Saturday, December 31, 2005

Buffet Discussion Group Created on the Web

A new discussion group that will coincide with this blog site has been created on the web at Yahoo. Come and join The Art of the Buffet and share your dining experiences and thoughts.

Click to join artofthebuffet

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Milleridge Inn - Christmas Buffet

The Milleridge Inn is a restaurant in an historic building that has now built itself into a large complex of the restaurant, quaint shops, and catering. This has been a Long Island staple for many, many decades. The restaurant is located on Route 106 in Hicksville, New York and is less than a mile north of the Long Island Expressway and the Northern State Parkway. It is immediately south of Route 25. The building was a stagecoach stop when New York was still a colony.

At Christmas and Easter the restaurant serves a buffet dinner in it's catering building. The restaurant usually only serves from a menu - this is a holiday exception. The main building of the restaurant - with long waits for a table on holidays, serves from a menu. The buffet dinner is expensive (especially for what you are getting). The prices include dinner, tip - at an undeserved 17.5% - and sales tax. The adult price was $43.95. The children's price was 16.95. The price does not include a beverage except coffee or tea served with desert. Reservations are required and they are only taken for tables of six or more - however, there always seem to be tables of less than six - even two. Reservations are made for "seatings" at specific times. We were at the last seating of the evening which was 7:30 pm. We were not seated until 7:45. There was a small sign on each table that said that the seatings were two hours long, and as I will later talk about - they really mean two hours or less.

The dining room is set as it would be for catering with buffet stations on tables with hot and cold trays on them. There are two duplicate setups on two sides of the room that meet at the carving station in the middle. The rooms were decorated for the holidays. In the past there were carolers who went through the restaurant entertaining the guests with holiday cheer. For several years now NO carolers. The dining room was dark - one member of our party could not tell one salad dressing from the other because the lighting was so low.

The buffet starts with three (only three) fancy prepared salads - a pasta salad with obscure pieces of seafood, a potato salad that was red in color and had quartered potatoes, and a platter of tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella cheese; there was also a "fresh" fruit melon salad (which was terribly over ripe and not edible). This is followed by a raw bar of pre-opened, raw clams on the halfshell (little necks and cheerystones, for those who know clams) and raw oysters. In years past there had been cold shrimp and small, cold lobster tails. This year there was NO shrimp and NO lobster (of course, the price was NO lower). The raw bar was followed by rolls and sweet rolls. Toward the front of the first table there was another small table with a bowl of salad greens and two dressings. No toppings - just greens with some tomato and cucumber tossed in. There was a small table at the opposite end where there were two pasta dishes. There was a station in the middle of the two serving trays that had a burner and skillet - to look as if it was made to order - but no one was cooking there. The two pasta dishes were bowties and sausage in a sauteed oil spinach sauce and rigatoni in red tomato sauce. This followed along to the final table with entrees and vegetables. There were two entrees. One was a chicken stuffed with wild rice in a brown gravy. The other was salmon. There were three vegetable dishes - mashed carrots, small potatoes, and mixed steamed vegetables. Then came three carvings - ham, turkey, and a carved beef that they were calling steak but was more like a flat roast beef. For the carvings there was gravy, cranberry sauce, and mustard. You could go up as often as you like, but it was slim pickings of choices.

If you want a beverage, hard or soft, you are ordering from the bar. A carafe of soda was $8.00 with no refills. The carafe barely made five small glasses. At dessert you are offered hot coffee or tea, but if you wanted more you would have to find the server who never made an appearance at the table. As for dessert you are given a choice of an ice cream parfait, cheesecake, or a chocolate hazelnut cake. The parfait is a slim glass of overly frozen and too hard ice cream, with a spoon that cannot reach the ice cream two thirds of the way down the glass. The cheesecake was a very small slice. No one at the table had the chocolate cake. Two of us ran up to get some of the sweet rolls - which were quickly being cleared away by the serving staff. These were a better dessert than the desserts.

That was what was offered. The taste of most of the food was ok - some of it was bland. As stated, the fruit salad was sour and mushy. As for the service - terrible. When we were seated the table was set for eight - we were five. There were not eight chairs and not all of the settings had silverware. Evidently this was not just at our table as one rude diner came over to our table - said nothing - and picked up a fork that was sitting on the end of our table - while we were sitting there. (Do we need a new rule - don't take silverware from someone's table - at least, without asking.) At various points through the meal there were no clean plates. The server, while polite, basically ignored us. No concern if we were doing well or not. Dirty plates were intermittently picked up sometimes by the maitre'd, not the server who just walked by them. After all she had no reason to make sure that we were satisfied- her exorbitant tip was already built into the price. There seemed to be an unusual number of diners who knew someone who was working there - and those tables were getting extra attention. It was quite obvious that if you wanted to be taken care of, you had to know someone.

