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I Tried Cracker Barrel's New Summer Menu & There Was One Entrée I Adored

The chicken and steak items were interesting but it was the sweet breakfast option that stole the show.

Cracker Barrel has plenty of homey personality baked right in. As soon as you approach the restaurant, you're greeted with restful rocking chairs planted all along the perimeter—not to mention oversized checkers games to go with them. The cozy ambiance continues inside, with a built-in fireplace, old-timey photos, and lantern lights decorating each wooden table. Not to mention, Cracker Barrel will soon be upgrading its interiors to make them even homier! And don't get me started on the chain's better half, its Old Country Store, where guests can get lost in a maze of knick-knacks, kitschy decor, and gobs of novelty toys and candy.

However, even with all this distraction, what truly draws people to the ol' Cracker Barrel is its lineup of down-home comfort foods. And now, there's even more to love following the introduction of brand-new summer eats and drinks. Meals like Bee Sting Chicken and New York Strip Steak combos, in addition to drinks and other treats, are taking over, and I took the liberty of trying each new dish for myself. The seven new menu items were quite a journey, and here's how they ranked from my least favorite to the most successful.

NY Strip Steak n' Shrimp Combo

steak, fried shrimp and broccoli from cracker barrel
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Order):
Calories: 840
Fat: 35 g (Saturated Fat: 10 g)
Sodium: 6,340 mg
Carbs: 42 g (Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 7 g)
Protein: 82 g

Yes, Cracker Barrel is arguably most famous for its southern-style breakfasts. The crowds that gather at the restaurant in the morning hours (especially on weekends) are clear evidence of this. But, several top-notch lunches and dinners can also be found hiding on the menu including a few of my personal favorites like chicken and dumplings and the southern fried chicken. The chain decided to diversify by adding multiple New York Strip Steak meals to its heavily poultry-based lineup. One such meal offers some surf and turf action with a pairing of fried shrimp. The 10-ounce steak is said to be served with garlic butter sauce and the entire entree with a supplemental choice of two country sides and bread cost a total of $22.99.

The look: The steak itself was sizeable, taking up nearly half of my oval-shaped plate with noticeable char marks and just a few fatty sections. The shrimp, on the other hand, were hardly quarter-sized and a bit lifeless in a dull shade of tan. One was also already coming out of its breading, and I received a bonus hushpuppy in my dish. I wrote this off as a kitchen slip-up, but after reading the nutrition guide, it looks like a single hush puppy is part of the equation–interesting, to say the least.

The taste: Not worth the steep price tag. I requested my cut cooked to a medium temperature with the expectation that chains like this often fail to deliver in this department . . . and I was right. It came out more well-done than anything else, with little to no pink to speak of. Worse, there was no seasoning or flavor to revive it. If garlic butter was added at some point (which I doubt), it must have evaporated away as it was being overcooked.

The shrimp wasn't an improvement on the other side of the plate. The heavy breading was mushy rather than crisp and slid off at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, the delicate shrimp inside were hardly noticeable. I also realized too late that I never received my side of cocktail sauce–the one thing that could have breathed some life into this dish.

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New York Strip Steak n' Eggs

a plate of steak and eggs from cracker barrel
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Order):
Calories: 620
Fat: 29 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g)
Sodium: 5,050 mg
Carbs: 4 g (Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 80 g

You've heard of breakfast for dinner, but what about dinner for breakfast? That's essentially how I view the invention of steak and eggs. And I'm certainly not mad about it–as long as it's done right. This Cracker Barrel plate starts like the previous steak and shrimp combo, with a 10-ounce cut topped with garlic butter sauce. Two eggs served any style–I went with over-easy–accompany the meat, as well as a breakfast side and buttermilk biscuits. The hearty meal is priced at $18.99.

The look: Ordered medium rare, the steak was less singed here but also smaller–mostly in terms of width. As for the eggs, they appeared to be standard, albeit leaning more toward over-medium than easy. Seasoning specks on both components were minimal.

