Grandpa Gotta Eat—Cracker Barrel
On this edition of Grandpa Gotta Eat, after some back and forth, my wife and I finally decide on somewhere to get a mid-day meal, and it winds up being somewhere neither of us had ever been before. Did we like it? Was it worth it?
Let's find out.
Make Up Your Mind!
Whenever my wife and I are out together and it comes around to mealtime, we often debate first whether we even should eat out or just wait until we get back home. More times than not, the latter wins out, but every once in a while, we manage to end up at a restaurant.
If it's a go for dining out, though, it's often after more deliberation.
Last Saturday, I was determined we'd just cut to the chase. I knew she likes eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill, so while it wasn't quite lunchtime, I suggested we head to the nearest one we could find, since neither of us had eaten breakfast and it was evident that both of us were hungry.
She seemed to be fine with the idea, but then she said, "Or we could go to Denny's." Now, my wife doesn't usually say things like that, but it seems like she had breakfast on the brain even though it was already nearing 11 AM. Sure, you can eat breakfast anytime, but it was just strange coming from her.
I shrugged. "Okay," I said, "We can go to Denny's." It's not my favorite place for breakfast, but it's generally cheaper than IHOP, and during the conversation, my wife said as much.
"Or Chipotle," she said back.
Here we go, I thought. I don't need much to make up my mind. Every once in a while I don't have a clue what I want to eat, but that's the exception, not the rule.
"If that's what you want, let's do that," I said out loud, "We just need to decide."
"Let's do Chipotle," she said. So, I had her look up the nearest Chipotle on her iPhone and we set a course.
About five minutes later, while talking about something else she asked, "What about Cracker Barrel?"
That was out of the blue. "What about it?"
"Do you like it? Have you been?"
I thought maybe I had, but I couldn't recall.
"Is it a buffet?" she wondered.
I didn't think it was and said so. "Is that where you want to go?"
"Sure," I said. At this point, I was amenable to anything, and I had always heard good things about Cracker Barrel. I guess a friend of hours had mentioned going there a while back and it had somehow become forefront on her mind.
"Okay," she said.
"You'll need to get Maps to tell us how to get there."
After she did, we were off to Cracker Barrel, which proved to be closer but in the opposite direction we were headed. We had to get off the southbound freeway and then get back on to head north. Within 10 minutes, we were there looking for a parking spot.
This particular Cracker Barrel sits in a large shopping area right next to a Red Robin with quite a few restaurants along with the shops, such as Cabela's. It's in a city called Tualatin, which is more or less a suburb of Portland. That being said, I wasn't expecting the massive Cabela's. The huge LA Fitness, yes, Cabela's no.
A Restaurant And Store Or A Store And Restaurant?
I'm not sure if this is the case with all Cracker Barrel's, but this one called itself Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, which threw me for a second. This is a restaurant, right? From the outside, it was hard to tell.
Not only was it country, but it was like stepping back in time, and probably in the South somewhere.
As we walked along the front of the building, there were chairs and benches lined up on both sides. Some were actually for sitting in to play a game of checkers, which a couple were actually doing when we were leaving.
The rest of the chairs, all of them made of wood and meant for rocking, were for sale. You could see the price tags hanging off the backs. I didn't pause to check out the prices, but now I'm wishing I had. It would be nice to have a couple of rocking chairs to wile away the time on the back porch come summer.
That was outside. As we came through the door, we were greeted with, what else, more items for sale. Again, I wondered if there would actually be a restaurant, but wasn't too worried. We'd been to other places where they like to wind you through their wares first, just not a pretty large and popular national chain.
Prices on things, as they tend to be in stores like this, were more than I would want to pay, but I was surprised that they weren't more exorbitant. What I found as I looked around was that most of the prices in an area of grouped items were more or less the same for each thing. I guess that was meant to take away choosing solely based on cost. I also found that some items were discounted off the regular price, which wasn't something that typically happened in these kinds of places, so that was different, too.
Because Valentine's Day was coming up, there were things that were pink, frilly and both. And then there were less seasonal things, like an assortment of owls in mugs, on candle jars, on books, and other ways.
The eye, however, wasn't just drawn to the shelves or stacks in the aisles, but hanging from the ceiling, too. Those items were part of the decor, and not for sale. Things like pans and tricycles and a wooden basket for catching all sorts of things, no doubt. Even a metal pail and a dinner triangle.
