There's something you should know about me. I did not eat at a Cracker Barrel for the first time until I was 23 years old.
I tell you that because, growing up, they just weren't in my line of sight. We had a local breakfast place called The Southern Skillet that was a million times yummier in every way - they had lunch and dinner too - and every bite was amazing. Their bread - biscuits, rolls, cornbread - were all breathtaking. They made a coconut creme pie that would make you weep. Their food food - you know, meat loaf, chicken, etc - was just phenomenal. And it's where the locals would go and it was just great. They went out of business just over a year ago - I still miss them.
And given a choice, I'd still rather eat there than just about anywhere.
But, in addition to having a better option, we just didn't have any Barrels anywhere near us. If we wanted a chain breakfast, Waffle House was the obvious choice.
Even after that inaugural trip to Cracker Barrel, I was hardly a regular. In fact, it wasn't til I moved to Nashville that I started hitting it up from time to time.
Here's what I love - and I use the word love very generically here - about the Barrel:
- The food is generally good and always the same. The biscuits at Exit 211A are going to be the same as the biscuits at Exit 79.
- It's super cheesy, but I like the general store. I don't ever buy anything, but there's actually a scarf there that I wanted tonight. I may have to go back. They also carry Avanti Press greeting cards, which are awesome.
- I have an affinity for being able to order breakfast any time. One of my favorite things in the world is to go out for breakfast, but Matt doesn't get into that as much as I do. I also love having breakfast for dinner, which isn't Matt's thing either. So Cracker Barrel lets me get my bacon on at any time of day. And for that, I am grateful.
- The service is polite but detached. The servers are always friendly, and never too familiar.
- The price is reasonable. I mean, sometimes, I have to ala carte a little to get what I want - because ideally, I want a biscuit, some bacon, hashbrown casserole and maybe some gravy. I never want eggs. Because as much as I love breakfast, really, the only eggs I ever seek out are the cheesy eggs from Waffle House.
- I'm always younger, thinner and prettier than the average patron. Can I say that about Cabana? No, not on a good day. But I could easily win a pageant at Cracker Barrel.
It's not all good though - for the things I love about Cracker Barrel, there are just as many things I hate:
- Word is that it's a racist and homophobic company. Given that, should I really be giving them my money? No, I shouldn't.
- Screaming babies. Cracker Barrel has more screaming babies per capita than any restaurant ever. And much like the aforementioned consistency - every single location is chock-full of screaming babies, which stresses me out.
- The food isn't that good for you. I mean, they do post their nutritional info, and if I want to stick to Weight Watchers there, I can. But remember when I mentioned I was one of their thinner patrons... I think I'm telling you there's a correlation.
- Elderly people with respiratory issues. There's nothing like being seated next to someone who is recovering from double pneumonia and sounds like he's about to bring up a lung to squelch even the breakfast lovingest of appetites.
- It's a chain. And shouldn't I be giving my money to local businesses? Cracker Barrel is the Wal-Mart of restaurants. I also need to break the Wal-Mart habit.
- How sanitary is it to have all that crap up on the walls? Where did that axe come from, and was it used to slaughter something? And has it been sterilized? Also, that creepy woman in the photograph above my table seems to be watching me eat my gravy. Please make her stop.
- Their cash-out system. There is nobody monitoring my egress. I could dine and dash and I bet I'd get away with it. I have this thought every single time I eat at a Cracker Barrel, and I don't like what that says about my lax moral code.
- The candy. One of the things I like about the real world is my relative inability to purchase Fruit Stripe gum and Bit O Honeys. These are both available here. And for all the cute things they have for sale, there's some tacky crap there too. Lots of John Deere stuff. Not sold ironically, either.
Bottom line... I need to break my Cracker Barrel habit.
And replace it with...
Long walks on the beach, or something meaningful.
Because no biscuits are worth selling your soul or your cardiac health for.