Monday, May 25, 2015

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the basics: 

630 locations in 42 states
Open 6:00 am until 10:00 pm Monday through Thursday, 6:00 am until 11:00 pm Friday through Sunday

Home-style Southern cooking, such as fried chicken tenders, fried or grilled fish, chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and chicken and dumplings.  Sides such as mashed potatoes & gravy, macaroni & cheese, turnip greens, pinto beans, and fried okra.  Salads, sandwiches, burgers and steaks also available. 

Breakfast served all day, with all the usual and expected items, such as bacon, sausage, eggs and grits, pancakes and waffles.  Country ham and sugar cured ham available.  Hash brown casserole and fried apples offered with many breakfast selections. 

Most menu items are less than $10, with a few pricier items such as steak and seafood.

 Fried Chicken Tenders dinner with 3 sides, hashbrown 
casserole, pinto beans, and fried apples

Cracker Barrel was founded in 1969, with the first Old Country Store & restaurant opening in Lebanon, Tennessee.  There are now 630 locations spread across 42 states.  While they initially appeared along interstate highways, they have started to spring up “inland”.  

I first experienced Cracker Barrel in the 80s, at the Bush River Road/I-20 location in Columbia, SC.  I have since eaten at a couple dozen Cracker Barrels on both sides of the Mississippi.  I served in the Air Force for 20 years, and made many trips of up to 1200 miles.  I’ve also made many trips from SC to the Charlotte, NC airport.  Cracker Barrel plays a big role in my road trips. 

 Sirloin Steak, hashbrown casserole, macaroni & 
cheese, fried okra

To this day, I travel like a child- I’m bored, I need to go to the bathroom, Are we there yet?  Cracker Barrel is my reward when traveling.  When I was in graduate school in Maryland, I chose my motel based on proximity to a Cracker Barrel.  I would usually set out about 7 or 8 pm with my dog, and drive about 200 miles, then stop for the night.  I’d have my Cracker Barrel breakfast the next morning before hitting the road for SC.  When I moved from overseas back to Illinois, I had breakfast in at Cracker Barrel every day while house hunting.  It would usually hold me until dinner (that’s supper in the South). 

 Breakfast plate with Sugar Cured Ham, scrambled eggs, hashbrown 
casserole, grits with sawmill milk gravy, biscuit

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants have a huge selection.  In addition to the large lunch and dinner menu, they offer breakfast all day until closing.  There are many shamefully large breakfast platters.  One of my old favorites is the Sunrise Sampler, which boasts a piece of smoked sausage, a piece of thick-sliced bacon, and country ham or sugar cured ham.  It is accompanied by 2 eggs cooked to order, grits and gravy, biscuits & jelly, fried apples, and hashbrown casserole.  My original favorite was the Country Boy Breakfast, which used to offer the choice of marinated tenderloin steak, which was fabulous.  The tenderloin is no longer a choice, but you can get sirloin steak, ham or pork chop. 

Eggs in a Basket with sugar cured ham 
and hashbrown casserole

My new favorite breakfast is the Eggs in a Basket.  You get 2 slices of sourdough with an egg cracked into a hole cut in the center.  It is served with sausage or bacon, but I got mine with ham.  You also get hashbrown casserole or fried apples.  They also offer pancakes and French toast, which my brother sometimes gets. 

Apple Streusel French Toast with 
scrambled eggs and bacon

One of the most popular lunch and dinner meal choices is the Country Dinner Plate.  You choose a meat from over 10 choices, and 2 sides with over 20 to choose from.  All orders at Cracker Barrel come with biscuits &/or cornbread. 

 I usually take my biscuits home for later.  My favorite topping 
is my mother’s homemade fig preserves! 

Current Meat Choices for Country Dinner Plate: 

Fried chicken livers
Sugar cured ham
Fried chicken tenderloins
Grilled pork chop
Hamburger steak
Country ham
Lemon pepper grilled rainbow trout
Grilled chicken tenderloins
Fried catfish
Spicy grilled catfish
Chicken n’ dumplins

Sides include mac & cheese, pinto beans, turnip greens, green beans, mashed potatoes & gravy, hashbrown casserole, fried okra, baby carrots, corn, steamed broccoli, slaw, side salad, and 10 more. 

