Monday, March 26, 2018

Cracker Barrel - A Barrel Of Disappointment

Back in 2008, I took a road trip to Indiana (I know, right). I think I was in Montana or Wyoming when I spotted a highway side restaurant called Cracker Barrel. Featuring a good sized rustic looking gift shop and hand carved rocking chairs on the porch, the place specialized in "Old Fashioned Southern Fare,"  circa the 1920s and 30s.

 I was treated to a fabulous plate of fried chicken and okra. I'd never had okra before.  The peppery bite sized nuggets had been fried until golden and crispy.  I absolutely fell in love with the vegetable that day. Thus, when the chain came to Oregon and opened a branch at 4050 SW 114th Ave. in Beaverton, I was excited.

| Subject: Fried Chicken "Tenderloins," Dumplings, Fried Okra, Buttermilk Biscuit, and Corn Muffin | Date: 03/21/2018 | Photographers: James Kiester & Dani Cogswell | This picture was taken by the author of this blog. |
I arrived with my mother and my friend, Dani, at 11am on a Wednesday. Sure enough there were the rockers on the porch and the gift shop full of homey knick knacks and bottles of old fashioned soda pop. We browsed for a bit before entering the memorabilia adorned dining room.

The dining room was already three-fourths full with eight or nine waiters and waitresses mulling about. A full restaurant is usually a good sign.

I was in the mood for fried chicken. The "chicken fried chicken" was on their hearty meals menu, which sounded like a bit more food than I could handle. So I ordered their "fried chicken tenderloins," dumplings, and, of course, their okra. My mother ordered the steel cut oatmeal with fruit, a blueberry muffin, and bacon, while Dani ordered the blackberry pancakes.

Even though the restaurant was staffed well, the service was remarkably slow. From the time we ordered, it took about 25 minutes to get our order, the one exception being my mother's bacon which came a good 15 minutes before everything else. It sat there getting cold and greasy before she got her other food.

When our food finally got there, they forgot her muffin. Once we flagged a waitress down, and a muffin was brought out, it was frozen in the middle.  She did like her oatmeal though.

Dani's pancakes were regular buttermilk pancakes with a sweet blackberry compote over the top. They tasted good, but they weren't anything one couldn't find at IHOP or Denny's.

For those who are wondering, "chicken tenderloins" is code for chicken strips. Did they have chicken strips back in the 20s? I got four of the strips with a ramekin of honey mustard dip, a good pile of okra, dumplings with white gravy, and buttermilk biscuits, and a corn muffin. It was a substantial plate of food to be sure.

"OK, chicken strips," I thought to myself, "They're probably seasoned in some special way to set them apart from the the run-of-the-mill fast food chicken strip."  Er...  Not so much.  While they were crispy and tender, they were under seasoned. I've had better strips at Burger King.

The dumplings were the flat Southern-style version with a good al dente chew to them. The gravy was smooth and creamy, with a mild chicken flavor.  I had to add salt and pepper to wake the gravy up.

The okra, on the other hand, was wonderful, just as I remembered.  It was nice and crispy with the zesty flavor I'd fallen for years ago.

As for the bread, it was a regular buttermilk biscuit and corn muffin. They were soft with a good flavor, but they had no signature spin to them.  I can get EXACTLY the same biscuit at KFC.

Perhaps the old saying is true, "your first time is always the best." I'll always have fond memories of the first Cracker Barrel I was at. However, when you take into account the slow service and the mediocre food, I give this Cracker Barrel 5 out of 10 stars.  The okra, as good as it was, is not enough to bring me back.

The following pictures were taken by the author of this blog on 03/21/2018 for this blog. 

| Subject: Old fashioned country memorabilia on Cracker Barrel's dining room wall |

| Subject: Old fashioned country memorabilia on Cracker Barrel's dining room wall |

| Subject: Cracker Barrel's BlackBerry Pancakes |

| Subject: Cracker Barrel's Steel Cut Oatmeal with fruit and a pot of tea |

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