What really caught my attention were what I will categorize as Toys Out Of Time, like the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo sitting above Stretch Armstrong, which was squeezed in between more modern toys from Fortnite and some kind of dinosaur. Or maybe Stretch and Scooby were making a comeback?
We only wandered around a little bit to begin with, since we were there hoping to eat, but did take some more time to look around after. Once we saw it, we made a beeline for the service desk and asked to be seated. We were ushered into a large dining area with a giant stone hearth and fireplace, which was actually lit with real wood. (One of the employees threw on another small log while we waited).
We were seated at a wooden table not far from the fireplace. We were close enough that my wife chose to sit on the side it was on so she could feel the heat on her back.
A collection of all kinds of things, including memorabilia, adorned the walls. It wasn't until after I started looking through the images to get ready for this post that I realized that there were things like rifles, axes and crowbars along with clocks, plaques, pictures and empty movie reels.
If anyone wanted to start a fight, they wouldn't even have to bring their own weapons. Just grab one off the wall.
Thankfully, there was nothing like that going on. It was a very peaceful, sociable kind of atmosphere.
These images are within view of where we were, along the wall where the fireplace stood. Each nook had its own kind of theme.
We went from what I'll call frontier to movies and then music, with a guitar, saxophone, violin, trombone, etc., mounted along with the pictures.
All of it gave the room a rustic feel, as if we'd stepped out of the present and ended up in some nexus of history.
It took a while to even pay attention to the menus they gave us, but we settled in and started pouring over them. One looked like it was set to newsprint from the late 1800s. The other was more of a promotional menu. Neither had as much to offer as I thought they might. I guess I'm used to eight or more pages of food items to choose from, but in this case, there were only two pages front and back (for a total of four). It didn't take long to get through the entire menu.
What did take a little longer than normal, while different waiters buzzed around (we were also near the kitchen, as it turned out), for one of them to finally come up to take our order.
We started with drinks. My wife wanted a hot chocolate (apparently she was feeling cold, and was still in breakfast mode), while I asked for a lemonade which was touted as refillable. Sounded like a deal to me, so I got it.
I think the waiter intended to get the drinks first and then come back for our food order, but my wife said something that indicated she was ready to order then. That doesn't often happen, but apparently she was hungry and new what she wanted.
She ordered, then it was my turn. While the menu we were given seemed fairly limited, my eyes kept wondering back to the chicken and dumplings. My mother used to make chicken and dumplings and I think for that reason alone I wanted to try what Cracker Barrel had to offer.
Along with the chicken and dumplings, you could get two or three sides. I went for three, and picked the mashed potatoes with brown gravy, whole kernel corn and just for fun, a brussels sprouts and kale salad. The meal also came with the option of either two biscuits, two corn muffins, or one of each. I went for the latter.
My wife, who you'll remember suggested Denny's earlier, stayed in breakfast mode, even though there was only one breakfast meal on the menus we were given. It was called the Old Timer's Breakfast (I don't think my wife noticed the name or she probably wouldn't have wanted it) which came with the following:
Two farm fresh eggs (cooked to order) with grits and your choice of Thick-Sliced Bacon, Smoked Sausage Patties, or Turkey Sausage, plus Fried Apples or Hashbrown Casserole. Comes with homemade Buttermilk Biscuits, Sawmill Gravy, and the best preserves and jams we could find.
My wife went for the bacon, scrambled eggs and the hashbrown casserole.
Then, we were back to waiting. It didn't take long for the drinks to arrive, though. While I nursed mine so as to save some for the food, my wife pretty much attacked her hot chocolate, which turned out to be very different than most she or I have experienced.
It was kind of watery, not too sweet, and amounted to no more than two-thirds of the mug they gave her, because the cream, which tasted like toasted coconut, took up the other third and then was piled above the rim and drizzled with chocolate syrup.
Meanwhile, my drink put the lemon in lemonade. It is no exaggeration when I say it tasted like fresh squeezed. If it had sugar in it, it was not detectable. It was some of the best lemonade I've ever had.
Tale Of The Taste
My wife will generally start making comments about how something is deficient with her food if she doesn't like it. This time around, she didn't, but she kept eyeing, and sampling mine. That's not usually a good sign, either, but she did end up finishing her food, all except the grits, which I helped to consume.
