Friday, April 02, 2010

Cracker Barrel: A Journey to the Heartland of American Cuisine

Walking into the Cracker Barrel at Rocky Mount, North Carolina after 12 hours on the road, the down-home flavour of the place struck me immediately - it was like it had been painted on! However, we all know that we should not judge a book by its cover, so I followed our hostess as she wound her way through the establishment's sprawling dining room and settled in to study the entrees on offer.

Carolyn, my step mother, and I opted for succulent southern cooking, ordering up hot plates of pan-fried catfish with hot biscuits and all the fixins, which included two of a long list of sides ranging from green beans and steak fries to the "special vegetable of the day." Now Carolyn was quick to select green beans and lightly breaded okra, while I was intrigued by the veggie special, which turned out, inexplicably, to be brown rice. OK. Green beans and okra it is. Dad, meanwhile, ordered up a wholesome ham steak with veggies.

As the food was being lovingly prepared, we occupied ourselves with small-talk and playing peg games that were laid out on the table. But not for long, as the food was in front of us before we knew it.

A Feast (of sorts) for the Senses..
Ye gods! How does one begin to describe such a meal! Let's begin with the catfish, cooked to the consistency of soggy leather and smothered in a sauce that can be best described Ugh. Now this sad excuse for an entree was accompanied by the South's finest canned beans, which proved inedible, breaded okra that was surely fresh from the bulk plastic bag and into the deep fryer, and a bed of rice as soggy as surely every serving of Uncle Ben's Quick Rice ever boiled up. Ugh.

Have you ever read a story that takes place in a nursing home? Remember the description of the grayish, over-boiled mush of veggies turned out by the kitchen? Well, i'm willing to bet Cracker Barrel caters for them!

Ahh, you ask, but what of the ham steak? Indeed, the ham steak. Well, it barely made it onto the table. This 4-5 millimeter thick slice of ham loaf, fried to the texture of tough leather (various leather textures being well represented in the meal) was sent back to the kitchen post haste and replaced with a chicken salad that soared above everything else on the table in its shining, inspiring mediocrity.

What else is there to say? I feel positively polluted. There should be health advisories on the front doors of every Cracker Barrel from coast to coast. Give this one a pass folks!

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