Cracker Barrel – 4216 Milan Rd., Sandusky, Ohio

Open every day – 7am to 10pm

I took some time off, attending to business back in my former home, New York City, where I said a final good-bye to my longtime home, Hotel Edison. The reasons are complicated (as in don't ask) but I am excited to have moved into a new place on the ominously named (Charles Foster?) Kane Place, in Milwaukee. On the way, with a loaded van, I decided to stop off in Ohio at the birthplace of Thomas Alva Edison (who turned on the lights of my former home), Milan, Ohio—and while I was at it, the amusement park, Cedar Point (self-proclaimed as “Roller Coaster Capital of the World”), as well as a mysterious place called “The Blue Hole.” Anyway, all this excitement took me a week, so I decided to review some restaurants while I was at it, so here, first, and maybe least: Cracker Barrel

It's always ominous when a restaurant's Wikipedia page “Controversies” section is the longest part of the entry, but I assume the reader of this review knows how to use the internet, so I don't have to paraphrase that here—it is up to you to review their history of discrimination and their progress in changing policies to address this. I'm going to merely post a brief review based on one modest meal. The first good thing was that the place is an oasis of shade on a white-hot day, kind of looking like the rustic dark wood dining room of an old farmhouse. That's the idea anyway. And the second good thing is the hostess asked if I wanted a breakfast menu, even though it was late-afternoon, going on evening. The menu has quite a bit of “Southern” food, a lot that could be gluten-free based on how it's prepared, so I asked the waitress and she brought me an laminated binder that listed which foods were safe or not for various food allergies and intolerances—something that every restaurant should have.

There was a place I used to frequent on business trips to Chicago—I think it was Wishbone—where I used to only order sides—and that's a good way to eat—especially when you are trying to avoid particular food groups—so that's what I did here. I'm always excited when a restaurant serves grits, because as far as regional food goes, you rarely see grits on a breakfast menu in the “North,” but in the “South” it's always on the menu. Anyway, grits are easy, I make them at home, but apparently the kitchen here just followed the directions on the packet of Quaker instant grits box (add water, stir) and then dumped some bagged, shredded orange cheese on top, viola “Cheese Grits.” Grits should never be served without butter, but I didn't want to go to the trouble of asking for butter and having them microwave it all so it would melt. I could taste the chlorine in the water, because grits in themselves don't have enough flavor to overpower it. At least they had Tabasco here, which made them barely edible, and I guess is why hot sauce was invented. The “Fried Apples” were little better, but at least were hot. Tasting them, though, that kind of weird factory flavor, I could tell that they were most likely simply apple pie filling scooped from an enormous industrial can of factory apple pie filling into a little bowl and microwaved. The cole slaw was at least pretty good. Everyone likes different styles of cole slaw, and this was a creamy, kind of sweet, though also factory tasting kind. At least the food factory has the cole slaw down—intended as it is to be served cold, unembellished, as a side. The coffee was at least drinkable, thankfully, because I didn't expect much there. All of my food was served in those little plastic bowls restaurants call “monkey dishes”—which gives you an idea of what they think of the diner who orders food in them. Oh, well, at least the place was dark and quiet on a hot summer day, and a good place to hide out, unhurried, and write. You don't go to a place like this and expect gourmet food, but for the love of god at least get the grits halfway right.

Richard Skiller 7.15.18