Tag Archives: restaurants

Rerun–43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

10 May

2658965445_b485f917caSo, the evening after I revisited Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel lured me in with their ever-present billboards. I think it was the one about “homemade dumplings” that won me over. Wish I’d reread this post before eating there:

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.IMG_0241

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

pancakesUpdate: Last year, I went with my sister and dad to have the pecan pancakes again and they did not disappoint. Wish I could say the same about my meal last week. I had the frequently touted chicken and dumplings and they were just sad, y’all. Not as sad as the straight-from-the-can, lukewarm niblets, but almost. Of the fried okra, I will not even speak. In their defense, the biscuit was edible.

What puzzles me is that in my infinite quest to find a go-to chicken and dumplings recipe, I keep running across ones that claim to taste “Just Like Cracker Barrel,” as if it were a good thing. Huh?

So after a spectacularly underwhelming supper, I decided to go back for breakfast. Thought maybe I could drown the bad memories with a little bottle of maple-esque syrup. Low and behold, it worked. Note: Notions like this hardly ever work, but never underestimate the power of pecan pancakes.

Photo credits: Cracker Barrel exterior by Keith Lam, Flickr Creative Commons; pics with bad lighting by yours truly.

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38. Toothpicks or When Rednecks Accessorize

16 Jun

At many a Southern eatery, you’ll find a toothpick dispenser next to the cash register. Look for it by the used-to-be-complimentary Andes mints that they now want five cents for. Cheap bastards. But, hey, at least the toothpicks are still free.

I’m not sure how this tradition got started. What am I Wikipedia? But I really wish I could put an end to it. There are few things less appetizing than seeing people pick their teeth in public. Which is why I don’t understand how restaurant owners can recklessly leave toothpicks lying around knowing that the toothpickers will surely be seen by incoming customers.

I’m always tempted to say to the server, “I WAS going to have the filet mignon, but now I’d just like some Sprite and saltines.” But as a former waitress, I try to keep the snarky comments to a minimum. And tip big.

Seriously, people, tooth picking – like nose or belly button picking – ought to be done in private. That’s what bathrooms are for. Ok, that’s not their primary purpose, but still.

What’s maybe even worse than actively plucking food particles is those people who walk around with a toothpick in their mouth ALL THE TIME. Like they never know when they’ll happen upon corn on the cob and must be prepared.

At tote-sum stores in the South, they sell FLAVORED toothpicks for chain toothpickers who presumably aren’t into the natural woody flavor. Cinnamon is popular, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen mint. Maybe even wint-o-green.

Back in junior high, toothpick chewing was popular for about a week. If I recall correctly, we made our own with cinnamon oil. Where we got the cinnamon oil, I don’t know. That doesn’t seem like something they’d regularly stock at Kroger.

Thankfully, some teacher or concerned parent decided that this was a nasty habit/choking hazard, so toothpicks earned the spot of bubble gum’s wicked step-sister. And I was spared from what might have been months of looking like a hayseed. Whew!

What’s your stance on tooth picking in public?

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