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Please don't hurt me!

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I stand here in my asbestos suit, at the ready for the flames which will be emitted by my computer upon my clicking of the "post" button.

Despite my fear of immolation, I must ask the following question:

Which of the chain type "family" restaurants are the best (or the least worst). There are many occasions where, because of family, friends, location, etc., I must choose between one of these Ptomaine Palaces. Do any of them have any redeeming value?

I'm not sure that this is the correct message board, because these places are found everywhere.

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  1. no need to apologize...extracting the best possible meal out of a bad situation is very much a part of being a chowhound.

    But, that said, one thing: if your friends/family/etc are giving you the latitude to pick a bad restaurant, why don't you have the latitude to pick a restaurant that's actually GOOD yet serves the kind of stuff your friends/family want? A good diner or coffee shop, perhaps? I mean, we've all been stuck at TGI Fridays or Red Lobster and had to make the best of it (and I'm sure you'll get some advice re: strategy), but I suspect you're not truly cornered here. In which case...we're gonna have to hurt you! (only kidding)

    ciao

    1. Cracker Barrel is my absolute roadtrip staple. It has enormous breakfasts, including any combination of eggs, biscuits, gravy, corn muffins, pancakes, "fried" apples (tasty apple goo), and other stuff, for not unreasonable amounts of money. I'm kinda partial to their hashbrown casserole, a scoop of cheesy, oniony baked grated potatoes. They always give you real maple syrup with items requiring syrup. I'm not big on getting other meals there, and have heard mixed reviews of the lunch and dinner offerings, but, in a pinch, I'm quite happy with turnip greens (cooked with hunks of chewy ham), beans, and corn muffins. In cold weather, there's always a fire in the fireplace (actual wood), which is a nice touch.

      Just ignore the hokey gift shop, unless you really like those frogs that croak Jingle Bells when you walk past.

      12 Replies
      1. re: MU

        When my children were small we did all of our travel by car. When lunchtime rolled around we almost always exited the highway and poked around for small town type cafes with Good Eats signs. Our best finds were on the route from St. Louis to north Florida. But we hit some pretty good spots between here and Maine. No doubt they're all gone now that the babies are 30 and 34! pat

        1. re: MU

          I second the Cracker Barrel endorsement -- while it's no Charles' Southern Kitchen, it blows away the competition chain-wise, and can be a godsend when you're looking for food off the interstate. Good breakfasts, passable fried catfish and collard greens -- it beats Denny's hands-down.

          1. re: Chris E.

            All served up with a heapin' side o' homophobia and ignorance...

            Remember - they were in the news in 1991 for firing employees because they are homosexuals...

            Personally, I'd rather starve than patronize such an establishment...

            1. re: Jill

              "All served up with a heapin' side o' homophobia and ignorance... Remember - they were in the news in 1991 for firing employees because they are homosexuals..."

              And, if memory serves me correctly, they have also been accused of racist employment practices.

              On the other hand, 1991 is nearly 10 years ago. It IS possible that they've cleaned up their act since then. Does anybody have reliable, recent info? I try to avoid patronizing businesses with distasteful employment practices, but if they truly have changed... well, the hot apple goo MU mentioned is pretty tasty.

              - VF

              1. re: VF

                I've never even HEARD of this chain!! (I thought "Cracker Barrel" was a brand of CHEESE.)

                Are they a NY-only chain, or is it possible they went out of business in light of the above problems (last 2 or 3 posts) ??

                Could someone please name one in the Boston area?? That description (3 or 4 posts back; NOT the stuff about the scandals) sounded quite enticing.

                1. re: julie id

                  We take one or two long road trips a year. There is as aforementioned, usually nowhere on the main turnpikes/freeways for even some good "bad" food. I kept telling my husband we should just pack food but by the next year he'd forget how REALLY terrible the road food is until a couple of trips ago we ate at Cracker Barrel (which I've never much cared for), and he had the Chicken Fried Steak and was sick for DAYS!!! I say he got what he asked for. Subsequently, we pack. I can't stand how you have to walk through all that merchandising and nauseating potpourri and candle aroma en route to the tables. As far as I know, Cracker Barrels are nationwide off most main interstates.

