Lovely Laura, deer head trump the CFS special
By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor
The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants were never part of my family's travel plans when I was a child or when my kids were young. So my trip to the Cracker Barrel off of Archer Rd next to I-75 was my first lunch at this everything-you-could-possibly-need-to-eat interstate fixture.
Before lunch, I learned that in the late 6os, Dan Cracker Barre . . . ooops, sorry . . . Dan Evins from Lebanon, Tennessee, had this idea to upgrade his gas station into a friendly country store for people to "come in, sit down, take a load off" and maybe buy a few knick-knacks or some nostalgic candy.
Heck, while Dan was thinking, he also thought he could sell a few sausage biscuits and maybe a coupla orders of country fried steak since he had the highway refugees floating in his sea of curiosities.
The first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store opened in September 1969. Today there are over 600 open for business in 42 states. No franchising going on here. Every store is owned by Cracker Barrel, Inc.
So I'm sitting in Cracker Barrel #487 of 600 at a cozy table for two looking directly at a deer head perched high on the wall looking right back at me. OK, so I made up the Cracker Barrel store number.
This big box joint is jumping – and rocking. I hear tell that during busy lunch hours at many a Cracker Barrel, there are a lot of people rocking on the front porch waiting for their tables. According to Cracker Barrel cashier, Lovely Laura, Gainesville's Cracker Barrel has over 120 hard-working employees. Cracker Barrellers open this place up at 6:00 in the morning for early bird travelers and other hungry breakfast eaters. The night shift CBers close the doors at 10:00 pm.
Once at my table, I was handed a menu featuring 8 different food categories that included seasonal modifications. Let's think about this for a minute. I am sitting in a replica of a country store in Tennessee. I didn't need no stinkin' menu. My choice for lunch was automatic.
Everyone who thinks I ordered the country fried steak raise your hand.
That was a no brainer question wasn't it?
I would like to know how many country fried steak lunch entrees this corporation sells on Hump Day Wednesday.
My CFS entrée included two side orders plus mashed potatoes. I selected two Southern classic side orders: Turnip greens and fried okra. The turnip greens might have been in the cooking pot a day or two too long. They had good flavor, however, they were mushy and stringy, which turned them into a bad impersonation of turnip greens. The fried okra was good; obviously prepackaged, but still tasty.
The mashed potatoes were real, I think. They clumped together appropriately and created a nice palette for the thick gravy.
The country fried steak was alright. The crunchy crust was a nice complement to the creamy gravy. I was just able to detect some beef flavor from the cubed steak hiding within that country crunchy crust .
You know what? That CFS lunch was pretty good. It was good enough that my first thought on the way to the cash register was to check and see if they had a freezer in the country store part of this complex where I could buy a box or two of those fried steaks to take home with me.
The high point of my lunch visit was meeting Lovely Laura at the checkout counter. With a bright smile and customer friendly demeanor, Ms. Laura was quick to make sure the customers in her line were leaving happy: "Now you be sure to tell everyone that Lovely Laura says hello, and they should all come to the Cracker Barrel," Laura said, perhaps with a little too much emphasis.
I'm not poking fun at the Cracker Barrel experience. I understand big box, corporate units like #487 serve an important role in today's mass market food world.
However, I'm pretty sure I will not make it back to the Cracker Barrel. Unless maybe Lovely Laura sends me a personal invitation.
The Pluses and Minuses of the Cracker Barrel Country Store:
Cracker Barrel Country Store. + indicators: Fast service, customer friendly. The company gives back to the community through several interesting programs. Also, for the travelers, you can rent books on tape at one store and return it at any other store when you are done.
Cracker Barrel Country Store. - indicators: I picked up a pack of candy corn at the checkout counter that was horribly bad. I understand that another Cracker Barrel Country Store just opened somewhere in America.
Be the first to offer your GLOB comments, lunch photographs and opinions about the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Please identify your opinions with a PLUS SIGN (+) for positive comments, and a MINUS SIGN (-) for your negative comments. - THANKS!
- Phone Number: 375-2424
- Address: 4001 SW 43rd St., Gainesville, FL
- Urban GLOB Location: West Gainesville
- Web Site: Cracker Barrel Country Store
- Latitude: 29.617646
- Longitude: -82.388471
Jon Rose Wednesday, 05 October 2011 11:45 Comment Link
If there ever was a more heart-unfriendly meal then what you had, I've never seen it! It is a good thing you have never had any heart issues.
But the breakfast meat sampler probably blows the CFS away for badness.
CBs are pure Americana and browsing the store is as much fun as eating the always tasty food. I am sure gourmet readers will stick their noses up but who cares.
Pam H. Wednesday, 05 October 2011 09:23 Comment Link
I have eaten all three meals at various Cracker Barrels in various locales along the I-75 corridor at various times of the year. NEVER have I gotten a bad meal. Their food is always good, always hot (or cold as appropriate), and the service is always stellar. You can depend on Cracker Barrel to fill that void in your stomach with food you'll enjoy. You won't leave unhappy.
PLUS: Their dumplings are outstanding!
MINUS: So far, I've never found one.