I stewed over how best to share this with you and ultimately decided to keep it simple. To give you a window into my life and where I live, the restaurant critic of the Peoria Journal-Star recently did a review of the Cracker Barrel. You know. Cracker Barrel. The chain restaurant of which there are about a thousand located on highways throughout the country. Lacking the energy to give this a proper treatment, I've reproduced it in full with some of my personal favorite parts highlighted.
MORTON — It’s possible that you don’t think about visiting Cracker Barrel unless you’re traveling somewhere. After all, the Lebanon, Tenn.-based chain has carved out a niche for itself by providing the imagery of the old country store along the highway much like Stuckey’s did decades before.
Before you get to your table at the Cracker Barrel, you have to walk the gauntlet through the bric a brac, old rocking chairs, racks of greeting cards and gift items.
The atmosphere at Cracker Barrel is sort of like eating at an antique mall. All kinds of things are on the walls: snow shoes, old lamps, coffee signs and an old clock or two.
At the table, I found that the word, “country,” pops up a lot on the extensive menu provided — as in country sandwich, country salad, country fried breakfast and so on.
Also noticed that you can get a bowl of pinto beans ($4.89) or turnip greens ($4.99) to accompany your meal. Now that’s a country touch you don’t find everywhere.
Like many places, there’s a choice of light dishes provided, complete with calorie counts. That’s how I know that country green beans are only 60 calories while a baked sweet potato is 190 calories.
We were there for lunch on a Friday so after screening the daily specials, I came up with the Friday Fish Fry ($9.99). My dining companion opted for breakfast (served all day at Cracker Barrel): Momma’s Pancake Breakfast ($8.59).
The fish was four pieces of crispy fried cod (you have a choice of cod or catfish) served with steak fries and creamy cole slaw plus a Cracker Barrel corn muffin. A little extra tartar sauce made the meal first-rate.
A word here about the service: exceptional. My server was attentive, helpful and obliging in every way. It goes with the atmosphere, I suppose, but you start feeling like you’re in that old country restaurant despite the proximity of the interstate outside.
My guest ordered blueberry pancakes with two fried eggs. The report was that there were a lot of blueberries and the cakes were fluffy. The eggs were a little peppery but she said she liked them that way.
As for beverages, I went with a Coke ($2.19) while my dining partner had coffee ($2.19). Refills were readily provided for both.
The Barrel also offers a number of weekday lunch specials for $5.99 with comfort food options such as baked chicken, chicken pot pie and meatloaf.
When it’s time to pay, you line up in the general store part of the operation where you find yourself tempted by giant gummy snakes and pecan logs.
I was able to resist, however, and headed outside past an array of rocking chairs lined up on the restaurant’s front porch. It must be the country influence of the Barrel but, next time, I plan to sit for a spell.