The Southern restaurant chain's first California outpost drew massive crowds on Monday morning
The joke with L.A. used to be that we had it all, except fine dining and Southern food. The fine dining thing is just not true—and hasn't been for years—but the Southern food scene is a little more complicated. It’s been legitimized in the media in recent years, most notably with fried chicken sensation Howlin’ Rays, which still boasts three-hour lines nearly two years after opening. We also have an outpost of Nashville hot chicken progenitor Prince’s, New York’s Sweet Chick and our very own, Hollywood-bred Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
“There has always been a strong Southern food tradition in Los Angeles,” Jonathan Gold tells Food & Wine. “Especially since the Great Migration brought so many African-American Southerners to live in the city. The area was especially rich in Creole restaurants—Harold & Belle's is a survivor of the era, and some of the M&M soul food restaurants, whose founders were from Mississippi, are still around. I greatly admired the Mississippi fried chicken at Flossie's.”
All this is to say: L.A. has always had solid Southern food, even if it hasn’t been known for it. Now, Cracker Barrel has come to be the keystone in this arch. There are few institutions with as strong a hold on Southern nostalgia like this restaurant chain—it’s probably tied with Waffle House.
For those not familiar with Cracker Barrel: our condolences. The chain is famous for its fried chicken livers, sweet tea and grits. When road-tripping through the South—and much of the country, there are over 640 locations—stopping at one of these is as requisite as In-N-Out on a California road trip.
On Monday, Cracker Barrel opened in Victorville, about an hour and twenty minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The truly devoted happily commuted, knowing that U.S. farm-raised catfish and sugar-cured ham awaited them at the end of the journey. (According to the Victorville Daily Press, fans lined up before sunrise.) Each Cracker Barrel is complete with an attached wood paneled store that looks like a Bed Bath and Beyond from the ‘90s. It sells rocking chairs and other things that your suburban grandparents might have in their homes; Southern nostalgia might be a bigger commodity here than the food itself. (Although in recent years, the company has tried to expand beyond this somewhat dated, sepia-toned stereotype; it’s been launching new restaurants aimed at millennials.)
“Cracker Barrel is amazing for what it is,” says Sammy Cortino, a Los Angeles resident who grew up in North Carolina. “The first time I came to L.A., I went to Whole Foods and asked where I could find grits. To which their response was, ‘You mean, polenta?’”
Rest assured, this blasphemy would never happen at Cracker Barrel. Are their grits the silken substance that you can find at the best places in Charleston or Savannah or Atlanta, stewed for hours? No. Does it scratch that Proustian itch? Sure.
According to reports, the next California location will open in Sacramento in May, with two more Cracker Barrels to come.