Cracker Barrel. You see them along the highway in almost every state, and you’ve probably been there for the General Store and the Country Cooking.
About a month ago, I spent the weekend at the Oklahoma Hunting & Tackle Show in OKC. Yes, you read that right. I spent the weekend at a hunting show. On purpose. Never in my life have I ever hunted or fished, far less hang out at a place where that was all there was.
I arrived at the show Friday afternoon, and let me assure you I got some pretty strange looks as I walked through the building. Michele did too when she got there a few hours earlier to set up. Let’s just say neither of us looked like we had any business being there. But you know what? We had a fantastic time. We made some great friends, had a ton of fun, and entertained ourselves and other people. And why did we spend an entire weekend at a hunting trade show? To sell T-Post Steppers. These little beauties are perfect for hunters, land surveyors, anyone who needs to climb over fences and is tired of ripping their pants. Michele and I proved to be excellent saleswomen over the course of the weekend! I’m still not sold on fishing. I can’t think of any reason why I would want to touch a slimy half-live fish. Hunting, the jury is still out. If it was a very cool hunt like an African safari and you stay in a gorgeous lodge, I’m all over that because you get to see the animals in their natural habitat and explore an amazing country. Just sitting out in the middle of a field, waiting to shoot something? Possible, if it’s with the right person and I don’t have to get cold or wet.
Michele’s parents brought her son Chase for a couple hours on Sunday afternoon. Chase had stayed with them all weekend, so he was really missing his mom. The show ended at 5PM, and I originally was only going to stay until 2 because I needed to run errands, but I stuck it out until the end. And then I was going to go home and cook dinner, since we had spent both Friday and Saturday night in OKC. But they were going to Cracker Barrel, and invited me. I had never done a post on Cracker Barrel, and by the time we got everything packed up I was tired, so I figured why not.
There are Cracker Barrel restaurants in 42 states. I’m not quite sure why the other states don’t have them. I tried looking it up, but couldn’t find anything about that online. It seems like most locations are close to highway exits. So for people who want to always eat something they’re familiar with, it’s right there within easy view.
When I think of Cracker Barrel, I think of travelers and old people. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. Because of that, it usually isn’t on the list of restaurant options when I’m looking for something to eat. While traveling, my goal is to always eat something that I can’t get at home, and not anything that I can find all over the place. I’ve probably eaten at Cracker Barrel maybe 3 times in my life; I can’t tell you the last time that was; and I have no idea what I had to eat. Therefore, I’m counting this as a new post.
We went to the location in Edmond, one of 7 locations in Oklahoma. Of course, it’s right off the highway, and in the direction we needed to get home. To me, one of the biggest appeals of Cracker Barrel is their Old Country Store. It’s like a general store, with a little bit of everything: clothes, snacks, gifts, etc. And the prices really aren’t outrageous. Every location is the same: you have to walk through the store to get to the restaurant. Smart marketing on their part, as there is often a wait to be seated, particularly during peak hours. At most restaurants you just hang out and stare at each other while you wait for your table. At Cracker Barrel, you browse…and they hope that you buy as well.
It kind of looks like a house from the outside, with a long front porch that takes up the entire length of the building and wooden rocking chairs almost the whole length as well. That right there tells you the wait can get really long, especially during peak periods. The restaurant was about half full when we arrived, and therefore we were seated almost immediately. The dining room is large, and there is wood everywhere: walls, floors, tables and chairs. There are also nostalgic pictures and signs all over the walls.
Cracker Barrel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do like that you can get breakfast all day long. The menu is big, and so are the portions. You won’t leave hungry unless you want to. They do offer a lighter menu, called “Wholesome Fixin’s”. Every entree comes with biscuits, corn muffins and real butter
The biscuits were light and flaky, the corn muffins had very good flavor, and both were served warm and tasted homemade.
Michele’s mom went with the Uncle Herschel’s Favorite breakfast, getting the grilled pork chop, 2 eggs and hash browns
I didn’t try any, but she said the pork chop was good.
Michele’s dad went light and healthy, with the southern grilled trout with mashed potatoes & gravy, as well as a side of tomato, cucumber & onion salad
The trout was a good-sized piece, and looked well seasoned. I didn’t try any, but he said it was very good.
Michele got the chicken fried steak, with carrots and mashed potatoes & gravy
I tried a bite of her chicken fried steak, and it was excellent. Scorching hot, perfectly fried, and well seasoned.
Chase got the fried shrimp kids platter with macaroni & cheese
He liked the shrimp, but wouldn’t touch the mac & cheese. He wouldn’t tell Michele why, but I believe it’s because of the couple pieces that looked burnt. He is like I used to be…if part of it looks bad, then obviously the whole thing must be.
I started with a salad, so I could get a little green in my life. We didn’t have much of that over the weekend
It was just a simple small side salad, but everything was cold and fresh, and the dressing was good.
I don’t do well with large menus, so this one was very overwhelming. There are so many things to choose from with just the entree plates. And then I swear twice as many sides to select. Each entree comes with 2 sides, so that is just more to choose from. I do like that they offer a Country Vegetable Plate, where you can choose from 4 different vegetables. That’s a great idea for vegetarians. They offer a daily dinner feature, and I briefly considered that, which would have been Sunday Homestyle Chicken. But I decided to not get a whole fried meal. So after quite a bit of back and forth and some major decision-making, I went with the Homemade Chicken n’ Dumplings, with mac & cheese and hash browns
I was very disappointed. My idea of dumplings is puffy, round balls of dough. These were exactly the opposite. Now, if you’ve eaten them here before or look at pictures on their website you will know this is what they look like. But I had done neither, so it caught me off-guard. The food was lukewarm at best, and it was very bland. I’m honestly quite shocked that they would tout this as one of their most popular recipes. Michele’s mom had gotten syrup for her dish, and I added some to my plate. After adding some syrup, as well as generous shakes of salt & pepper, the dish had a new lease on life. I can’t put my finger on exactly what they need to do, but it definitely needs a lot more flavor. I shouldn’t have to add that much to a dish to make it taste good.
The hash browns had definitely been sitting for quite some time. They were almost cold, and looked “flat”. I know that’s not a culinary term, but that’s the best way I can describe them. Michele’s mom said hers was cold as well, but she ate most of hers. I thought about sending it back, but the service was already slow and I had no idea how long that would take, or if another serving would be better. The mac & cheese was okay. I’m a huge mac & cheese snob, so very little will live up to my expectations. I decided to take home the hash browns and mac & cheese. I heated both up, and cautiously dove in. I was pleasantly surprised…the mac and cheese was quite good. The cheese was very creamy, but not overly heavy. I added a little bit of salt and that made it taste even better. The hash browns were better, but they still didn’t wow me. I don’t know, they were just kind of blah. I would really want to taste a fresh batch before I completely ditch them.
Thinking back, everyone at our table added salt/pepper to their food. I’m wondering if Cracker Barrel intentionally under-seasons its food a little bit because it does tend to cater to an older crowd. I could be completely wrong, but that seems to be the case.
Will I go back to Cracker Barrel? Yes. I want to go at the beginning or peak of meal time, to see the difference. Maybe I’ll try the breakfast next time.