Friday, March 30, 2012

Nobody Takes Me There!!

Long time readers know we live in Robinson, land of chain stores and chain restaurants. Overall, we love living where we live and would not choose to move elsewhere, not even to Squirrel Hill or Shadyside or East Liberty, the more local/independent restaurant & shop filled places. You'll never get everything you want in a home/home location, but we are darn close. We love being so close to the airport and to the city, we are close to many major roads, there are multiple ways to get places once you learn the 'back roads' so you avoid traffic, we love having the Market District right down the hill, the library is right down the hill, the Costco is nearby, all those 'chain stores' are close by and make dashing out for grill gas or a lawnmower part or a new paint brush in the middle of a painting job quick and easy and relatively painless.

Our only complaint is the lack of independent restaurants. Sure, there's Bocktown and some Asian places like Ya Fei and Fuji Sushi, but mostly, it's 'the chains.' I bring this up for a reason. One is the recent news story about Marilyn Hagerty, who enthusiastcially reviewed an Olive Garden restaurant for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. I know why dining critics don't review the chain restaurants. But perhaps we should be a bit more grateful for the plethora of chain restaurant dining options in our township.

And we do sometimes go to them. Consequently, I blog about them. I like food, I like cooking & eating out, I am not a trained chef nor trained critic, and I can't always escape my 'land of chains' town to dine at a local/independent place, so sometimes I will post food photos from an Olive Garden or Panera or Wendy's because, well, it's food! We like food! We aren't (always) snobby about what we eat! Sometimes, that Junior Bacon Cheeseburger is the most delicious thing ever.

So here I am, in this land of chains, and you'd think that when I start listing all the chains I'd remember the one up on the hill by Lowe's & McDonald's. But I never do. It's never on my radar. Until we drive past the billboard advertising their $5.99 special.

When we drive from the city to our home on the parkway, we pass a billboard for Cracker Barrel. Every time I see it, I think, "Oh yes! There is a Cracker Barrel here! Why don't I ever remember that?!" And because SP & I like to tease each other and give each other a hard time, and because usually when I see this billboard it's after having enjoyed a delicious dinner at an independent restaurant in the city, and also because I think it's the only chain out here we haven't been to at least once, I always exclaim in a loud voice:

"Cracker Barrel!!! Nobody takes me to Cracker Barrel!"

SP rolls his eyes and then offers to take me. And I say no, that's OK. It's a ritual now. I think if I forgot to exclaim about no one taking me to Cracker Barrel, he'd be sad. Sometimes I'll be silent just long enough for him to start glancing my way and then he says,"Go ahead, you can say it!"

Cracker Barrel. My one & only Cracker Barrel experience was way back in the late 90's on my way to OH to visit my brother for Christmas. I had pancakes, I think.

So it was Saturday evening, 7 pm, we were exiting Walmart, so you can imagine our general mood, and we'd been zipping about since 10:45 am. We'd eaten yogurt, scrambled eggs, birthday cake, tacos, and that was about it. It was time for the dinner conversation. Neither of us was especially hungry, but we knew we should probably eat because if we didn't, we'd be hungry once we got home and neither of us would have the energy to even microwave... well, truthfully, there wasn't anything at home to microwave, nothing at all to eat, not even eggs, so we had to do something.

I looked over towards Lowe's for some reason, and it hit me. I started laughing. SP thought I'd lost the last of my sanity in Walmart.

"You know where you could take me?"
"Um, no, where do you want to go?"
"You know where. You never take me there."
And he got it. At the same time we said,"Nobody take me to Cracker Barrel!"

So that's what we did. And now I can't truthfully say,"Nobody takes me to Cracker Barrel."
Country cooking. Country decor. Breakfast all day.
Cracker Barrel makes me think of Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, PA, where I went to college. Country theme, country decor, country cooking - biscuits, gravy, sausage - and a country store. It's where the parents would take their kids for breakfast/lunch when they were in town for Parents' Weekend. The 'all you can eat breakfast buffet' was a big hit for us in college. I experienced Country Cupboard years before I ever went to Cracker Barrel so I always felt that CB stole their idea from CC (I'm not saying they did, it's just a coincidence that they are similar! CB was founded in TN in 1969 and CC was founded in Lewisburg in 1973, likely well before CB expanded north into PA).
Cute, old style lamps like this

A peg game on the table, which reminded me of all the times we visited my great Aunt Norma and my brother and I would take turns playing this game

SP's salad, with crackers and Italian dressing

SP's chicken noodle soup with enormous croutons

SP's lemon pepper grilled trout

Side of cole slaw

Side of corn muffins

My french toast with cherry fruit topping

My side of bacon
They must be used to really churning people in and out. SP had barely taken a bite of salad when his soup showed up. He was on his fifth or sixth bite of salad when all the other food arrived. It was kind of funny to see 7 plates of food on the table. There was no empty space on the table!!

All the food was OK, what you'd expect from a Cracker Barrel, lots of food for the price. We both ate only about half of our meals. Including tip, I think we spent $31.

When I eat, I tend to take my time, so I felt kind of rushed at Cracker Barrel. No one pushed us out the door or asked us to leave, but the rapid arrival of all our food in a span of about 3 minutes, well, it just felt rushed. But it filled our bellies, gave SP leftovers to eat the next day before going to the hockey game, and rejuvenated us enough to finish our last few errands.

But what I have been thinking as I sit here writing this, is that maybe we owe the chains a little more respect. As China Millman wrote last week, they serve a different purpose than the independent, local, more creative restaurants. The chains are predictable, the menus rarely change, perhaps just a few seasonal changes but the core menu remains the same, but you know what you're going to get. And that can be comforting and good.

We should be grateful that we live in an area where, at 7 pm on a Saturday evening, with no reservations, we were able to choose from 15-20 chain restaurants, and that's just the ones I can quickly rattle off. I am sure if I gave it some more thought, there would be 20+ places. I would say that all of them have decent food, it's a matter of what style/cuisine most appeals to you.

I'm not sure how soon we'll return to Cracker Barrel, but the food was decent, less expensive than our usual meals, and our servers and the other employees were very cheerful and friendly. A nice, spur of the moment, quick dinner.

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