Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Know a Guy Who's Tough but Sweet

After several weeks of scouring the area for gifts that scream Americana, or at least Ohioana?...Heartland, for my stepmother's birthday giftbox, we finally ended up at the entrance of a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Ohio really has nothing unique that can be wrapped into a box that isn't ridiculously-sized, like Amish furniture, or illegal, like an animal or plant. We've done the Amish chocolate, maple syrup, and even halvah. No, not Amish halvah.

Walking through the large space cluttered with gifts, surrounded by wood paneling, built-in wood shelving, wood tables, and wood crates, this was easily a Mecca of Americana.

We didn't get an Ohio State University rocking chair. We passed up the sequined red sweaters and sweatshirts of apples. My stepmother would never wear anything like that. She's a sleek, elegant, and sophisticated woman who wears European designer clothing. With that in mind...


We couldn't stop picking up stuff, because everything was just so nifty, from the nostalgic retro box of 1950s candy to the key lime coconut clusters. We even got a fiery red gobstopper (maybe it was a gumball) the size of a fist. It gave me a headache thinking of eating that.

I guess there's one minor drawback to these gift selections. My stepmother is not a candy fiend.

*blink blink*

While standing in line with our purchase, Bug peered at a map of all their restaurant locations and read that there were over 570 restaurants! Jeez! I didn't realize how prevalent Cracker Barrel was in certain areas.

We were feeling a bit peckish and I was curious what the restaurant was like. This was my first *real* visit to a Cracker Barrel.

I was surprised that at 9:00 p.m. you are offered a choice between the breakfast menu and the lunch/dinner menu. Too bad I'm not a breakfast person, I probably would have taken advantage of the breakfast menu offer.

My first surprise was the price of the platters. Most platters were in the $7-8 range and included 3 sides.

Because I couldn't decide what to get, I decided to try their dinner sampler, which consisted of chicken 'n dumplings, meatloaf, and country ham (smoked). For my sides, I couldn't decide between fried apples, various vegetables, and potatoes. Out of the ~15 choices, I decided on macaroni and cheese, turnip greens, and breaded fried okra. All for $8-something. Bug got country fried steak with mashed potatoes, breaded fried okra, and turnip greens.

I peered at other tables around me and was surprised at how filled their plates arrived.

Our dinner arrived with buttermilk biscuits and corn bread. They were a touch too salty for me, but that really doesn't mean much since I don't cook with salt, nor do I add salt to my food. The buttermilk biscuits were the better of the two. The corn bread was a little dry. It was probably sitting out for a bit.

My order came on a large dinner platter, with my three selections and the macaroni and cheese brimming along the edges of the plate, and two smaller bowls with heaping servings of greens and fried okra.

I became full just looking at all the food.

The one slice of ham may have seemed sparse compared to the other 2 selections, but there was a lot of food on my plate that I couldn't imagine brooding over that. It was a smokey slice of ham. Not bad.

The chicken 'n dumplings were amazing. The generous portion of tender chicken chunks were delicious and the sauce creamy. It was almost like eating a really thick creamy chicken noodle soup.

The meatloaf was like...well, I never eat meatloaf so it was what I would expect meatloaf to taste like - peppery oniony meat with a touch of ketchup. Not bad at all. I didn't expect the meatloaf to crumble like okara or instant stuffing though.

Bug liked his chicken fried steak. The mashed potatoes were pretty good with white gravy. (Maybe I'll get that the next time we're there!)

We waddled out of there spending less than $20 for both our meals and a big bag of leftovers that lasted as my lunch for work the next day and an extra side for dinner.

On my next trip, I'll probably choose the chicken 'n dumplings, turnip greens as one of my sides, and try 2 new sides. The fried apples sounds intriguing!

- Cassaendra

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