Iâ€™m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Greetings from Clarksville, Tennessee
N 36Â° 34.9175â€™ W 087Â° 17.8449â€™ Elev. 519 ft.
I had never been to a Cheddarâ€™s before. Iâ€™d stopped in Clarksville to visit my quasi-niece â€” Iâ€™m the uncle she never wanted â€” and her two children, and she suggested we go.
The only thing I knew about Cheddarâ€™s was that they are always busy. The only other chain restaurant Iâ€™ve ever seen that is consistently busy day in and day out like that is Cracker Barrel; Iâ€™ve been meaning to go there to find out what the attraction is. Now I know why at least one of them, Cheddarâ€™s, is always busy: The food is very good and quite the value, with extremely generous portions.
When we showed up the host took my name â€” I always use the name â€œZorroâ€ because Rumpelstiltskin is just too hard for them to spell â€” and then told us there would be â€œabout a 26-minute waitâ€ for a table. Twenty six? How did you come up with that number, I asked? â€œItâ€™s a mnemonic device,â€ he said. â€œThat way people donâ€™t misunderstand us. Like, if we tell them 15 minutes they wonâ€™t think we said fifty.â€ Okay. Iâ€™m not sure that really qualifies as a mnemonic device but … whatever. Besides, what I really want to know is why mnemonic is spelled with a silent M. I should have asked him. Now Iâ€™ll probably never know.
On the way to our table I was checking out what everyone else was having. There were a lot of chicken and a lot of ribs on the plates. And I must say, all of the food coming out of that kitchen looked really, really good.
Cheddarâ€™s menu is fairly standard stuff. There were a number of unusual offerings, however, like Baked SpasagnaÂ® ($8.99), â€œSpaghetti layered with cheeses and spices, baked and then topped with homemade meat or marinara sauce. Served with garlic bread.â€ I like spaghetti and I like lasagna, so combining the two couldnâ€™t possibly be bad.
Another was the New Orleans Pasta ($10.29), â€œShrimp, chicken, smoked sausage and penne pasta are tossed in our homemade creamy Cajun Alfredo sauce and served with garlic bread.â€ A fellow sitting at the table behind me was eating it and I asked him how it was. â€œItâ€™s pretty good,â€ he said, â€œbut itâ€™s kind of cheesy.â€ I later wondered exactly what he meant by â€œcheesy.â€ Did he mean too much cheese? Or that it was kind of bogus, like not spicy enough or something?
His daughters(?) were having another of the unusual menu items, this one from the Kids Meals menu: Monte Dogs ($4.99), two â€œAll beef hot dogs dipped in Cheddarâ€™s Monte Cristo batter and lightly fried until golden brown.â€ Served on a stick, they resembled high-quality corn dogs. I donâ€™t know if theyâ€™re as good as the corn dogs you get at a county fair â€” the best in the world! â€” but they sure looked it.
We started with Homemade Onion Rings ($4.29), a â€œGenerous portion of our hand-battered, thin cut made fresh onion rings, served with homemade creamy ranch dressing and our own Cajun dipping sauce.â€ It was indeed a â€œgenerous portionâ€ just as advertised. They were served with the rings intermeshed and stacked on the plate, towering about a foot high. Cool presentation, I thought. And they were the real thing, lightly battered and crispy, and very, very tasty. I didnâ€™t care for the Cajun dipping sauce too much, which tasted of a mix of cayenne and horseradish. Iâ€™m sure the sauce probably looked good on paper, but I got a side of Thousand Island dressing instead, which was a great accompaniment.
The finickiest among us, her son, ordered a Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($3.99), â€œMade with American cheese and grilled until golden, served with your choice of one kids side below.â€ It was pretty standard, made with white bread. Iâ€™m guessing the sandwich met his persnickety standards as he ate the whole thing. For his side he chose the Fresh Apple & Yogurt Medley, diced Granny Smith apple and golden raisins in a light yogurt sauce. I tasted it and it wasnâ€™t bad, although the apples were a little on the mushy side. I kind of expected it to be more like a Waldorf salad but it wasnâ€™t nearly as sweet. If it were he probably wouldâ€™ve wolfed it down, too.
