Many years ago, in her early young adult years, my daughter ’Chelley and a friend (I think it was Liz – doesn’t really matter) would go on a spontaneous, Thelma and Louise-type adventure, jumping in the car and heading from New Jersey to Virginia for an afternoon meal at Cracker Barrel. This was before Cracker Barrel seeped its way north and established itself in New Jersey and other states in the Northeast. They felt the food was that good. It was worth the time, tolls, and gas to make the trek for something they truly craved.
On Tuesday, February 23, 2021 (yesterday, as of this writing), my family and I had an appointment in New Jersey. Before we left, my younger daughter Karlyn had put in a request to stop at Cracker Barrel in Pennsville on the return trip, which would fit in nicely with our dinner time. She loves their chicken and dumplings. I, on the other hand, wondered seriously if there would be anything on the menu that would conform to the Mediterranean diet that Evelyn and I started a couple of weeks ago. But, hey, it was a treat.
Once in the restaurant (no waiting due to no customers due to the pandemic) I looked over the selections and decided that the meat loaf would be the least dreadful (it had onions and peppers in it, so at least there was something to rationalize the choice). Since two sides came with it, I opted for the carrots and what they called a “fruit cup” with seasonal fruits. Just the sound of it prepared me for what would be coming: of the four of us eating, I would end up with the smallest portions. And, unfortunately, I was spot on.
The other meals came out, comparatively sufficient portion-wise, although certainly not New Jersey diner-size. Julianna (our wait person) set my “meal” in front of me: one fairly thick slice of meat loaf (I’ll give them that), but then two little bowls about five inches in diameter and a half-inch deep, one with about ten baby carrots in it and the other with my “fruit cup.” As humorist Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up” – the “fruit cup” was three pineapple chunks and five blackberries (I really should have taken a picture)! They scarcely covered the bottom of the tiny dish. I decided that, since my portions were so skimpy, I’d splurge, so I asked Julianna for ketchup (not on the Mediterranean diet).
Karlyn decided that Julianna should know about my disappointment and so confronted her, saying, “My dad says he didn’t get enough food.” The pleasant young wait person said, “Our fruit cups aren’t very large, I know, but I can get you more carrots.” I really didn’t want any more of anything and eventually won that argument, but I was secretly happy that Karlyn made the situation known.
There was a time years back when Cracker Barrel served large portions for a reasonable price. Then they got skimpy. That’s when I made the switch from Cracker Barrel to Applebee’s (in Pennsville, they’re located across the street from each other). Then it was as though the mob had arisen and demanded that the larger portions come back, which they did. In fact, since it’s been a long time between my previous visit there and the one yesterday, I was expecting them still to provide the larger portions. But, alas, they’ve regressed.
Our next appointment in New Jersey is six months away. Will I stop at Cracker Barrel on the way back? I highly doubt it. Which is a shame. The people are nice, the “homey” ambiance is relaxing, and the gift shop is fun. But when they serve such tiny food portions, I don’t think it’s worth the money.
It’s not the Cracker Barrel that was worth a trip to Virginia.