Some things just scream America. Bald eagles. Baseball. Exceptionalism, even in the face of a global economic shift we’re only beginning to understand. And “home cookin’.” Cracker Barrel is doing its patriotic duty by providing diners with the best home cookin’ that we, in fact, rarely eat in our actual homes. Combine that with the all-American concept of buying unnecessary tchotchkes and you’ve got yourself a Casual Encounter that would make Uncle Sam Proud.
We ventured to the southern tip of the Twin Cities, Lakeville, to visit the only Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in the state.
The Cracker Barrel menu is full of trademarked breakfast items with folksy names. Most of them are just classic combinations of breakfast foods (potato+eggs+meat) but there were a few Southern-fried curveballs thrown in.
John says: In a delightful twist, the gang decided to head to the Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Because duh, that’s what CB is known for. I ordered Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast. It came with eggs, hashbrown casserole, and a choice of country fried steak or chicken fried chicken. I went with the chicken. It was all tasty. Plus it came with “all the fixins”! That included biscuits and gravy. All very good. It was so much food that I had them box it up. Then I forgot it in Rachel’s car after we went apple picking (yeah, cliches!). Then her husband Sean ate them. Conspiracy.
Aaron says: I also got the Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast, but went with the country fried steak instead of chicken, John and I swapped a bit of each other’s meat [Ed. Note: LOL YEAH YOU DID], and upon comparison, I preferred the chicken. There was A LOT of food. I think the hash brown casserole was the clear winner in the fixin’ category. I ate enough to avoid the leftover-gate conspiracy, but might have had more room for apples at the orchard had I not eaten so much beforehand.
Jenna says: My previous experience at Cracker Barrel had been unmemorable outside of the fact that it was the first time I’d ate black eye peas (trying to come up with a good Fergie joke, but I got nothing). I went basic bitch brunch – eggs, biscuits, grits, bacon. Nothing fancy, but very decent and the perfect amount of food. I didn’t have anything leftover to leave in Rachel’s car for Sean to forget to bring to trivia [Ed. Note: Great strategy.].
Rachel says: I’m a total sucker for anything pumpkin spice, and one of their specials was pumpkin spice pancakes so I was all over it. And Cracker Barrel does it right; all too often at restaurants, there are no accoutrements with pancakes or French toast. Everywhere I go for breakfast, I basically want a Tremendous 12. This place knocked it out of the park by giving me my pancakes, plus hash browns and eggs and I got to mooch one of the gang’s biscuits. I want to apologize on behalf of my husband for forgetting to bring John’s leftovers. I’m sure he deeply regretted getting to eat them later that night.
No booze. Sorry Jenna.
Aaron says: Bonus point for decent coffee, one demerit for little creamer cups.
John says: I had water. It was liquid.
Jenna says: As the resident booze lover, I was disappointed (obviously) to not be able to enjoy a Bloody Mary with my brunch.
Rachel says: I ordered decaf coffee because I’d already had two cups of regular at home. The decaf was watery, as decaf tends to be. Maybe my own fault, but I was a bit disappointed.
The words “country store” are right in the title of the establishment, so you know we walked in expected some real classic crap-on-the-walls decor. Not only did Cracker Barrel deliver on that front; you could bring much of the crap home to decorate your own walls.
Aaron says: Off the charts. I’ve been waiting for this place because I love shit on the walls. Figuratively, not literally.
John says: Cracker Barrel tries to go for the laid country store/home vibe. And they succeed. Lots of knick knacks on the wall that remind you of farming in the 1800s. The entrance brings you into a “country store” where you can buy all sorts of random gifts/souvenirs/plastic crap. We looked around for a while but no one bought anything. 4 cheesecakes
Rachel says: Between the chairs, the food, the crap on the walls, and the gift shop, this place is like a low-grade Disneyworld where we’re all in the Missouri Pavilion.
Jenna says: Lots of random metal shit on the walls for that country store vibe. Side note, in looking at the CB website I learned the company is apparently in the music business and has partnered with country singer Chris Young to create a several part docu-series that ” touches on how Cracker Barrel has continued to be his home-away-from-home along the journey.” Chris Young, that’s bull shit. You don’t eat at CBs while touring. And YES I DID watch one episode. It was Chris playing in Nashville on the fourth of July. How American. Seems like a stretch marketing-wise, but I still devoted 10 minutes of my life that I will never get back to it, so well done CB, well done. [Ed. Note: Wow, that really took a turn, there.]
Rachel says: Our server was all business. On the negative side, that meant very little small talk. On the plus side, she was efficient and attentive. I would’ve liked a little more calling us “hon,” to be honest.
Aaron says: Service was serviceable. The server was friendly and got things mostly right. Warmed up the coffee few times as we were chatting. The checks came earlier than expected, probably in an effort to get us to vacate our table.
Jenna says: Unremarkable, but got the job done. No banter.
John says: It was pretty crowded but not after church crowded. We (meaning I because I am early to everything), were seated almost immediately. Our server was pleasant and attentive. She even cracked a couple of jokes [Ed. Note: Only for John, apparently, because no one else remembers that.].
Aaron says: Chintzy NFL-print ties for everybody! Well, just the manager, but still.
John says: I think we’ve reached peak causalosity. People were laid back (probably because it was 10 in the morning) and wearing whatever. Lots of Vikings gear.
Jenna says: Definitely a post-church crowd. Aaron Smith even dressed up a little.
Rachel: The rocking chairs in the waiting area were the first indicator that this place is really, really casual. Country folk like to keep it relaxed.
Since we were there for breakfast, we didn’t have dessert. But we did go to an apple orchard afterwards, because why not? And the sweet apples of a Minnesota autumn are nature’s dessert.
John says: Since we did breakfast and were insanely full after eating, we skipped ordering a dessert. But I ate an apple at the apple orchard! It was sweet and juicy.
Aaron says: Fresh picked apples from the apple orchard.
Jenna: We failed at dessert on this casual encounter. I’d like to go back to try their pies. (Kidding, I’m not going back to a Cracker Barrel.)
Rachel: My entrée was also kind of a dessert, which is how I like it.
Dessert rating: N/A
John: The sheer amount of food one gets.
Aaron: Hash brown casserole (can we call it hot dish here?)
Jenna: This was our one and only breakfast spot! Also, it was surprisingly easy to convince everyone to go apple picking with me/take pictures of Sadie in barrels post-breakfast.
Rachel: How pleasantly surprised I was at the deliciousness of the food, and how we all got to make a memory by going to the orchard afterwards.
Least favorite part:
John: The sheer amount of food one gets.
Aaron: Christmas in October in the country store. I’m not ready for that.
Jenna: That goddamn store was obnoxious.
Rachel: Some sales associate waving a light-up wand thing in my baby’s face while I was paying at the register. Leave her out of this.
Next up: Games and casual dining collide at Dave & Buster’s!