May 13, 2009 > Restaurant Review: Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine
Restaurant Review: Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine
By Denny Stein
Have you been haunted by the question: Where do Fremont's First Responders go for lunch? Well, wonder no more. At the Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine Restaurant on Capitol Avenue, you'll find members of the police and fire departments, plus Washington Hospital, Palo Alto Medical, and Kaiser Permanente staff sitting down or picking up take-out everyday.
On my first visit to this often overlooked restaurant, I spied Sgt. John Lopes of the Fremont Police sitting outside in his patrol car. He had just finished lunch and I asked him what was good. "Freddie's Special," he said, and then proceeded to relate the story of Sgt. Freddie Bobbitt (a legend who deserves his own article) and how he lost over 100 pounds by eating brown rice with broccoli, carrots, and cabbage, in the lightest of Thai sauces every day at the Cracker Barrel Deli.
For five years, ever since I moved to Fremont, I have driven past the Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine Restaurant and chuckled at its incongruous name. It turns out, like many other places that have changed hands several times, this unpretentious eatery has a colorful history that is reflected in its names. Kitty Tang, the owner, says that the restaurant was first opened as the Cracker Barrel Deli. When Ms. Tang bought the business 15 years ago, she kept the name and the breakfast and lunch menu. An influx of franchise coffee and bakery shops precipitated a downturn in the Cracker Barrel Deli's breakfast trade.
But Kitty Tang exemplifies Fremont's finest, the cadre of outstanding women restaurateurs in the area. She decided to introduce old and new customers to her native Thai cuisine. Posting a large photo of Pad Thai over the deli counter, she encouraged them to try it. One Chinese customer told her, "You make Pad Thai better than in Thailand!" From that one signature dish the menu grew, with a twist. Ms. Tang loves to cook, and learned to cook American food from cookbooks. She took the knowledge she had acquired from "book learning" and combined it with personal experience to create her own recipes. Thus her dishes are often combinations of American and Thai tastes.
Kitty Tang insists on fresh ingredients and incorporates local produce into her Thai recipes. For example, rather than using canned bamboo shoots, she substitutes zucchini or squash from the Tri-City area. Real crab is used in the Crab Fried Rice, fresh rice noodles in the Pad Thai; coconut milk is the only canned staple in the cupboard. All of Ms. Tang's sauces are made fresh from scratch as are her soups and chili.
Like most "Mom & Pop" business owners, Kitty keeps a watchful eye and a tight hand on her operation. She is very particular about cleanliness (scoring a 98 from the Fremont Health Department in April), and customer service. Her employees, including her daughter Kathleen, are encouraged to identify any problems and fix them. In her tiny kitchen with four gas burners and a grill, systematic efficiency and organization are the rule, otherwise, Ms. Tang says, there would be chaos and accidents.
So, what do Fremont's first responders eat for lunch? Ms. Tang reports that the Police Department likes Chicken Cashew Nut (one officer ordered it four days in a row), and Freddie's Special; Kaiser Permanente goes for the Drunken Noodle, and Basil Fried Rice; Washington Hospital staff prefer Thai Chicken Salad, and Egg Salad; and Palo Alto's requests favor Eggplant and Shrimp Basil with Brown Rice, Chicken Basil, and Pad Thai. From my experience, I don't think you can go wrong with any of the Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine's offerings.
All Thai entrees come with rice because, as Kitty says, rice goes with these dishes just the way bread goes with sandwiches (also available, for hungry folks looking for a deli!). Lastly, there's a cozy bar with the ubiquitous flat screen telly, and Happy Hour is from 4-6 p.m.
Cracker Barrel Deli and Thai Cuisine is right next to City Hall and there is plenty of parking. In the afternoon, swing by for Kitty's "Choccolatte" or a sandwich and soup. If you love Thai Iced Tea, Kitty Tang's is robust and satisfying. The restaurant is not large, but tables are spaced so that the room feels light and airy. Along one side, the original old fashioned narrow booths, framed in dark wood, are reminiscent of a roadside diner. Across the room is a high counter with menus on the wall, deli-style. In the evening, sit down at one of the white table-clothed tables and peruse the dinner menu. I heartily recommend the Cracker Barrel Deli and This Cuisine and I'm very happy to have finally discovered it.
Cracker Barrel Deli & Thai Cuisine
3100 Capitol Avenue #H, Fremont