We continue our series of restaurant spotlights for those venues that are now offering a
specific low carb menu. We've spotlighted TGI Friday's, Ruby Tuesday, Schlotzsky's Deli, Don Pablo's, Longhorn Steakhouse, and many
others. Our last couple of issues have not included this feature, but it's back by popular demand.
This month, we visited two "homestyle" restaurants offering low carb menu selections. We went to both Friendly's — a
restaurant offering casual dining and ice cream desserts in more than 540 locations throughout the Northeast, and the
Americana-Icon chain Cracker Barrel — half "Old Country Store", half country-style restaurant.
[ALL INSET PHOTOS ARE "CLICKABLE" TO LARGER SIZES FOR DETAIL]
I went to Friendly's for the first time when I was a little girl. Back then, the menu offered mostly ice cream treats, with only
6 meal options (I always got the Fishamajig or the Friendly's Hamburg.) So believe me, this chain now offering not
only a huge full menu, but a lengthy low carb menu, makes me take notice!
Neil and I (and a guest — a low carb industry executive) dined at the Vandalia, Ohio location (at 564 West National Road) on
Friday, August 6th. Both the food and the service was impressive and they worked hard to get our orders just right. Management was
at our disposal as well, and they allowed us to keep a copy of their new low carb menu insert.
Neil ordered the "Carb Fab New Orleans Chicken with Cheese." It's two grilled chicken breast halves with tomatoes, melted cheese
(a blend of Monterey Jack and Cheddar.) It's served with either broccoli or mixed vegetables. Neil opted for the latter. This meal comes
in at 12 net grams of carbohydrate per serving. The chicken was moderately spicy, very tender, and moist. Menu price: $8.59.
Our guest ordered the "Grilled Chicken Salad," which is grilled chicken breast strips, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, tomato,
and chopped egg spread over a bed of fresh greens. He had Friendly's Bleu Cheese dressing on the side and was very pleased with the
freshness and taste of his meal. This one comes in at 11 net grams of carbohydrate per serving. Menu price: $7.29.
Never one to give a restaurant an easy time, I chose a selection from the regular (non low carb) portion of the menu. I was in the mood for
corned beef, so I requested they make their "Reuben SuperMelt" sans bun and substitute the broccoli for the fries. They had no
problem with that (the kitchen staff looking at the order and saying, "Ahh... Atkins.") I requested cheese melted on my
broccoli (half American, half cheddar.)
The corned beef was thin, lean, and flavorful and they served the Thousand Island dressing on the side so I wasn't deluged with its
carbs. There was just the right amount of sauerkraut and swiss cheese too. Delicious. I calculated this one at 12 net grams of
carbohydrate. Menu price: $7.19.
When we'd finished our entrees, we had to sample their new "Carb Fabulous Sundae." But we were all pretty full, so we had
ONE sundae and we all tried a little of it. Their new Carb Fabulous Vanilla Ice Cream is excellent. It's sweetened with Splenda,
inulin, and erythritol, so they've done a very good job with it. It's creamy and rich. The whipped cream and almonds are
in perfect concert with the ice cream as well.
The only thing a bit problematic is the rich no-sugar-added fudge sauce that
comes blanketing the ice cream. While really tasty, it's nearly pure maltitol syrup, so be careful — you're getting a lot of
sugar alcohols. Our suggestion is to order the fudge sauce on the side (or skip it) so you can control how much of it you get.
If this had been the end of our Friendly's experience, we'd have been able to write a perfect review. However, two days later, we
visited another Friendly's location and found the staff less than helpful and the food skimpier and not prepared as well. Our second
visit was to the Beavercreek, Ohio location (at 3281 Dayton-Xenia Road.)
They brought margarine instead of butter, so I requested
butter. I was told, "We don't have anything but margarine." I said, "We got real butter at the Vandalia location two days ago." And
the waitress replied, "No you didn't. Friendly's carries only margarine." (Check out the larger version of the New Orleans Chicken
dish above... you'll see the packages of real butter on the plate.)
To be fair, we went one more time to the Beavercreek location in case it was a fluke. The service and food fared even worse. When
I told them we were reviewing them, their response was "whatever..." A sharp contrast to the very well-run Vandalia location.
Our next visit was to a restaurant that has become a symbol of American highways — Cracker Barrel. As of today, there are 504 locations
in 41 states, but I can't recall taking a road trip in years where I didn't pass a sign for Cracker Barrel at regular intervals along
the Interstate. (By the time you read this, that 504 number will be out of date — that's how fast they're growing.)
For the last few years I've wondered why they weren't offering some low carb options since most of their meals seemed easily adapted
once you skip the cornbread and thick gravies. They've always offered a wide array of country style meats and vegetables. So we think
this was an easy, natural leap.
Neil and I visited the Centerville, Ohio location (at 5770 Wilmington Pike) on Thursday, August 12th. Once again, we were impressed by the quality of the food,
the rapid and friendly response of the staff, and the helpful attitude of management. Our waitress, Amy Louis (who gave us permission
to use her name) went out of her way to make sure we could try all their low carb and sugar free offerings for our review. And when
we needed additional info on ingredients, she trekked to the back and got us food labels to take with us. So we not only ate well, but
we had a very good time.
Cracker Barrel has their low carb menu online, and you can see it here at their site.
They offer both breakfast and lunch/dinner low carb options, and on this evening, both of us were in the mood for breakfasts. The usual
breakfast fare is made low carb by offering extra meats, and subbing a very acceptable low carb whole wheat bread for the high carb variety.
They serve European Bakers brand bread which contains no sugar, no trans fats, and no white flour. It's served with plenty of real
butter and Smucker's special blend sugar free jellies (2 carbs each) which I found delightful.
We can't offer photos of our meals this time because we dined the night the storms were coming in (the night before the Florida/Carolina
hurricanes) and the power went off at one point and our dining area was very dark, although the candlelight certainly made the night
The menus (both breakfast and dinner) list net carbs in each meal offered as well as variations for sides. Pricing is fair and honest
and we feel comfortable in recommending this restaurant for low carb dining. One thing we'd like to see, however, is an expansion of
this menu section to include some unique dishes rather than carb-lowered versions of their regular dishes. For instance, if they served
a nice potato substitute (like ImiTaters) it would fit right into their cuisine, and offer a rare value to the low carb diner.
Review content copyright © September 2004 Lora Ruffner and Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.
Inset food photos copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury.
Friendly's logo and menu copyright ? 2004 Friendly Ice Cream Corporation;
1855 Boston Road; Wilbraham, Massachusetts 01095
Cracker Barrel logo copyright ? 2004 CBRL Group, Inc.
P. O. Box 787; Lebanon, Tennessee 37088-0787