The Good: Tasty food, Reasonable prices, Generally good atmosphere.
The Bad: I could live without the adjacent store, Slow service.
The Basics: A surprisingly good restaurant chain, Cracker Barrel might have annoyingly homesy decorations and adjacent store, but the food is good, hot and fresh!
For years, I have heard my mother badmouth Cracker Barrel restaurants. She has called the chain virtually every name in the book within earshot of me and I had absolutely no idea how prejudiced I was against the chain until, on the way to Michigan, after our night at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (reviewed here!), my wife and I ended up at a Cracker Barrel. She suggested it, having never eaten there before and I went along with it mostly to make her happy. Even so, inside, I was pouting and grumbing.
I am gratified to say that I was wrong to listen to my mother. As it turns out, our experience with Cracker Barrel was almost perfect and that was something I was not prepared for. With affordable prices, good food and a clean atmosphere, Cracker Barrel is somewhere that my wife and I will be returning to, probably on our impending cross-country trip to Las Vegas!
Cracker Barrel restaurants are located throughout the United States. As one who travels a lot, I have found them all around the U.S. from Massachusetts to Florida and west to Las Vegas, Colorado and California. Cracker Barrel has a decent market penetration and I have often found in freestanding locations near strip malls or shopping centers. In New York, I have found them in more rural settings, as opposed to urban ones.
Cracker Barrel tends to be decorated with the feel of antique Americana. On the walls of the one we went to in Ohio, there were vintage comic books, old Bayer aspirin signs and everything seemed to be made of rough cut lumber. The restaurant is always (it seems) adjacent to a Country store which is filled with nostalgic pieces that equate patriotism with military service and seem to long for the good old days (neglecting, of course, rampant disease, open prejudice and the Red Scare). Inside the restaurant, though, my wife and I found the tables to be nicely spread out, made of wood with a glass top and while I felt exposed (we were seated in the very center of the dining area), it was a pleasant-enough atmosphere.
Cracker Barrel tends to be over decorated. From farm implements hanging on the high walls to collections of antiques in each booth, there is plenty to look at. Between the antiques surrounding us and the game that comes on each and every table, Cracker Barrel seems to have enough to prevent diners from actually having to talk with their dining companions.
Everything in the restaurant was clean, including the bathrooms.
Cracker Barrel uses traditional waiters or waitresses. The waitstaff at the Cracker Barrel we visited was younger, in the late-teens, early-twenties. All of the staff serving at the Cracker Barrel was female and it was only in later contemplation that I realized that there were no men staffing the Cracker Barrel we were at.
That said, our server was kind, attentive to the food quality and generally fast with the service. Our server was friendly and we were left alone to enjoy our meal and dishes were cleared in a timely manner.
Cracker Barrel is American food, with no claim to being fast. I actually liked that about it. This was a very relaxed sit-down meal for us where we were face to face the whole time able to reflect upon our day. Our drinks were served in small glasses that resembled jars and she had iced tea. I had the large cider served in a frozen mug. This novelty was hardly as incredible as it was sold to me as, but for $2.39, it was good, very cold apple cider. I tend to like my cider hot and spiced, so this was certainly different at the very least.
As for the entrees, my wife and I each got an entree, but we shared with one another. I got the special, which was a broccoli cheddar chicken. It came with bread and two sides and for the sides, I chose dumplings in gravy and the hash brown casserole. For $8.49, I expected the portion sizes to be small. However, my meal was a very full meal. The chicken was hot, moist and surprisingly flavorful. I was astonished that the "cheddar" aspect of the broccoli cheddar chicken was not a weak cheddar sauce but rather a melted on cheddar cheese, so the chicken had a baked, delicious quality to it. The broccoli that made the dish was green, firm and tasted like fresh broccoli. It was everything we could have hoped for from it!
As for the sides, they were good, too. The dumplings forced my wife to reconsider what dumplings were and I was impressed by how they were drenched in a very flavorful chicken gravy that kept them hot for quite some time. The hashed brown casserole was tasty and had a down-home simplicity to it that made it a simple comfort food while traveling.
My wife had the country fried chicken with okra and mashed potatoes and gravy. The country fried chicken was a breaded chicken smothered in white gravy which was well-spiced and quite (physically) hot. The mashed potatoes were average, though they tasted like real potatoes and not powdered. She was trying something different for the night with okra and the okra came as fried, bite-sized pieces which were quite good. For $8.99, it was a whole meal that made it almost impossible for either of us to finish the cornbread they brought us.
All in all, the food we had was hot, made with fresh ingredients and tasted delicious. This was not what I expected, but they won me over rapidly!
I'll be honest: I'm not wild about the decor and atmosphere of Cracker Barrel. But anywhere where my wife and I can eat a consistently good meal for $28.00 (including the tip!) makes for a better-than-average chain. Given how Cracker Barrel is peppered throughout the U.S., this might be an ideal place for travelers looking for a consistent level of quality at a very fair price. I know our visit to the restaurant will not be our last!
For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Long John Silvers
For other restaurant reviews, be sure to visit my index page on the subject by click here!
© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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