No one who was working seemed to want to be working. (This is a consistent problem at this restaurant on holidays - perhaps they should close on holidays to keep their employees happy. It is quite evident that they are not happy working.) At about 8:45 the service staff started to break down one side of the buffet - not too surprising as the remaining side would be adequate - but by 9:00 the other side was quickly taken away as well - remember I said that the seating was for two hours - well, it was not going to be two hours if you wanted to continue to take from the buffet. It was gone in a matter of moments. There is an old expression - "given the old, heave ho!" Well, that how it seemed - by 9:00 there was nothing more to take. Now, no one said you had to leave - but what was there worth staying for. In many good buffets, as closing time approaches, your server will come and ask if you would care for anything more from the hot offerings or the salad bar - and then they will be taken away. Not here. If you thought that you might supplement the meager dessert with some sweet rolls or the terrible fruit salad, you were out of luck. HO! HO! Heave HO!

I was been dining at this restaurant for over forty years. My family took me there when I was a kid and we continued to dine there on holidays and special occasions. The restaurant has gone through several new owners since then. The current management has taken the restaurant to the lowest point that it has been. We actually switched to dining at the buffet dinner a number of years ago following a Christmas Eve menu dinner that was so sparse that as a diabetic, I ate my dinner, part of my wife's dinner, and two meager desserts, and my sugar level was so low that I had to eat again when we got home. Why do we continue to go to the Milleridge Inn on Christmas Eve - because my sister thinks that it is a tradition. Well, it has gotten to the point that we will be starting a new tradition.

The buffet dinner is repeated on other holidays - yes, my sister dragged us there last Easter - the buffet dinner then was even worse - as so much ran out before our seating that there was even less to eat than stated here - and, of course, with no reduction in price - just a slim apology.

Would you like a festive holiday dinner to celebrate? Well, SKIP the Milleridge Inn! They do have a website but I am not going to bother listing it at the side, as you really don't want to go there.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Saturday Night at the Old Country Buffet - What a Freak Show!

So Saturday night we were going to do some late night holiday shopping and I thought that the Old Country Buffet would be a pleasant addition to the evening. I was in the mood for barbecue and in this area OCB's beef ribs was the closest I was going to get.

We got there about 7:30 and there was a short line that consisted of one large group who were paying separately. Ok, they got through quickly enough and we followed behind and paid at the register. This was still early enough for the "hostess" to seat you so we had to wait behind this large group while two hostesses decided where they were going to put this large group in the already crowded restaurant so that they could sit together. This took almost ten minutes and while one of the two hostesses could have attended to the groups of two and four that were waiting, both walked around looking for large tables. Behind us on the line was another couple and behind them was a family of four consisting of an English woman, and American man and their three American little girls. The English lady decided that everyone should go to the restroom and loudly announced this for all to hear - only she went; the girls stayed behind. We are all waiting behind the large group to be seated. At some point the couple behind us disappeared. They must have decided to seat themselves. The three little girls behind us kept whining that they wanted to eat. They were upset with the large group in front. The littlest of the three girls went off and headed for the nearest food bar -one of the food bars is adjacent to the line. Neither parent went after her. She got to the opposite end and started eating - with her fingers out of one of the fruit trays. A few comments from the parents to stop that went unheard and neither parent went to get her. Eventually she wandered back to where we were waiting. Then the father decided that the girls should eat bread while they are waiting on the line for a table and he went to the buffet bar and took pieces of bread, gave them to the girls - which they did not want. There was an approach to place to bread back on the server - by the father, but thankfully one of them - perhaps one of the little girls told him not to put it back now that he has handled it. (There will be a new rule coming about not taking food while waiting for your table.) I thought at that point that it might be a good idea to turn around back to the cashier, get our money back, and leave. But no, I waited for a table.

When one of the hostesses finally came back from seating the large group, my wife stepped up and told her that we were a party of two. Comments now came from the English lady - "Oh, I guess they think they are next." Well, since we came in two ahead of her, I guess we were, and would a table for two, seat five? We ignored the comments and said nothing. The hostess directed us into a side dining room and pointed to a table in the middle of many other tables - she did not walk us to it as there was little, if any, access. We took the table and managed to make our way to it The table for four had five chairs - one at an end. (Ah, perhaps this was meant for the English lady and her family?) Boxed in as we were there was nowhere to put that extra chair but where it sat. We put down our tickets and our coats and headed back out through the maze to get some soup. When we returned my wife asked where I was going to sit. Now that seemed odd as I had placed my coat over the back of a chair - and I had intended to sit there. Then I noticed that directly behind me - in the space of two chairs was this immensely fat woman. I looked behind my wife with the idea to push the table forward and there behind her was another huge fat woman. (A word to excessively fat people at buffets - if you need the cane to walk, you should not be eating at the buffet or at least not eating further than the salad bar.) We managed to move the table enough so that we both could sit. We ate our soup to the sounds of one of these fat ladies complaining about what people were bringing her to eat - they thought she should be eatting vegetables (wise), she thought she should be getting fried chicken. They were bringing it to her because she was too fat to walk to get it herself (SAD). (This may sound like a rip on fat people - believe me, I am not thin, and I know that some folks are fat and there is not much that can be done about it, but these ladies were a category all onto themselves - they were loud and annoying.) Here we were trapped at this table with little way to get out and I was more and more annoyed that I should not have come to the OCB for dinner this night. We got up to get our salad and made our way again through the maze.

