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Small Wonders: It's the time and place for a Cracker Barrel

April 19, 2013|By Patrick Caneday
  • Patrick Caneday outside the Flagstaff, AZ Cracker Barrel
Patrick Caneday outside the Flagstaff, AZ Cracker Barrel

We Californians like to point out that we lack for nothing in our great state.

Beaches to frolic or laze upon, mountains to hike, bike and ski, deserts with their stark beauty. Every shade of urban sprawl. Small-town living slow as molasses, big-city skylights and everything in between. The arts of every sort, sports, entertainment, culture and ethnic diversity.

But on our recent spring-break road trip through Arizona, I discovered something we don't have. Something that 42 other states have kept secret from us for more than 40 years.

Cracker Barrel.

The restaurant and old country store. Not the brick-cheese brand owned by Kraft Foods.

For years, I'd heard about Cracker Barrel from friends who've migrated from the mythical lands east of the Colorado River. When they spoke of it, their bodies went limp with pleasure the way ours do when we book a hot-stone treatment at Burke Williams. They crave their Cracker Barrel like Angelenos do their Napa cabernet, sunlight, or tomatoes from Mexico.

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My friend Scott the Southern Gentlemen billed it this way: "It's like being at Universal Studios if there was a Hatfield & McCoy ride. You enter and exit through a themed gift shop and the only ride is the nostalgic taste-bud experience of my grandmother's home-cooked southern meals."

The only thing missing is a log-flume ride.

Their website says this of founder Dan Evins: "[He] began to think about all the things that would make him feel comfortable were he far from home. Things like big jars of candy and homemade jellies, pot-bellied stoves, folks who let you take your time. He thought about simple, honest country food, and a store where you could buy someone a gift that was actually worth having."

So, while in Flagstaff to visit Scott's family, they took us to Cracker Barrel to show us what we were missing.

As a native city boy, I have no idea what an "old country store" is, but this had to be it. It looks like something fabricated on a movie set or at Disneyland. The front porch is lined with rocking chairs – to rest in after a heart-stopping meal or to take home for $139.99.

I expected Andy Griffith and Barney Fife to mosey out the front door spinning some yarn about Goober and Floyd's latest hijinks.

The gift shop sells cornbread and pancake mix, Black Jack and Beeman's gum, hard candy and saltwater taffy; scarves, ties and handmade jewelry; cast-iron frying pans, throw pillows and figurines.

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