With Holler & Dash, the iconic sit-down chain is making a play for the younger crowd. But how's the food?
Walking into one of the six locations of Holler & Dash, there is very little, if anything, to let you know that you are in a restaurant owned by Cracker Barrel. There is no rocker-filled porch, no overstuffed gift shop that smells like your grandma's living room, no host stand, no chicken fried steak dinners.
Everything is bright, cheerful, almost urgently modern. The décor has been clicked-and-dragged straight from the same Stuff Young People Like Pinterest board so many restaurants have been pulling from, lately—shimmering white tile, concrete, dark woods, exposed ducting. Once again, completely unlike at Cracker Barrel, you don't wait to be seated, you walk straight up to the counter to place your order, like you were at one of those Panera locations that still hasn't been upgraded to touch screen ordering.
The menu consists mostly of biscuit sandwiches—fried chicken, hot chicken, pork tenderloin, fried green tomatoes. There is a biscuit stuffed with andouille sausage, another with country ham and kale. Topping out at $9 apiece, they come with a modest side of either tater tots or fruit, putting it roughly on par (and in some cases, higher) than one of Cracker Barrel's famous breakfast combination plates, which can easily send the more fragile eater back to bed for a mid-morning nap.
As a value proposition, Holler & Dash doesn't really stand out, but that's clearly not the point—Holler & Dash exists solely because of demographics. Anyone that's recently paid a visit to their local Cracker Barrel knows that the brand is not exactly hip and cool. Still outpacing other legacy brands in its category, the company has chosen to be proactive, which seems wise—for longevity purposes, adjustment will likely be necessary.
Whether they've struck gold with this idea or not remains to be seen, and they've certainly got their work cut out for them—cool, biscuit-focused casual spots aren't a new idea, and certainly not in the Southeast. The North Carolina-based Rise Biscuits & Donuts is expanding rapidly, with the goal of going nationwide; ditto Maple Street Biscuit Company, which debuted in Jacksonville, Fla. back in 2012—there are now roughly twenty stores throughout the region. Smaller companies with serious food cred, like Biscuit Love in Nashville, are growing as well—they're about to open their third shop in a market that, incidentally, now has two Holler & Dash locations.
The competition will be there, that's for sure. So will the food help the brand stand out? I stopped at the Homewood, Ala. location (the first one, which opened in 2016) last week for breakfast, skipping past the bells and whistles, opting to test them on the basics—a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, with a side of grits.
The biscuit was very good, if a little commercial in feel, perfectly light on the inside, crispy around the outside, and certainly one of the biggest I'd ever been served. Everything else, however, fell sadly flat, an unwelcome surprise, considering just how much hay they've made of their network of regional suppliers—there's even a board up by the registers detailing the different sources they work with, from the excellent Doux South pickle company in Atlanta, to North Carolina's Red Clay Gourmet, which makes a mean pimento cheese.
The egg was okay, but not memorable, like the egg you've had on a thousand other breakfast sandwiches. The cheddar cheese was waxy once melted, almost tasteless. The sausage patty was certainly a cut above, but it too lacked in flavor. The grits were very well sourced, but came out like salty soup—the last time I had grits this inedible, I was a long, long way from Alabama, let me assure you.
In the end, all the looks, vibes, packaging, and Stumptown Cold Brew couldn't distract me from the fact that I was eating hastily prepared food from a chain restaurant. Or from the fact that I'd paid $8.80, including tax, for something not nearly as satisfying as, say, the Uncle Herschel's Favorite breakfast, served at Cracker Barrel locations nationwide. For roughly the same amount of money, maybe even a little bit less, you get two eggs your way, grits, hashbrown casserole or fried apples, and a choice of meat (grilled pork chop, please). Oh, and a side of gravy, biscuits, butter and jam, too. I'm not old—not yet, anyway—but I definitely know where I'm eating breakfast next time.