The weest among us had Chicken Tenders ($4.99), â€œA smaller portion of our famous hand-breaded chicken tenders, or if preferred, grilled tenders ….â€ As her side she got Steamed Vegetables (broccoli and â€œbabyâ€ carrots); the other â€œKids Sideâ€ offered is French Fries. She didnâ€™t touch a thing. I thought perhaps she was kind of intimidated by it. It was a hell of a lot of chicken â€” three giant half-breast-sized pieces â€” for being a â€œKids Meal.â€ Then again, she also wasnâ€™t feeling well. Plus, she doesnâ€™t take a cotton to me at all. All I have to do is look at her and she recoils in abject horror. Her mother says itâ€™s because Iâ€™m a stranger and I have facial hair. I think itâ€™s because sheâ€™s simply an impeccable judge of character.
I was convinced that our server, Michael, had made a mistake, that heâ€™d brought us an adult order of Chicken Tenders. â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s the kidâ€™s plate. The regular Chicken Tender Platter ($8.99) has over twice that much. Itâ€™s like a whole chickenâ€™s worth of chicken. Itâ€™s also a different batter; the regular version is a beer batter.â€ I was dumbfounded by the size of the portion. I kept wondering: If this is a kidâ€™s portion, whose kid is it? Seriously. Exactly how large is this alleged â€œkidâ€?
My not-niece had the Hawaiian Chicken Salad ($7.59), â€œSliced marinated chicken breast with island flavors, served on a bed of fresh salad greens with pineapple, pico de gallo, tortilla strips and honey lime dressing.â€ I meant to ask her how it was, how the â€œisland flavorsâ€ were, and how tortillas had migrated to Hawaii only to be â€œstripped,â€ but I was too distracted by the Paul Bunyan-size order of Chicken Tenders. I ended up taking one of the Tenders with me. I was very impressed when I ate it later. The batter is light and nicely seasoned, the chicken moist and tender. Thus the name, I guess.
After seeing so many others having them I decided to have a full rack of the Fork Tender Baby Back Ribs ($14.89). They come in two flavors: Hickory Smoked and Honey BBQ. I wasnâ€™t sure which to get so I asked Michael to make the call. He suggested the Honey BBQ so I went with it. The menu describes them as â€œSlow cooked until tender, grilled and finished with our homemade honey BBQ glaze. Served with fries and cole slaw.â€
When I ordered them Michael then asked what I would like for my two sides. Wow, I thought, I get fries and slaw and two more sides! Score. So I ordered Homemade Red Beans & Rice and, at Michaelâ€™s suggestion, the Broccoli Cheese Casserole. It turned out that I had unwittingly substituted the sides. Bummer, man.
The Broccoli Cheese Casserole was pretty good, with plenty of big pieces of broccoli. The Red Beans & Rice, however, were some of the best Iâ€™ve ever eaten. It couldâ€™ve had a little more rice in the mix, but it was seasoned perfectly and incredibly delicious. They really ought to offer them as a soup or a meal and serve it with corn bread. They are truly extraordinary.
The ribs were likewise very good and fall-off-the-bone tender. They elicited a bit of nostalgia from my faux niece, though. â€œOne of the things I really miss about California,â€ she said, â€œis my Dadâ€™s ribs.â€ I had to agree. Her dadâ€™s ribs â€” lovingly referred to by all as â€œRuderibsâ€ (pronounced Rude-a-ribs) â€” are out of this world. In addition to his culinary prowess, heâ€™s also a talented graphic artist; he did the truck-graphic header for the TWEA posts.
In all it was a really great meal. And as a special bonus we got to see one of the other serverâ€™s hair. The gracious and indulgent Dominic was most assuredly deserving of some sort of award for his extraordinary coiffure. It was truly an impressive, awe-inspiring â€˜do. I just wish he wouldnâ€™t have been so busy and I couldâ€™ve gotten a better picture. Maybe next time.
And so we roll.
Cheddarâ€™s, 2697 Wilma Rudolph Blvd., Clarksville, Tennessee
and 129 other locations in 23 states
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.