It’s easy to say we weren’t expecting jack-in-the-box sock monkeys, gorgeous quilts, old fashioned candies, games and ornaments, all artfully displayed in a cross between a Hallmark store and a downtown boutique.

But, honestly, we weren’t.

After declaring “road trip!” and turning the car toward South Portland, Bag Lady and Shopping Siren pulled up to Cracker Barrel expecting to navigate around a rack of orange sweatshirts, mugs and key chains before being swiftly escorted to a vat of country fried steak, led to our table by a waiter named Billy Seth, who was working himself through veterinary school.

Boy, we got that wrong.

No Billy Seth, no vet school, no hard sell on the chicken fried steak. Just a jaw-dropping 20 times the retail. The new restaurant is fronted by a full store with absolutely no pressure to mosey on back and dine. (Oh, they’re wily, though — you do have to trot past all the goods before getting to your dinner table. Parents of youngsters, we don’t envy you on that front.)

The week’s sales included 80 percent off Christmas stock (ornaments, holiday frippery) and 25 percent off quilts. If you decide to shop, we warn you: You’ll work up an appetite.

(Also of note: The day we stopped in, the new Vitamin Shoppe sign was going up next door, in the old Tweeter space. Exciting. You know, for vitamin fans.)

* “Quincy, M.E.” seasons 1 and 2, $29.99

Yes, among the quilts and candy and toys, Cracker Barrel’s gift shop includes a selection of DVDs. Most of them classics, including “Wonder Woman” and “The Jetsons.” We’re not embarrassed at all to say we were partial to “Quincy, M.E.” back in the day. Hey, Quincy was our Lenny Brisco before we knew who Lenny Brisco was.

* Blueber boulevard leopard-print child’s coat with plush collar, $39.99

Complete with button bling. For the little diva in training.

* Snuggle Packs, $19.99

Super soft backpacks with faces and legs, in styles that include Mooey Louie and Sully Saurus. So adorable, we were tempted to borrow a pre-schooler or two so we could legitimately carry these around the mall.

*Gildan military T-shirts, various sizes, $14.99

Show your dedication to the Army or the Marines, tout the fact that you’re a military mom or proclaim “Semper Fi!” Much better than the orange Cracker Barrel merch we expected to find.

* In Bloom palm pet chirping chick, $3.99

No Easter basket is complete without a cheap chick.

* Lookout Moon Pie, banana-flavored, 12-pack, 24 oz., $4.99

Cracker Barrel’s selection of old-fashioned candy and treats rivals anything we’ve seen in years. Exhibit A: Moon Pies. If you don’t know what these are, we find it hard to fully explain. Suffice it to say they include graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow. Yeah. We’ll see you at the checkout counter.

* Easter baskets, $23

Full-sized candy bars and a plush, chocolate-scented bunny. Not recommended for homes with animals that might catch a whiff of said chocolate-scented plush bunny and rip it to shreds looking for actual chocolate. Because that isn’t the scene you want your kids to wake up to Easter morning.

* Sock Monkey Jack-in-the-Box, $19.99

For when you’re tired of the same-old, same-old jack-in-the box.

* Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, $14.99

Soft, huggable, just the right size for small hands. Sure, you may have to explain to your kids who Raggedy Ann and Andy are, but no one ever said parenting was easy.

* 3-in-1 jumbo checker/tic-tac-toe rug, $12.99 (or so we were told by a very nice but slightly unsure sales associate)

This game-on-a-rug is a Cracker Barrel signature item. Looked very cool, though we take issue with the liberty taken with the game count. Checkers, tic-tac-toe and super tic-tac-toe? We’re not sure that’s really three-in-one. Maybe two-and-a-half-in-one, max.

Best find: Rocking chairs, $129.99/adult, $79.99/child

Choose from white with slats, natural wood with slats, wicker and Air Force blue. These were out front for rocking and buying. (Cracker Barrel: master of product placement.) These rockers were exceedingly comfortable even on a December afternoon, and that’s saying something.

Think twice: Jawlipops, $2.99

Picture a giant, giant jawbreaker on a lollipop stick. For you, a likely trip to the dentist. For your kids, a sugar high the likes of which you’ve never seen. Either way, we recommend skipping the jawlipops and moving straight into the Cracker Barrel dining room. We hear there’s country fried steak.

Dining bonus!

Since we were in the neighborhood, we also checked out Chipotle, the burrito chain that just opened its first store in Maine. After a 15-minute lunchtime wait (the crowd wrapped around two walls) we picked fixings Subway-style — beans, salsa, veggies, cheese — and assembled a chicken burrito (SS) and a fajita burrito (BL) that were fist-sized and absolutely delicious. Both rang in at $6.25. Add a bag of fresh tortilla chips for $1.20 and a tall soda for $1.90 (get the tall soda; it’s all plenty spicy.)

Chipotle is mostly family-style seating, lots of stainless steel (sort of decor by Ikea) and kitsch-free — nary a token sombrero in the store. We’d definitely go back.

Bag Lady and Shopping Siren’s true identities are protected by a pair of stylish, sweater-wearing Doberman pinschers (who would never rip apart a stuffed bunny because they are good dogs; also, they prefer the scent of peanut butter to chocolate) and the Customer Service counter at the Sun Journal. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected]


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