Two roads diverge off an exit ramp on a Southern interstate.
One leads to Waffle House.
The other, Cracker Barrel.
It’s a common conundrum amongst hungry travelers: which to pick? The 24/7 late-night haunt serving up diner classics, or the faux-nostalgic Americana chain known for its country fixin’s?
On a recent road trip, we dined at both iconic establishments. Here’s which highway pit stop come out on top.
Cracker Barrel has 645 locations in 44 states. According to the company, roughly 60% of customers are travelers — just like us when we arrived. We found a Cracker Barrel in Richmond, Virginia, on an ominously dark and stormy evening.
Cracker Barrel is known for its “Country Store”, but after a long day of travel, we had one thing on our mind: food.
Cracker Barrel’s wall are blanketed with with what can only be described as decor one would find raiding antique shops and grandparents’ attics across the country. It’s American tchotchke galore.
At every table, Cracker Barrel provides a wholesome diversion for antsy families, grouchy from a day spent on the road. The infamous peg game looks simple yet is tricky enough to keep you busy until your food arrives.
But you needn’t wait long — the biscuits and cornbread arrive fairly quickly. The biscuits are salty and dense, but serviceable. There are certainly better biscuits to be had — no need to fill up on them. The cornbread is similarly decent. They outshine the biscuits, but that’s not saying much.
When we visited the restaurant, the summertime “Campfire Meals” were on the menu. Cracker Barrel claims that slow-cooking the campfire chicken and veggies in a foil bundle will result in a dish that would “stir our senses”, but we remained unmoved. The chicken is tender but salty, and the veggies are bland.
The Cracker Barrel Sampler is supposed to showcase the best of the chain’s menu, but in our experience, it was closer to the bottom of barrel. The carrots were sweet, albeit mushy. The “country ham” is merely a heated up hunk of ham, and the meatloaf is distressingly dense and under seasoned. Their damp dumplings taste primarily of salt and not much else. The hash brown casserole, however, is a golden beacon of hope — what country cookin’ should be, heartily embracing both starches and dairy.
The highlight of the menu seems to be the country fried steak, a signature dish of the chain. It’s a meal that isn’t ashamed to be what it…