This evening we ate at a chain restaurant called The Cracker Barrel on (where else?) Front Street. We had planned on going there one of the other days but my dad claimed it was too “cutesy” for me and that it would drive me crazy. Since we were once again dying of the heat, we didn’t much care where we ate so long as it had a cooling system. I did not know it was a Southern chain with a number of outposts outside the South. I never heard of it, period. Yes, it was cutesy, and it had a large gift shop that you were routed through to get to the restaurant, but there was enough there I was actually interested in to make it fun. Once you get past all the chickie dishes and overblown cookie jars and homespun-looking tschotchkes, there are a few things worth your time. First, Lodge makes things for The Cracker Barrel — basically their usual cast iron ware but with a Cracker Barrel logo cast into the bottom. While you can find this stuff cheaper on Amazon.com and discount stores, it is still nice to look at and handle while you are waiting to be seated. Then there is a large Southern candy section, and a really cool toy section, with some nice kid-sized cookware sets. Ah, time to eat! We were brought corn muffins, biscuits and butter to munch on while we looked at the huge comfort food menu. Meat loaf, beef stew, chicken and dumplings. You get the idea. Matt had the chicken fried chicken and I had chicken and dumplings. You get three sides with your entree, chosen from a huge variety of sides, and we came up with six to share: cole slaw, fried okra, cornbread stuffing, fries, corn and mashed potatoes. The sides were fine but the fried okra could have been better. Once I received my dinner and spent an hour watching lots of other entrees come out of the kitchen, I realized that their stock in trade was boneless chicken breast. Almost all of the chicken dishes (and maybe it is all, I’m not sure) use this boneless chicken breast meat. While this is healthier and easier on the kitchen, I was very disappointed not to receive chicken on the bone with my dumplings. You just can’t get the same flavor in certain dishes without chicken on the bone. And, come on!, what kind of Southern place has no real fried chicken?! I have to admit, though, it was quite tasty and gave us our comfort food fix in a cool environment.
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