Review by SuSu & Rosie
The original one is in Tennessee, and it was a general store with a sort of home-spun diner attached to it. It's since grown all over the country, and it preserves this general store concept. One of us has been going to them since she was really really little, and now brings children to the place, who enjoy it as much as she did.
So you walk into the little store and give your name to the woman at the entrance to the restaurant, at the back of the store. You get to wander around and look at replicas of "homey" gifts and practicalia. Stuff we admired: a duck on a stick that waddled enticingly, a sweatshirt sporting an appliqué of a turkey holding up a sign stating, "Eat Pizza for Thanksgiving," peach cobbler kits, a hibachi grill shaped like a pig, the country glazed pottery, the talking parrot, and the sweet sourdough bread. Love that sourdough bread!
They call your name and you walk into what looks like a barn with tables and chairs. You sit down, read your menu, tell the harried waitress what you want. There are set platters (we always seem to go for breakfast) of eggs, breakfast meats (bacon, sausage or ham), a carbo (toast, biscuits and gravy, grits, pancakes), hashbrown casserole (shredded potatoes with cheese), etc. Then the waitress dumps creamers and little individual bottles of real maple syrup on your table and you get to play with the pegboard games and tic-tac-toe and stuff. It's a pleasant way to wait for breakfast to arrive, hearing mom telling us to stop kicking each other, and to behave.
We trade stuff on the plates -- her eggs for your biscuits, my gravy for your chicken fried steak, your toast for one pancake, etc. Then we tuck in and eat too much. We get the bill and laugh hilariously at the measly size of the charges. We go out again, maybe use the bathroom -- there's goatmilk lotion in there -- run around looking at the rest of the stuff in the store (cast iron mini frying pans, semi-precious stone jewelry, cards with reproductions of newspapers the year you were born, etc.). We chase each other around the parking lot till we feel sick, then go sit in the rocking chairs on the veranda -- they're for sale -- and not eat till dark again.
We've eaten lunch at the one in Ft. Wayne, Indiana Cracker Barrel many times. One of us has a favorite lunch consisting of a grilled country ham sandwich on sourdough and a cup of veggie beef soup. Others among us go for stodgy Americana: the aforementioned chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, pot roast. Stuff that foreigners don't understand, you know? The French might claim pot au feu, but chicken fricasee is a uniquely American thing. The younger set go for the decent chicken strips and fries, or grilled bacon and cheese. It's decadently good, honest!
It has the benefit of franchises, in that the food is uniform, no matter where you come across a Cracker Barrel. Whether just on this side of the Canadian border near Watertown, NY, Michigan, or anywhere else as far from the Mason-Dixon line as you can get, it's a nice place. And on some days of the week, you can get things like chicken and dumplings and coca-cola chocolate cake. Worth going to on different days of the week. Of course, we think it's a way to get a bit of the south up north. This type of invasion, we can deal with!
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