell’s SAC snack shop had not only the elusive Middleswarth, a cult-favorite brand whose chips are made crisp with the use of shortening, but also two lovely, enthusiastic cashiers who handily convinced us to buy some candy to help them place in a national sales contest that their manager really, really, really wanted to win. Sheetz and Marathon didn’t bring anything in the way of additional regional chip brands to the table, though I’m sure Sheetz loyalists will find a way to insert a “How dare you!” into this particular argument.
So, if you’re traveling through Pennsylvania and find yourself starving, but also raising an eyebrow at Breezewood’s lack of dining options, don’t fret; you’ve just been given a perfect opportunity to prove exactly why chips for lunch — or dinner — is a totally acceptable road trip meal. At least, when you’re in the chip capital of the country.