Country Dinner Plate with grilled chicken tenders, 
dumplins and slaw

My early favorite Cracker Barrel meal was the “vegetable plate”, which was a choice of 4 sides.  I always got dumplins, pinto beans, turnip greens, and fried apples.  Over the years however, I’ve had almost all of the meat selections.  My favorites are the fish and chicken n’ dumplins. 

Many of the country plate meats are available as Fancy Fixins, which is a meat with 3 sides.  The catfish, trout, chicken tenders, and dumplins are available, as well as meatloaf, roast beef, country fried steak, chicken fried chicken, steaks, haddock, and a sampler platter.  My sister is a fan of the roast beef, as are scores of others because it often runs out!  It’s very good, but sometimes not lean enough for me, and sometimes (I guess when it’s running out) it’s a small portion.  My sister and brother have ordered the sirloin steak dinner several times. 

 Fancy Fixins platter of Sirloin Steak, hashbrown 
casserole, corn and fried okra

I recently ordered the Sampler Platter, which serves up meatloaf, chicken and dumplins and sugar cured ham, and 3 sides of your choice.  I ordered the platter 12 years or so ago, and was not impressed with the meatloaf.  My taste must have changed, because I enjoyed it this time. 

 Fancy Fixins Sampler Platter:  Chicken n’ Dumplins, 
meatloaf, sugar cured ham, baby carrots, 
pinto beans, and turnip greens

As I mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about the Roast Beef dinner.  It’s kinda my favorite, but every time I get a big glob of fat (obscured by the gravy), I lay off of it for a while.  My favorite Fancy Fixins platter is currently the haddock platter.  I think it is a more recent offering, not on the early menu.  It is lightly coated in a flour and cornmeal mixture and pan fried.  It is always a large piece of fish. 

 Fancy Fixins platter with Haddock, baked potato, 
green beans, and fried apples

Cracker Barrel offers daily lunch specials at $5.99.  A house salad with grilled chicken and choice of baked potato or soup is available daily.  The special Monday is baked chicken and dressing, Tuesday is meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Wednesday is chicken pot pie, and Thursday is roasted turkey and dressing.  Monday, Tuesday and Thursday specials come with 1 side. 

Dinner specials are offered after 4 pm.  Monday is grilled pork chops, Tuesday is lemon pepper trout, Wednesday is broccoli cheddar chicken, and Thursday is roasted turkey and dressing.  All come with 2 sides. 

 Cracker Barrel dining area

Weekend specials are served all day.  The Friday special is Fish Fry.  You have a choice of cod or catfish.  It is served with steak fries and slaw, but they are usually willing to serve any 2 sides.  The Saturday special is Chicken and Rice, with 2 sides.  The Sunday special is Homestyle Chicken, which is 2 fried boneless chicken breasts, which are usually very large.  It also comes with 2 sides. 

My current favorite Cracker Barrel meal hands-down is the Saturday Dinner special, Chicken and Rice.  I get it with the vegetable of the day, baby limas, and baby carrots. 

Saturday special, Chicken & Rice, baby limas, baby carrots

Did you save room for dessert?  I virtually never do!  Once I asked for a carryout container as soon as they brought my meal.  I immediately put my biscuits and half of my meat and sides in the box.  Then I had dessert. 

Baked Apple Dumplin with vanilla bean ice cream, 
topped with apple pecan streusel

Depending on what time and day you go to Cracker Barrel, you may encounter a substantial wait.  You can pass the time on the large porch, enjoying one of the large rocking chairs.  You can always browse in the Country Store.  They offer a substantial array of goods, including old-style candy, home décor items, old-style toys, and clothing items.  I’ve bought several patriotic-themed shirts at Cracker Barrel Country Store.  Whenever I wear them, I always get compliments. 

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