so this past week i took a relaxing trip to the country with my family to get away for awhile. i was only half excited to go in the beginning, to tell you the truth, because i knew at some point i’d end up on a hot ass bank of some hot ass lake doin a half assed job at fishing, where i’d probably catch nothing but a stick (note: I WAS RIGHT). but there were two incentives: there was a pool where we’d be staying and i’d get to work on my much needed tan (note: i’m so almondy!) and, most importantly–we were gonna stop at Cracker Barrel for breakfast on the way.
FUCKING WIN! kind of!
Cracker Barrel is one of the most delicious problematic restaurants i know of. if you’ve never experienced it before, it’s a restaurant that specializes in old timey country food and nostalgia and comes complete with its own Andy Griffith-ass general store (which sells things like cobbler filling in mason jars, clove chewing gum, and old timey candies packaged in brown paper). the menu is full of dishes that begin with the word “country:” country ham. country vegetables. country fried everything.
i don’t think ive ever had anything other than breakfast there because i simply can’t get past a spread that looks like this:
you know how TGI Friday’s and Applebee’s have all types of random shit covering the walls (snow shoes, license plates, etc)? Cracker Barrel does too, and it’s all deep down home down south old timey. glass pop bottles, tin plates, washing powder ads from 1923. and i guess here’s where the discomfort comes in.
okay. so i’m black, right? so are my parents and grandparents and great grandparents and at least some of my great great grandparents. seeing all this old timey stuff on the walls makes me think of old country charm, but it also puts me in the mind of what society and the racial climate were like back then (note: not so good). instinctively, the very first thing i do when i walk into a Cracker Barrel is start looking for other black people. i can’t explain why. then i start looking at the walls fully expecting to see, like, some old slave shackles or a mammy cookie jar sitting up there next to the antique box of cracker jacks. lol, you know?? i mean my family is country, so it’s cool to kind of be surrounded by that, but at the same time… it’s kind of uneasy. plus with a name like Cracker Barrel… !
because of the restaurant’s name, i flat out refused to go to the restaurant in my angry young black militant days. when i finally broke down and went, i was a freshman in college, about 18/19 years old, and in the throes of my fight the power/where is my revolution?/womanist days. i was reading black power. literally. i was reading this book that day and i carried the book into the restaurant with me so that all those cracker barrels would know just what i’m about (note: i got into reading and studying such things because of the racist ass college i was attending, so you KNOW i was ready for a fight).
i squared my shoulders. i puffed out my chest. i narrowed my eyes. i grabbed my niece’s hand (who must have been 7 or 8 at the time) and military stomped inside. i ice grilled my way to our table and through my menu, but once those delicious golden pancakes passed my lips, i couldn’t help but soften a little bit. …just a little bit though.
after the meal, my niece had to go to the bathroom. i offered to get up to take her, and i made sure to carry my book with me, cover side out so that everybody could see it. ‘hey,’ i said to her, ‘make a fist. good, now hold it in the air, like this.’ she did, and somehow that made me feel better about having fallen in love with such a problematic place.
all that said, i can’t WAIT to go back. that blueberry strudel french toast was YES!
ps – this is what Cracker Barrel waitresses look like in kentucky.