                  1. re: Heidi

                    OK, all of the above reports, plus one from my mom in Florida, confirm: Order from the lunch/dinner menu at your peril. Cracker Barrel is ONLY reliable for breakfast (and, I might add, the turnip greens). But it's a very good breakfast, indeed. I will continue to tout it as the best option when stuck in stripmall hell.

                    Unless you're in Texas/NM stripmall hell, where I'd pick Taco Cabana in a heartbeat.

                    1. re: MU

                      Also good, and I've only seen in Florida is Pollo Tropical, which I think has been discussed on these boards before.

                      1. re: Heidi

                        If memory serves me, Bob Evans is somewhat better than Cracker Barrel. Forced to choose between the two, I'd go with the former. Still, packing food is really the way to go.

                        1. re: Tom M

                          Bob Evans has good hash browns, but will give you Log Cabin-type syrup with your pancakes. Cracker Barrel gives you real maple syrup, or actual fruit preserves.

                  2. re: julie id

                    There is a Cracker Barrel in Tewsbury up by RT 495. This outfit runs the Cracker Barrel 500 Stock Car Race. I believe they orginated in Tenn. It's sort of a "Boss Hog" place. The limited seating is designed to keep you in the sales area for stuffed animals, kids clothing, terrible furniture, candy, candles and scented condoms.

                    A friend took us there for a birthday dinner about four or five months ago. The food was quite dreadful. Since there were six of us we ordered many different menu items. None of it was any good.

                    My advice to anyone in this situation would be to get the Stern's book on roadfood. That's what we used to rely on.

                    Around Boston one could go to the Hilltop just off 128 and RT 3 in Braintree --or up on RT 1 in Saugus. Very large places with decent and inexpensive food
                    Tord

                  3. re: VF
                    l
                    Lawrence Lustig

                    I rather suspect they have cleaned up their act to some degree, as I was taken to eat at a Cracker Barrel out west by an extremely activist and in-your-face gay couple. I remember we discussed the issue at the time, but don't remember what was said. I'll email my friends to get the straight dope. I mean, the real story.
                    --
                    Larry

            2. weve had decent experiences on the road at Friendly's for breakfast, tho it wouldnt be my first choice in most places. Thats about it at least in the NorthEast.

              1. THE NERVE, THE GULL, THE...WHY, I NEVER!
                If you'll just turn this way, Andy, we'll spark up the Flame Thrower!

                Really though, I love to hit whole-in-the-wall cafes or even the main chains when I travel. I usually know what I'll end up with food wise, but sometimes there's nothing better when the atmosphere or enviroment is amiable for sipping brew.

                I'll concede to a chain but then I'm really after the atmosphere as well as the food. If the 'feel' isn't there, I'll go elsewhere. And sometimes I want a chowhound meal but I'm more interested in the chain environment and atmosphere...so I don't eat!

                Good luck,

                Keith

                1. BY FAR the best of these Denny's clones...but I'm not quite sure which states do or don't have them. Might be a British chain originally.

                  I've never been to the UK, so I wouldn't know whether they have branches as well or not. Might not even be British, on second thought.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: julie id

                    The only web listing for a "Skylark" restaurant was just one place in Penn. If they are a chain they may be using another company name.
                    Tord

                      1. re: Tord

                        Tord--the article you've linked to mentions a restaurant named "Skylark" that was not part of any chain. And as the article says, the place is long gone.

                    1. Andy --there are 360 of the Buffet Company restaurants located in over 30 states. Here is the URL
                      http://www.buffet.com/index.html

                      I have included a TV review of the Boston Old Country Buffet in this chain to give an idea what these are. The food critic interviewed picked this place as one of her three top Cheap-Eats restaurants.
                      -----------
                      The Old Country Buffet in Watertown at the Watertown Mall 550 Arsenal St just down from Watertown Square. I think you can get there on the T from Central Square - the number 77 bus? The phone is 926-6377. Linda claims that the place has an enormous salad bar - a couple of dozen entrees including several fish dishes - varieties of chicken - a home-made meat loaf, etc. There is a large variety of children's dishes - "The meatloaf is superb -bursting with flavor!" The pricing board showed that the cost for the all you can eat buffet dinner is $8.49 for adults. Lunch is $6.49 Kids are cheap -- and there are plenty of desserts :-
                      )------------
                      Let us know if you try these.
                      Tord

                      Link: http://www.buffet.com/index.html