Roadside Dining, Puerto Rico

Continuing our adventure in Puerto Rico over Memorial Day, we went to our friends’ wedding on Saturday. Had some delicious Sangria and tasty little appetizers post-ceremony then a lovely luncheon of chicken crepes with grilled vegetables. The cake was non-remarkable and only served to reinforce our plan for our own cake to skip the smooth fondant icing which tastes like cardboard in favor of the good stuff: buttercream.

After the lunch reception, we had a mid-day break for drinking/napping/homework/gambling then met up with much of the wedding party at a rooftop club along the waterfront. Post-party we hit up a late-night classic, even in Puerto Rico: Denny’s.

San Juan at night
San Juan at night

The next day, having made some new friends at the wedding reception/party who had a rental car and a plan like ours, we headed out to experience the rainforest. El Yunque is the only rainforest in the National Park System. And it was awesome. I’ll throw a few pictures up at the bottom of this post.

But before we got to the rainforest (about 45 minute drive from San Juan), we needed to eat. After someone first mentioned just hitting up a fast food joint, it was observed that every block had three or four street food vendors on it. We picked a good-looking one and with a bit of broken Spanish, got a shrimp empanada (meat filled pastry, like Chris wanted Friday night), a couple of fried taquito like things and this thing that no one can remember the name of. Since we were eating in the car, I didn’t get to take a picture. But basically, it was like layers of sweet something (passion fruit), stuffed with spicy meat then battered and fried. Everything was fried and darn tasty.

We arrived at El Yunque and drove up to the highest point for cars, stopping at a tower and the waterfalls that just spill out along the road. After stopping at a park store, we got a map and decided to walk to La Mina falls, a 3/4 mile hike along the river to a cascade with swimming area at the base. This trail was rated as challenging but should also only take 30 minutes one way. HA HA HA. Well, I guess if you are in fine shape (I’m not), and its not raining (um, its the rainforest), and you aren’t stopping every 30 feet to take awesome pictures, you could get there in 30 minutes. The walk in was worth it though. La Mina falls were beautiful and there were plenty of photo ops on the way.

The walk back, not such a fan of. The rain, which is nearly constant but at a drizzly rate, became a downpour. And while I was dressed for warm weather, I was wearing cotton. We were absolutely drenched when we got back to the car. And the stairs that were challenging on the way “down” were three times harder on the way back (mentally anyhow). The entire trail is concrete or stone steps built in to the side of the river cut. Up and down, over and over. Blah.

We started back down the mountain and watched the rain lessen as we descended. By the time we got back in to the town at the base, the sun was shining. But before we hit bottom, we stopped at this little cafe mentioned in a guide book. Noted for the dog (who barks) living on the roof of the restaurant, this place was supposed to have great fried chicken.

OH MY GOD. Not like traditional Southern fried chicken with batter, this stuff was just lightly dusted with seasoning and maybe a bit of flour then thrown in the fryer. It was so good and the skin was to die for. I got an order with rice and beans on the side while Chris decided to get another empanada, this one pizza-style. Three minutes later he’s angling for a bit of my chicken. I gave him a bit (there was plenty) but I was keeping all the skin on the side. In the end I relented and gave him a bit of skin too. I also ordered a piña colada and the guy said to bring it back up if I needed more rum. I didn’t, it was tasty and just right. As we were leaving, Chris ordered one for the road and had them add the extra rum. Apparently by extra they meant another shot and a half. It was one strong piña colada!

We declared that this fried chicken lunch was the best meal of the trip, so far.

road side falls
Roadside falls
San Juan in the distance
San Juan in the distance
Cool picture of the peak in the tower- Chris took this one.
Cool picture of the peak in the tower- Chris took this one.
roadside falls going down the mountain
Roadside falls going down the mountain
La Mina Falls
La Mina Falls

Cracker Barrel

For the longest time I have been no fan of Cracker Barrel.  A few months ago, Chris and I ended up going to the one on Lansing’s west side, his choice.  I figured I’d make do but I wasn’t really excited.

After the meal, I was still not very excited about Cracker Barrel but I wasn’t feeling so negative. I had a sandwich and soup. Really, the sandwich was quite good but the soup wasn’t what I expected in a Corn Chowder.

After I thought about it, I realized that my ill will towards Cracker Barrel is partly a mental confusion with Old Country Buffet.  Now that is a place I really don’t want to go to, ever again.  I’m not much for the buffet-style dining due to cleanliness concerns.  I won’t eat at a buffet restaurant unless I can observe the buffet lines for a few minutes first.  I had a particularly bad experience at OCB way back in high school. On the same trip (marching band competition) we also ate at Cracker Barrel.

So, after realizing this I decided to be more open-minded on our next trip to Cracker Barrel which happened to be Sunday night.  It was pretty busy and there was a little bit of a lag making first contact with our server. By the time she came, we were ready to order.  Chris ordered the chicken salad sandwich on sourdough with vegetable soup (and a Coke).  I had the Homestyle Chicken which is the Sunday special. You get chicken breasts dipped in buttermilk and batter then fried.  It comes with cornbread or biscuits plus two side items. I picked the mashed potatoes with gravy and corn.  And I ordered a diet coke.

Chris’s soup and our drinks came out pretty fast.  The soups for Sunday were vegetable and vegetable beef. Even though Chris ordered vegetable, she accidentally brought the beef variety. He decided to eat it anyway as it probably wasn’t that much different.  And the best thing about the soup, according to Chris, is the crackers they serve. the “baked in Vermont” Westminster Squares which look like Saltines but are made with all-natural ingredients instead of high fructose corn syrup (original) or sodium stearoyl lactylate (fat-free).

While Chris ate his soup, I looked over the dessert menu. I wasn’t planning to order a dessert but I was curious about the offerings. Eating at Cracker Barrel is a lot like eating at a midwestern family supper table. And anyone who has eaten such a meal knows that there is usually a marshmallow/jello/cool whip dessert during the meal or at the end. In this area, Cracker Barrel is different than Sunday dinner at my grandma’s house. They have a Coca-Cola Chocolate cake, apple pie ala mode and other pie based desserts. No jello mashups in sight.

Our entrees came up shortly while Chris still had a little soup left. He seemed to like his sandwich and he ate it all down. I, on the other hand, was not going to be able to finish my meal. The mashed potatoes and gravy were served on a plate with the the biggest chicken breast I’ve ever seen, plus, a more normal sized chicken breast. The corn was in a little dish on the side. I know the gravy was “just” for the mashed potatoes but I would have preferred more so I could mix my corn and chicken in too. I’m sure if I’d asked, they would have given me a saucer full.

Side Note: My preferred Thanksgiving Day plate consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn with plenty of gravy.

Everything was very tasty, the chicken was moist inside and the buttermilk batter was crispy and flavorful. I saved the steroidal breast to take home along with the corn muffins that came on the side.

Our bill, before tip, was just under $20. Definitely a good deal.

The next day, I took the muffins and chicken to work for lunch. I tried to take a picture of the chicken. It doesn’t really do it justice but you can sort of get an idea of scale by comparing it to the corn muffin.


Website: With Menus

Address: 608 Commercial Drive,  Lansing, MI 48917-9765

Hours: Sun- Thur- 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Fri-Sat- 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Cracker Barrel has a Books on Tape program where you buy an audio book at one location and then you can return it at the next stop on your road trip(s) minus $3.49 per week rental fee. Interesting idea for regular Barrel diners who also travel a lot.