The taste: I have concluded that steak just isn't the chain's strong suit–unless we're talking about the country-fried variety. Less dry with a slight garlic taste, the cut did taste better than it did paired with the shrimp. However, it was still tough, chewy, and nothing to write home about. The eggs were well-cooked, garnering no complaints. Yet, at the end of the day, eggs are just eggs. If you ask me, I think nearly any other breakfast on the menu is bound to be more satisfying–not to mention considerably more affordable.

Watermelon Lemonade

a glass of cracker barrel watermelon lemonade on the restaurant table
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Glass):
Calories: 270
Fat: 0 g (Saturated Fat: 0 g)
Sodium: 105 mg
Carbs: 2 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 0 g

At Cracker Barrel, the drink of the summer is watermelon lemonade. Of course, the restaurant is also pushing flavored mimosa pitchers right now. But that's a different story and also still a strange concept to me given the chain was a dry establishment for over 50 years before changing its tune in 2020. Anyway, back to the lemonade, it is said to be a refreshing fusion of juicy watermelon sweetness and the original old-fashioned lemonade. It's only available for a limited time for $3.69 per 32-ounce glass.

The look: A light peachy pink beverage. It did have a bit of an ombre look to it with a darker and less translucent color towards the bottom. Ice was kept to a minimum, which I appreciated.

The taste: Sweet and syrupy, but once you give it a good stir and let the ice melt, it's pleasant to sip on. The watermelon flavor is distinguishable, just a bit subdued. It reminded me of Watermelon Sour Patch Kids, only without the lip-puckering sourness. One disclaimer is that a pulp-like substance gathers at the bottom of the glass–something I didn't mind but others may find offputting.

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Golden Carolina BBQ Chicken Tenders

a basket of cracker barrel golden bbq tenders
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Order):
Calories: 620
Fat: 0 g (Saturated Fat: 0 g)
Sodium: 105 mg
Carbs: 2 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 0 g

Ordering this specific summer dish was a bit of a doozy. Although it is featured on the website, I couldn't find a mention of the new Golden Carolina BBQ sauce anywhere on the physical in-store menu (even on one of those seasonal inserts). My waitress also seemed befuddled when I asked for it with the chain's hand-breaded fried chicken tenders. Eventually, we got it ironed out, and I ended up ordering the chicken with two sides, including fries and mac and cheese, plus biscuits over corn muffins. The dish is listed online for $11.99, although I was only charged $11.49–likely a byproduct of all the confusion.

The look: The tenders are well-breaded and well-seasoned, especially with what appears to be pepper. I received four, each measuring about four to four and a half inches long. The sauce is glossy, thick, and more of a rust color than dark brown like most other barbecues.

The taste: Steak may not be a high point, but Cracker Barrel knows how to fry up some tasty chicken. It's crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, with just enough flavor to enjoy sans sauce. Then, the barbecue comes into the picture. Like most other Carolina-style iterations, it tastes like a marriage of both barbecue and mustard–specifically honey mustard, in this case. The viscous substance adheres to the tenders well and gives off a sweet yet smokey tang. I would say that it leans more towards the barbecue side rather than mustard. Overall, though, it's a satisfactory summertime choice.

Bee Sting Sandwich

bee sting chicken sandwich from cracker barrel on a plate
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Sandwich):
Calories: 940
Fat: 0 g (Saturated Fat: 0 g)
Sodium: 105 mg
Carbs: 2 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 0 g

The chain is currently buzzing with several new dishes filed under the name "Bee Sting." One of them is the Bee Sting Sandwich. It consists of the chain's crispy chicken piled onto what looks like a brioche-style bun with pickles and mayonnaise. The soul of the sandwich is its drizzle of sweet heat honey glaze–where the Bee Sting moniker comes from. For $11.99, the sandwich comes with just one side. The menu recommends pairing it with steak fries, but I was more intrigued by the hashbrown casserole tots.

