After closing out last year with mixed results -- sales and earnings rose, but margins and cash flows moved in the opposite direction -- Cracker Barrel (NASDAQ:CBRL) has started the new year off on the right foot. This morning, the Tennessee-based owner of Cracker Barrel and Logan's Roadhouse restaurants posted first-quarter earnings of $0.61 ($30.3 million), two cents ahead of estimates and 9% better than the $0.56 earned a year ago.

Hurricane-related disruptions early in the quarter led to an estimated $2 million in lost sales, but the company still posted a 6% increase in revenues to $612.7 million. Cracker Barrel reported a 3.2% increase in average tickets, most of which can be credited to a continued rise in menu prices. Traffic dipped fractionally lower, though, resulting in same-store sales gains of only 2.3%. The improvement may seem modest but stacks up well next to rival Bob Evans (NASDAQ:BOBE), which reported a 4.2% decline in comps earlier this week.

Same-store sales at the Logan's concept came in 3.9% higher, again in large part because of menu tweaks. The company made little mention of the impact of soaring commodity prices, particularly beef, that have been the bane of other steak houses lately (though buried near the bottom of the press release, it did note that inflated food prices are tracking 5% above last year's rates). Logan's seems to be having more success at passing these increases on to diners, as Outback Steakhouse (NYSE:OSI) managed only a slim 0.9% rise in comps, and Lone Star Steakhouse (NASDAQ:STAR) posted an even thinner 0.2% increase.

Cracker Barrel did show a few cracks, though. Gross margins, which slipped by a full point last year, shed another 36 basis points to 67.38% (though I suspect commodity prices played a role in that). Furthermore, retail sales from Cracker Barrel's Old Country Store gift shops -- which make up about one-quarter of the chain's revenues -- fell 1.3% to $117.9 million.

Nevertheless, the company is moving in the right direction and is expecting earnings to grow in the mid-teens this year, which translates to a PEG ratio of only 0.89. Country restaurants always serve generous portions, and Cracker Barrel recently hiked its new dividend by 9%, putting the yield in the 1.25% range. Given its consistency -- the company was recently awarded the best family dining chain title for the 14th straight year by Restaurants and Institutions magazine -- the barrel just keeps on rolling.

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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.