I think she liked the scrambled eggs, bacon and hashbrowns, as well as the biscuits, which she doused in gravy. I think she really liked my chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, corn and salad.
I did, too. It probably didn't hurt that I was hungry. The eating experience is almost always heightened that way, meaning that even subpar food can taste awesome. In this case, though, I think the food was already great and my hunger managed to amplify it more.
That said, the chicken and dumplings were not as I thought they would be. Since I was envisioning the stuff my Mom would make, I was looking for dumplings that were fluffy, light and airy. These dumplings were not. In fact, they were more like the homemade noodles that Mom used to make that I actually liked even more. Chewy, tasty and ultimately (after as many as I could cram into my mouth), very satisfying.
That was when I was a teenager. This time around I tried to savor every delectable morsel, eating other items on my plate before going back to the dumplings. The chicken was amazing, too. My wife described it as "different chicken" which I took to me fresh tasting. The corn was very good and tasted right off the cob. The mashed potatoes were no frills but delicious with the brown gravy.
The brussels sprouts and kale salad was actually very good. There were also dried cranberries and pecans to sweeten it up, along with a maple vinaigrette. I don't think it would have been nearly as good without those additional items.
That left the biscuit and the corn muffin. Those two were rather disappointing. I was expecting something flakier and tastier from the biscuit, but it was rather dry and bland. The muffin didn't taste like much either. I kept expecting corn, but it was more of a blah bread kind of taste.
Overall, though, my food was a delight. I'd definitely eat it again, as well as take a chance on some of the other entrees Cracker Barrel serves. I'd just like to see the full menu next time.
When we were finished, we got the check. When I looked at it, only our meals were on it (just over $21 USD for hers and mine, which I felt was a bargain for the price given the portions and the festival of flavor for what amounted to Southern comfort food), but no drinks. I flagged down the waiter to tell him because I wanted to pay for all of it. He said something about a mix up and us having to sit there too long before one of them attended to us, so the drinks were on him.
We did wait a little longer than customary, and it seemed like a couple people who were seated after us got their orders in ahead of us, but it wasn't that big of a deal. I suppose I could have insisted we pay, but he was being gracious and sometimes you accept the gifts you're given.
Besides, I was going to leave a tip anyway, and I made sure to make it large enough to cover our drinks and show our appreciation for the food and his attentive service.
To pay, we had to wander back into the store. That meant more shelve and aisles to pass by. We were just rounding the corner when my wife spied the boxes of pancakes and biscuit mixes (the latter can also make dumplings, by the way), and asked if we should get some. I said sure, though I wasn't really planning on making the biscuits anytime soon. The dumplings yes, and maybe the pancakes would be good, too. These are supposed to be the same as what Cracker Barrel makes for you.
After we left, I wished we'd also bought a box of the moon pies, just to try them. I've heard a lot about them but have no idea what they taste like. I doubt it has anything to do with the moon.
Don't ask me why, but I'm kind of fascinated with old time or hard to locate candies, soft drinks and snacks. So, when I saw the rows of sodas, I had to take a picture. I thought about buying one but didn't push it. I think it would have been difficult to choose just one.
Then, there was more sodas in a refrigerated section. Dark sodas, pink, blue, orange, and yellow ones. All in glass bottles. Just a buck forty-nine! Again I refrained, but while my wife was paying for the boxes of mixes, she decided to get two pounds of the bacon (it was listed on the front of the refrigerated display case where the sodas were).
Back To Present
Then, without much fanfare, we were out the door and our journey through time and space ended. I think it was well worth the hour and the $45 we ultimately spent on food, tip, mixes and bacon.
There are only five Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants in Oregon, so I'm feeling pretty fortunate that we actually ate at one. Hopefully, more will spring up closer to home so we don't have to go so far.
Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to our next experience there, and maybe I'll get some pop, too.
All images courtesy of Glen Anthony Albrethsen
This edition of Grandpa Gotta Eat is published in conjunction with @foodfightfriday, a weekly contest about, that's right, food. All may participate by simply writing about food, posting it on Friday where you are, and using the #fff tag. After that, it would be good to peruse the post of other participants, since we all get to help choose the winner.