The look: Tall and portly, held together with a small stick and topped with three pickle slices which I later transferred to the heart of the sandwich. The bun is a little big for its britches, though, nearly twice the size of the fried chicken breast concealed inside. I also took note of the huge lettuce leaf–a garnish that wasn't originally mentioned in the description.

The taste: The Bee Sting sauce is meant to be a main attraction here and it does its job splendidly. It's essentially the chain's version of the trending hot honey with a minor bite but mostly a tangy sweetness. It tastes like it could have been made with a Frank's hot sauce or something similar. The only problem was that I wanted less of a drizzle and more of a downpour of the glaze on the sammie. In addition, my suspicions were correct about the bun's mega size. The chicken is obviously tasty and tender, but in some bites, all I could taste was the soft, semi-sweet bun. All in all, this sandwich would be golden with a better ratio of poultry to bread and an extra hit of sauce.

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Bee Sting Tenders

bee sting tenders and fries on a plate from cracker barrel
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Order):
Calories: 820
Fat: 0 g (Saturated Fat: 0 g)
Sodium: 105 mg
Carbs: 2 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 0 g

The Bee Sting Tenders are exactly what they sound like: the Bee Sting Sandwich in chicken finger form. The sauce is exactly the same and is drizzled over the crispy breaded tenders. The meal additionally comes with two country sides. Fries seemed like the obvious choice, and I also indulged in an order of the chain's southern-style green beans. A bread choice is also on the table for a grand total of $13.29–a slightly more expensive option than the sandwich.

The look: Not as appealing as the pictures. The chicken tenders are stacked atop the steak fries and everything is unevenly coated in the thin red-orange sauce. Some pieces are smothered, while others remain essentially bare. Luckily, I also received a side cup of the Bee Sting Drizzle so no tender was left high and dry.

The taste: Everything good about the previous BBQ chicken fingers just in an elevated sauce. When it's isolated and available in a greater amount (unlike with the sandwich), the Bee Sting dressing really struts its stuff. Once again, it's mostly sweet with zest and just a smidgeon of spice. But here, it clings to each crispy, juicy tender and really makes the meal. It even tasted good soaked into the thick-cut fries, and you better believe I used up the entire side cup as I dunked and dipped.

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Fresh Berry French Toast Bake

a plate of cracker barrel fresh berry french toast bake
Photo: Megan Hageman, Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 1 Order w/ Strawberry Syrup):
Calories: 1,000
Fat: 37 g (Saturated Fat: 6 g)
Sodium: 735 mg
Carbs: 149 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 100 g)
Protein: 17 g

Aside from lemonade, the summer menu's only other sweet item is the Fresh Berry French Toast Bake. It joins other sugary breakfast legends (served all day long) such as Momma's Pancake Breakfast and Grandma's Sampler French Toast Breakfast–although just for a season. According to Cracker Barrel, the bake comprises "Thick-cut country bread soaked in vanilla custard, topped with cheesecake filling and baked 'til golden." Fresh blueberries and strawberries decorate the top as well as whipped cream and powdered sugar. Then, just when you think the deal can't get any sweeter, it's also served with a side of strawberry syrup and either bacon or sausage–all for a cost of $10.79.

The look: It is a bit disheveled, I'm not going to lie–although I did like the special blue and white patterned plate it was served on. It didn't come in a neat cake-like square but rather a deconstructed tangle of bread and berries with the occasional sprinkle of powdered sugar.

The taste: The flavor makes up for the shoddy presentation ten times over. I'm already a big fan of French toast. But this is even better because it's like every single bite is the gooey, moist center of the bread with no crust or firm areas to speak of. I worried the strawberry syrup would be too much, but it was the perfect addition, especially when paired with the surprisingly crisp and flavorful strawberries and blueberries. And, at this point, I hadn't even encountered the best part: the cheesecake filling. Pockets of it popped up throughout the dish, presenting a sweet cream cheese taste and melding flawlessly with the other ingredients. At the end of the day, I think it may be better suited for the dessert menu rather than the breakfast section. But hey, I'm certainly not complaining.

Megan Hageman
Megan is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Megan