April 17, 2003

Finger Lake 'n Good

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There’s nothing especially exciting about the corner of South Cayuga and East Green Streets in downtown Ithaca. On one side there is the Tompkins County Public Library, where on the last Thursday of each month the adult book discussion group convenes. On another side lies Pizza Aroma, a heat-while-you-wait food joint which features months-old copies of the Ithaca Uproar for the enjoyment of extra-liberal patrons. The only other landmark worthy of note to the casual passerby is a Sunoco gas station. And underneath its protective roof hides the crown jewel of the entire intersection: the APlus convenience store.

The APlus is a beacon of light at two in the morning. It beckons young townies, ruffled hobos, and even the occasional minivan toward its everlasting glow 24 hours a day. It provides the news, coffee, junk food, and meat demanded by night owls and Daily Sun staffers each and every day. I know this because they know this: APlus has been the saving grace of sleepless drones like me for years — and we probably won’t die from the food poisoning either. Take this conversation I had with an employee recently. With my pile of frozen meat on the counter, I pressed him about the quality and safety of the store’s products.

“Can you guarantee that I won’t die from eating this?” I asked innocently, pointing out my beef-and-bean burrito and frozen bacon cheeseburger.

“It’s perfectly edible, and it won’t kill you,” he replied.

“What about the cheeseburger?” I asked.

“It’s perfectly edible, and it won’t kill you,” he said again.

Although these answers were more candid than I expected and quite precise, I still felt a little uneasy about my nightly APlus diet and my chances of contracting stomach cancer. I decided to investigate further, taking into account the broad spectrum of the store’s offerings. The first thing you notice when entering the store is its strategic layout. The beer and meat are in the far corner, while the sodas and coffee are all the way to the left. This way, customers have to navigate through two entire aisles filled with chocolate and pies to get to the goods. (Oh, those clever Sunoco designers! Look where a Cornell architecture degree will get you).

Sometimes, this plan backfires. Up until the 1 a.m. cutoff, Ithaca High School students experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and fake IDs experience trouble navigating the vast maze leading to the liquor freezers. And even the most careful customer will occasionally leave a trail of chili to the cash register. So for convenient layout, APlus gets a B-.

Nevertheless, most customers are able to make their purchases without incident. Popular items include selections from the immense collection of beef jerky, Rold Gold mini pretzels, chili dogs, Hot Pockets, and Chill Express fountain drinks.

The chili dogs demand further attention not only for their overall quality but also their variety. The selection includes “the BIG Oscar Mayer ALL BEEF Quarter Lb. hot dog at a super low price … other Oscar Mayer favorites like the Jalapeno & Cheese dog, the tasty breakfast sausage, the spicy Smokie and more, all at great low prices,” according to the official APlus website.

I can attest to the fine quality and subtle nuance of the Smokie beef link; its flavor blends perfectly with the smooth cheese and textured chili sauce also offered. The Oscar Mayer dog also lives up to its reputation. There is one variety, however, which I can’t endorse for the sole reason that I will not put a white sausage in my mouth. It’s just too counterintuitive. Besides that minor oversight, APlus gets a B+ for hotdogs.

Venturing to the other side of the store, one reaches the meat freezer, packed full of burritos, burgers, and Hot Pockets. I have eaten almost every one of these delicious products, and can personally recommend the beef-and-bean burritos, although I’m still monitoring my bowel movements. There is one product, however, which I still haven’t gathered the courage to try: the mother of all frozen meat products, the Big Az meatloaf sandwich with special sauce and something called “catsup” on the side. It’s a monster. Weighing in at a hefty 8 ounces, it costs $1.99 and probably will result in guaranteed heartburn for several days after consumption. I was afraid to ask the cashier whether this would kill me as well. Fortunately, the store is thoughtful enough to offer discount dreamcatchers over the counter. I’m still awaiting my future.

APlus’s overall meat score, then, is an A-, and I’m counting the apple pies since according to the ingredients they contain “beef fat.” The verdict? I’m not giving up my late-night meat stop just yet. That is, until the medical results come in.

Archived article by Andy Guess