After I stopped by Back Yard Bar-Be-Cue in Jackson, TN, two weeks ago I mentioned my theory that a big part of why the city has such consistently good barbecue is because the restaurants are geared towards locals not tourists. But this week I stopped by a restaurant that is definitely aimed squarely at tourists traveling down I-40, and while I avoided the ribs there I still ended up enjoying a solidly good meal of country cooking/soul food.
The Old Country Store and Restaurant is located in the Casey Jones Village. The store part of the building is like a Cracker Barrel gift shop on steroids. While the restaurant is mainly known for its large country buffet, it had a long line of people waiting to get in and I wasn't sure I wanted to eat at a buffet before returning to work in the intensely muggy summer heat. I was happy to find a counter selling plate lunches on the other side of the store with food coming from the same kitchen that was stocking the buffet.
At $6.99 for a plate lunch I ended up saving a little money and not feeling the obligation to painfully gorge myself that comes from paying for "all you can eat." I got a pork chop covered with peppers and onion, collard greens and black-eyed peas. Ribs were available too but they were sitting under a heat lamp wrapped in Saran Wrap so they didn't look very enticing.
The first thing to surprise me was the peas. They looked freshly shelled instead of like rehydrated dried ones. Fresh peas are in season right now but I wasn't expecting a place like the Old Country Store to be taking advantage of that. They were seasoned a little bit blandly but the tables were stocked with a nice assortment of hot sauces that took care of that. All the greens needed was a nice splash of Bruce's Hot Pepper Sauce. The pork chop didn't need anything; it was great. I noticed that most of the people getting plate lunches seemed to be locals since so many of them walked straight over to the counter as soon as they came in the door without browsing the store and got carry-out orders. The Old Country Store may primarily be a tourist stop but you can get a plate lunch good enough and cheap enough to make return customers out of locals who aren't interested in souvenirs.