Column: Mary Ann Castillo: Southern fried chicken and a side of humble pie, please (4/21/22)

Fried chicken makes everything better.

Submitted by Mary Ann Castillo

Last Friday I had a plan. It was as loose plan, but a plan nonetheless. My indecisive self had narrowed my eating exploration down to two locations of considerable distance. However, when I woke on Saturday morning I just wasn’t feeling my usual spontaneous, road-trip-ready self. I was not in the mood to drive 30 to 60 minutes for something I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. I was looking for a sure thing, and I knew the perfect place.

My enthusiasm grew as I closed the distance with each mile. I reflected on the story of Easter with gratitude and amazement as I drove. The sun was shining. Birds were chirped. It wasn’t raining, but I would not have been surprised in the least had a rainbow suddenly burst across the skyline full of promise.

(Insert dramatic record scratch sound effect.)

That did not happen. In fact, my outing took a shocking turn. I had the worst service ever. By “worst” I mean non-existent. That’s right. I was seated at the bar where I was completely and utterly ignored. The server/bartender assisted the person to my right, talked to a person on my left, and completely ignored my existence. In fact, I will give her credit for the extent she was able to avoid eye contact and shut down any opportunity I could have had to garner assistance. I eventually grabbed a menu from the host station and was able to convince another server to assist me. Their food is consistently delicious, and this day was no different. Mouthwatering. Later, I reviewed my photos of their drool worthy food and tried to formulate thoughts about my visit. The service left such a bad taste in my mouth I struggled to create an honest story with a positive spin. This was not part of my plan.

I was in a quandary. There was no way I was going to fit another meal into the day, and most restaurants would be closed for Easter Sunday. I brainstormed. It would have to be pancakes and breakfast food. As much as people bemoan their aversion to chain restaurants, I knew what I had to do.

Noting says homestyle country cooking like a fresh biscuit.

Submitted by Mary Ann Castillo

That is how I ended up solo dining at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Cape Girardeau on Easter. I waited until the brunch crowds subsidized, grabbed a book and made my way over. As I approached the door a person leaving said “let me get that for you” and cheerfully held it open for me. This visit was off to a good start. It continued to be a little glimpse of Heaven from there. Every single person I ran into was genuinely cheerful, friendly and helpful. Even a fellow diner blessed me with a jovial smile and warm greeting.

My server was attentive and promptly took my order: Southern Fried Chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese and biscuits. A country classic. Before I could even begin to get lost in my book my server, Kylie, returned with plates of steamy hot food. The golden crisp fried chicken was perfect. The green beans and macaroni and cheese were tasty and familiar. The warm biscuits had that down home airiness and flavor. The iced caramel latte was the sweet, indulgent, desert-like experience it was meant to be. What a difference a day makes, huh?

Then, my heart and my mind took me back to the story of Easter. I got a little choked up and teary eyed as I boxed up my leftovers. Jesus received the worst treatment, he never complained, yet he continued to be the ultimate servant. It cost him more than I’ve ever paid for anything. Who was I to be offended or hold a grudge? He had already picked up the tab and there was no paying Him back. Talk about receiving a lesson in humility and grace. I ordered a whole plateful of golden southern fried chicken and received a humongous slice of humble pie. It was probably one of the most memorable Easter meals I’ve ever enjoyed, and not a single dyed egg or chocolate bunny in sight.

If you ever hear me say Cracker Barrel is my favorite restaurant for southern fried chicken, now you know why. I was looking for a “sure thing” and I found it.

Whether looking for the perfect gift, homestyle cooking, or friendly service, you may want to pay The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store a visit. Don’t worry, humble pie is not on the menu.

The whipped cream topped iced caramel latte has all the sweet you need.

Submitted by Mary Ann Castillo

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