Mesa Musings: Celebrating 35 years with Southern comfort food

June 15, 2010|Jim Carnett

My wife, Hedy, and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary next week.

We were married in June 1975 and have been fortunate to spend past wedding anniversaries in Hawaii, Paris, Switzerland, Ireland and on Northern California's Russian River. This year, we'll stay with two of our daughters and five of our grandchildren in North Carolina.

The highlight of highlights will no doubt be our anniversary dinner at the Cracker Barrel.

OK, that's not exactly dinner on Waikiki Beach or in Paris' Saint Germain district, but don't be hasty in judging North Carolina … or the modestly priced Cracker Barrel!


Are you familiar with the establishment?

Its official title is the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant. Founded in 1969 and headquartered in Lebanon, Tenn., Cracker Barrel has nearly 600 locations in 41 states — though not in this state. Californians don't know what they're missing.

The majority of the chain's locations are in the Old South. Every meal is a Sunday-after-church family gathering.

Hedy and I have eaten at dozens of Cracker Barrels in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and Maryland. We can attest to the fact that they're all exactly alike — right down to the placement of the restrooms.

Combining a retail store (laden with nostalgic gifts, children's toys, collectibles and old-fashioned candies) and a restaurant, the Cracker Barrel is a Southern-themed chain — complete with rocking chairs on the wrap-around front porch. Patrons play checkers while waiting to be seated — and there's almost always a wait.

The restaurant serves traditional Southern "comfort food."

"Comfort food" from below the Mason-Dixon Line includes (but is not limited to) barbecue, fried chicken, fried catfish, biscuits and gravy, grits, chicken and dumplings, shrimp and okra gumbo, cornbread, hush puppies, pulled pork, peach cobbler and pecan pie. The Cracker Barrel offers a menu that would make Paula Deen proud.

A cardiologist friend of mine who attended medical school at Duke University refers to Southern cooking as "heart attack on a plate." I say the risk is worth it.

I attended a professional seminar a few years back in Orange County and, during a roundtable discussion, the conversation turned to food. People began volunteering information about their favorite eateries and watering holes.

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