The ambience of the place did not belie its name – Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. There were rocking chairs lining a good portion of the long porch in front of the Cracker Barrel that I visited at 9340 Michigan Rd. The building’s rustic wood façade is an excellent representative of a rural general store from the mid-20th century.
The throwback experience continued once I was inside Cracker Barrel, which is both a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a gift shop. Some people go there just to browse the specialty items that can be difficult to find elsewhere, such as natural apple butter and genuine Amish-made desserts.
Many of Cracker Barrel’s patrons shop the store before or after their meals, which is part of the fun of going. Among the unique products that can be purchased there are pure natural syrup, Cracker Jack caramel corn in the original box, “Remember When…” candies from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and, of course, rocking chairs.
In the dining space, which is sectioned into three eating areas of almost equal size, historic memorabilia from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s hangs from the walls. On one wall, I noticed a washing board like my mother used to clean our clothes before there were automatic washing machines. On another, there were empty containers of cooking products from bygone eras.
Cracker Barrel presents itself as a home-away-from-home eatery, which is reflected in its menu. Its specialty is a country-style breakfast, which customers may order even after traditional breakfast hours. I have tried the buttermilk pancakes there before and was not disappointed, but on my most recent trip, I was in for dinner.
I selected the farm-raised catfish platter. You can choose either fried or spicy grilled, and I picked the former. What is the point in going with catfish, if you are not going to have it the old fashion way? The dinner comes with your choice of three vegetables and side dishes. Now, that was the hard part.
How do you choose just three sides between corn, green beans, macaroni and cheese, dumplings, hash brown casserole, steak fries, pinto beans, sweet whole baby carrots, fried okra, cole slaw, turnip greens, apple sauce, fried apples and mashed potatoes? I settled on the pinto beans, steak fries, and fried apples. The restaurant’s dinner also comes with either buttermilk biscuits made from scratch or corn muffins. M-m-m-m…
My fish was quite satisfactory; it was fried but still tender enough to be divided into bite sizes with a fork, and not too salty as catfish can sometimes be. The two catfish fillets that I was served were generous. The pinto beans were not soupy or stiff and the steak fries were nicely seasoned. Because I ordered fried apples, I did not have to consider a dessert. The apples are sweet enough to substitute for cake or ice cream.
My meal, including the gratuity, cost about $12. I was seated right away but sometimes there can be a short wait to get in the restaurant, especially on weekends. Still, I would recommend Cracker Barrel for a hearty, f airly inexpensive, home-style meal.
For more information about the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, visit www.crackerbarrel.com.