The old chestnut “You can’t judge a book by its cover” has been flogged to death, but sometimes the truth of this adage proves to be illuminatingly true. I’ve lived in our small corner of the Washington suburbs for years and for much of that time I have passed by what appeared to be a derelict and abandoned gas station/country convenience store. The gas pumps have been dry for years, the dust from the nearby fields clogging the nozzles, the windows dark and devoid of the normal signs of commercial life, and, on the one or two occasions I had stuck my head through the front door in search of a quick caffeine fix, I had been greeted with a view of near empty shelves of sugar charged kid’s cereal and coolers of lonely night crawlers awaiting the next desperate fisherman. And yet, some mornings I would pass by the intersection of Georgia and New Hampshire Avenues, and the cracked and pot-holed lot would be filled with a curious mix of shiny new Mercedes sedans and the odd assortment of landscaping trucks and massive Harley cruisers. “What gives?”, I asked myself. “Is there something inside this cinder block box that I’m missing?”
Well, when my son, The Diner Hunter and I finally got past the aging shelves and dusty boxes of crackers, we discovered a roadside dining treasure right in our own backyard, for at the back of this seemingly empty gas station was a four stool grill that dished out a breakfast that could not be beat- and the best burgers on the planet! There are no menus, no checks, no credit cards, no receipts- you clear your own plates, you call out your orders to the ladies behind the chipped and pitted counter. If you get a seat, just if, you could be sitting next to the burly tattooed dude from the bobber outside, the stylish and wealthy matron who owns the 200 acre horse stables nestled off the main road, a world weary musician, or a group of chattering high school lovers, lost in a universe of their own as they dig into a half pound of ground beef, cheese, fried onions and bacon guaranteed to clog even the healthiest arteries. Nothing about the Sunshine Store speaks to a healthy diet, this is a coronary on a plate, but you will never find a tastier meal. A vegetarian friend pronounced the french toast the best he had ever tasted, all the while eyeing the rows of sizzling bacon with wistful envy.
And, if you are a people watcher, every visit comes with a floor show, whether from the good natured banter between the gals at the grill, or between the diners themselves. This is not a diner, nor really a lunch counter, but it has all the best hallmarks of both. It is a spot of true egalitarian community, an authentic crossroads dive and a sadly vanishing bit of Americana, especially on the outskirts of the Nation’s Capitol. If your Roadside experience needs some brightening up- come on out to Sunshine, put your heart healthy diet on hold and get it while you can. ….and be sure to bring cash, you won’t need much, but they don’t accept plastic. It’s just not that kind of a place.