I got to the salad bar and saw an empty table right on the aisle in the main dining room. There was no line and no one looked as if they were about to be seated there. I said to my wife to go get the coats and the ticket. She got the idea and headed for our table. I went right over to the table but as I got there two women were walking to the table and looked like they were going to sit down. Too late! With a grump, I went back to the table where my wife was picking up the coats and told her to leave them - we were still trapped.

We went back out to the salad bar and low and behold the table is empty again - no ticket, no coats. Aha! I sat my wife down and got the coats and ticket. Free! We were now at decent table and looked toward continuing the meal in comfort. But the strangeness of the evening was not over.

It was a restaurant full of people who went up to the buffet bar and stood and stared. Mesmerized, maybe? They did not take anything. They just stood holding an empty plate and stared. Zombies at the OCB?

All around there were plates with food taken, but not eaten and abandoned on the counters of the buffet bars . A hotdog on a bun with ketchup sat for almost an hour before someone took it away to dispose of it.

There was an infant that screemed so deeply that it could not be consoled. It did not want to eat. Nothing the large family that was passing it around could do would stop the screaming. One woman holding the baby suddenly got up and walked away from the table to the middle of the dining room and told the baby, "Now you have done it. We are going to have to leave!" As if this three month old really cared about staying.

All through dinner the English lady, the man and the three girls wandered around, eating while they stood at the buffet servers. A lot of people decided Saturday night that it was ok to stand at the buffet and eat. It was the thing to do!

One more - we are finishing dinner. There are two people who recently sat down behind us. I had a full view of the lady. The man brings her a plate full of brisket - (oh yes, they had barbecue brisket! That was a treat making the evening almost worth the effort. Remember I went because I had a taste for barbecue!) she cut off half of a slice of brisket and put the whole thing in her mouth. A moment later half of it came back out and hung there. Just like a circus seal with a fish in it's mouth, she chewed and chewed on the half still in her mouth and then slurped the rest up and in. She must have chewed for five minutes to get this down. But this was not just a chance occurrence. The next peice was cut and when in - and out the same way. It was time to leave.

We had thought Napkin Man was the oddest person that we had seen at the OCB. He was normal compared to many of these people. (By the way, he has disappeared, never to be heard from or seen.)

I hope that this is not a typical Saturday night at the OCB. Maybe it was the holiday shoppers out for a meal. I hope so!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Leola Restaurant Revisted

A short time ago I wrote a post about the Leola Restaurant in Leola, Pennsylvania on Route 23. I found the buffet to be very disappointing, though I have always liked the restaurant's menu offerings. I made note that the ownership of the restaurant has recently changed.

I visited the restaurant again this week in the afternoon on a Wednesday at lunchtime. I ordered off the menu but I very carefully observed those dining from the buffet and I checked out the buffet bar very closely. What I saw was what I had expected that Sunday night that I had the buffet here. There were the usual buffet items that I was expecting - moist and crisp looking fried chicken, ham balls, and other typical Pennsylvania Dutch-style buffet items. Nothing was dried out. Nothing was sitting in oil or grease. Had this been there that night I would have been delighted.

What is the reason for the difference? It may be that the chef and staff on Sunday are not the same as during the week. This is an area where most local restaurants - buffet restaurants - are closed. This is a very religious area. Also the weekly clientele of this restaurant most likely do not go out to eat on Sunday nights. During the week this restaurant is full of local business people and seniors. Many have been dining and lunching here for years on a regular basis and expect certain things. Those things were missing that Sunday night. They were not missing when I visited here this week - during the week.

The buffet menu also changes from lunch to dinner and at dinner on Wednesday there seemed to be some changes to less common dishes - baked chicken was a feature. It may be that this is a buffet to go to for lunch and not dinner.

I still believe that the new owners who are Greek are a large factor. I overheard a waitress speaking with a customer. She was asked about the cakes in the display case in the lobby. She told them about the usual layer cakes, etc. but then said that she could not even pronounce the names of some of the pastry there - "they are Greek", she said and then made a face. Not too many of these pastries are going to be sold when even the wait staff are not familiar with them or would recommend them. I do not give this owner long to seek to sell this restaurant. It will not be what I believe he would like it to be and that is a dinner-style restaurant. He has now filled the lobby - which was always a very pleasant, homey country atmosphere with gumball machines. (I saw an elderly lady and a four year old girl bring one of the little toy capsules that comes from the machine up to the register and complain about what or the lack of what was inside. She wanted her quarter back. She got it from the nice cashier (not one of the owners or a relative). These are the Pennsylvania Dutch. They do not allow themselves to be taken advantage of and they want what they want.)

By the way, the menu items that we had were just as they always have been - very good. This is another possible indication that the chef during the week is very different than the chef on Sunday.

Well, I revise my comments in my last post about the Leola Restaurant. Give the buffet a try - but only for lunch and during the week or Saturday. If you do, post a comment and let us know how it is.