Date of Visit: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 12:30 p.m.
154 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
New Stanton, PA 15672
Open Mon-Fri, 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sat & Sun, 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Accepts cash and credit cards
IMPRESSIONS: Quick survey: Who here has been to a Cracker Barrel? Hmm? Who here has been to a Cracker Barrel while on vacation? Who here has ever driven out of their way, following Cracker Barrel signs for miles down the highway, in order to enjoy yet another made-from-scratch home-cooked meal from one of your favorite restaurants?
This, indeed, is the M.O. of true Cracker Barrel fans. Whenever they visit a new city, the first question they ask is, "Where is the Cracker Barrel?" (My wife and I worked at a car rental agency for a few years, and I can't count the number times I had to map out the route to the ONE Cracker Barrel in town, even though it was on the opposite side of the city.) I myself have been to a handful of Cracker Barrels in my life, always while on vacation, and always while traveling somewhere in the South. My handful of visits to Cracker Barrel have occurred on trips to Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.
ATMOSPHERE: Cracker Barrel, like Starbucks, is the model of consistency. No matter where you are, if you stop at a Cracker Barrel, you will find the same rocking chairs out front, the same general store with knick-knacks and country goods, the same layout of the same wooden tables and chairs, the same food on the same menu. And I don't necessarily mean to mock the sameness. Say what you will about corporate globalization homogenization etc etc etc, places like Cracker Barrel are able to offer you a consistent experience, no matter if you're stopping at the Cracker Barrel all the way up in Traverse City, MI or the one furthest west in Boise, ID. Apparently Cracker Barrel has so successfully created a consistent, memorable experience that fans will drive miles out of their way to find one.
So, the actual atmosphere attempts to seem as much like a comfortable country home as possible. The tables and chairs - all wooden - resemble those you may find in your dining room. Every Cracker Barrel I've been to has a large stone fireplace that appears to have been used (or decorated brilliantly to look like the family has gathered around it regularly for hot soup on a winter's day). The fireplace and the walls are decorated with country kitsch: old wash boards, bowls, license plates, pictures, and more. The wooden lattice dividers keep the large restaurant feeling like small dining rooms, but leave it open enough that it's not too dark.
This is the table setup that you can expect from every Cracker Barrel: an oil lamp, a small dessert menu, salt and pepper shakers, and the golf tee game (I forget the name currently). The game is harder than it looks, therefore it's seriously addicting, and therefore they sell it in the general store.
Grrr... I just can't get it.
FOOD: Food-wise, Cracker Barrel tries to match the homespun atmosphere with homemade comfort food. Our sister-in-law Marcia, one of our fellow diners, has a brother who works at a Cracker Barrel, and he says that everything is made from scratch in large batches using the same recipes.
Even though it was lunchtime, I ordered breakfast (served all day!). I opted for the Old Timer's Breakfast, one of those filling combo meals that gives you a little bit of everything. This includes 2 eggs, a choice of meat, grits, biscuits & gravy, and a hash brown casserole. Their menu features a number of such combos, usually named after fictitious (I'm assuming) family members. They've got all the breakfast basics: pancakes, meat, potatoes, cereal, etc. Nothing too wild like breakfast burritos, etc. (On a side note, I chuckled when I read the Low Carb Breakfast menu, which includes three items: the Double Meat Breakfast, the Country Grilled Sampler, and the Eggs n Meat... light on carbs, heeeeeaaaavy on the protein.)
The breakfast overall was pretty good. Nothing amazing and extraordinarily flavorful, but it's tasty and filling. The eggs were just fine. The biscuits and gravy were nice - not a super flavorful one, like some peppery and meaty offerings I had before.
The bacon was nice, and the hashed brown casserole was interesting. It reminded me of a lot of the casseroles I've had throughout my life. So that added a specific "home-cooked" quality to the meal.
Overall, I think Cracker Barrel's fare is delicious and easy to eat, although I think some of their food is under-spiced in a way to make it pleasing to all. Perhaps that's why it's a favorite of so many travelers. And this is not to say that the food is bad; I've enjoyed every meal I've had at Cracker Barrel.
SERVICE: Service at Cracker Barrel is fast and friendly. The servers all wear aprons, are somewhat matronly (the women, at least), and really add to the down-home atmosphere. Our server was just what you would want out of a server: she handled everything quickly, our food came out fast, and she took care of us. Again, just like at home!
OVERALL: You know, I'll be honest... I'm going to eat at a Cracker Barrel again. Although probably not until the next time I'm driving east or south with my family on a vacation, and we need a familiar place to sit down and have a home-cooked lunch. Cracker Barrel is one of those experiences that I certainly welcome - I mean, who doesn't look forward to a home-cooked-like meal? - but don't necessarily seek out when I want to go out to eat. But if you've never been, I recommend a visit, at least to see what the experience is like.
-> Cracker Barrel on Wikipedia