Saturday, May 27, 2006

Stephens City Buffet - Stephens City, Virginia

Just south of Winchester, Virginia in the northern section of the Shenandoah Valley is Stephens City. We were looking for a buffet restaurant in the Winchester area and other than the Golden Corral and a buffet located at a truck stop, which at best that we could learn was only a soup and salad bar served with the menu, what we could find was a restaurant called the Western Steer Buffet and Bakery in Stephens City. I did a quick Internet search and learned that this was a chain buffet, but could not find anything about this specific one. We decided that we would head out the ten miles south on US I81 and take a look. If it appeared good on the outside - as if that is a way to know - we would give it a try. We took down the location of the Golden Corral, just in case. So off we went.

We got off the correct exit and drove in the direction of the restaurant, We saw a large sign, high over the road - "BUFFET". We turned toward the sign - but it did not say Western Steer. The top part was blank and on the changeable sign board below it said Stephens City Buffet and then lunch $4.99, dinner $7.99. We turned in to the parking lot and parked. There were several cars in the lot and an elderly couple coming out of the door. I looked into the window and it looked large inside. There was a large buffet set up. My wife looked through the glass and agreed that it seemed nice enough. We double checked the address and this was the place. We decided to go in. As we went into the entrance door I commented that it seemed big through the window and my wife then said, "unless that was a mirror." We got up to the cashier desk and yes, there was a mirror. It was still large enough, but not quite so as it seemed.

You pay here as you enter. It is $7.99 and this is a Saturday night. The price does not seem to change. Soft drinks are $1.59 each and are refillable by your server. At dessert you may convert your beverage to coffee. There is a dining room at the side of the large buffet area and there are two dining rooms in an adjacent area. One is a room for private parties. At the cashier on the wall are menu items that you may order with or instead of the buffet. The buffet is $5.99 with any entree. Mostly these were steaks and burgers. There was an all you can eat crab legs menu item - this was outrageously priced at $35.99. Oh my! So don't come for the crab legs.

The restaurant was very empty. There were a few diners but not many, especially for a Saturday night - or a holiday weekend in a tourist oriented area. We were in at 7:30 - too late? Later after 8 more people came in along with a large party heading for the private room.

You seat yourself at tables or booths. Your server greets you and brings you your drinks. She also brings a large stack of napkins. The servers here are VERY nice. This is the South, after all!

We went up for soup first which was at the end of one of two entree steam tables. There were four soups. Here I first began to wonder if we should have not come in. The soup tureens in the steam table were crusted at the tops with dried soup. All of them. There was a red soup, a brown soup, a cream soup, and what appeared to be chicken noodle soup. I took the ladle of the noodle soup and gave its contents a stir. It was very thick. After a bit of stirring it looked more like chicken noodle soup and I ladled it into a bowl. It looked ok. Back at the table, it was very salty. It had fresh made noodles that had broken down. Under the salt taste it was good. But I was still turned off by the crusty pots.

Next we were up to the salad bar. There was a long salad bar with greens and fixings, prepared salads, Caesar salad greens and fixings, ripe, wedged, whole tomatoes, peel and eat cold shrimp, and prepared salads. There was a section of cut up fresh fruit and whole apples. Some of the prepared salads at the end of the table looked dried out - chicken salad and two indeterminable salads all looked VERY unappetizing. I again said to myself, "Oh boy!" The greens. fresh vegetables, and toppings looked ok and I made a tomato salad with some pepperoni on the side and some olives. It was good. But those dried out salads lingered in my mind.

The hot entrees and sides were next. There were two buffet tables - one long and one short. There was an interesting assortment of meats. There was a large bbq pork shoulder. The meat fell off the large bone with the serving tongs - as it should and you could pull yourself off some pork bbq. There was a spread of bbq sauce over the shoulder, but none on the side and the pork needed some. The pork was warm, but not hot. (It should have been.) There was steak - pre-cooked and over done. Toward the end of the meal more steak was being cooked just behind that serving table in view. I went and got another fresh piece. It was not much better than the first - a little moister but just as over done. When I went for sides I took corn which was a mix of yellow corn and hominy - I know it was hominy because there were large cans of vegetables about as decoration - or quick grabs? - and one of them was hominy and it looked like what was in with the yellow corn. I went to take mashed potatoes and a large fly buzzed over the serving spoon as I lifted it out of the potatoes. The spoon went right back in. Again, oh boy! Now, my mind is running with the thought of flys and their offspring, maggots. I went to the other serving table and took some french fries.

My wife commented that the food did not seem like restaurant food - that it was more like home cooking. And she was right. Actually, the food was not bad and most seemed to be home style, if not actual home cooking. The fried chicken was very good with a light home like crust. There was also baked chicken, which my wife says was ok. There was hot, spiced peel and eat shrimp. It was good with Old Bay seasoning on it. It was not overcooked and the spice was just right - not too heavy. There was liver - if you like that. There were fried chicken strips that we first thought was fried fish. There were fresh made biscuits that were very good. There was a taco bar, but the taco meat was mixed with beans and was dry looking. It needed stirring. I passed.

As more people came in, buffet staff seemed to realize that things needed tending. The tray of dry looking baked beans was removed, an empty tray put in its spot and then the beans were poured in. Now they looked as they should - no longer dried out. The temperature of the steam tables were turned up and water added under some of the trays. Now steam was visibly rising from the trays. Too late. This is apple country. A try of fried apples was brought out. My wife took some - they were good but not sweet.

Dessert appeared to be baked at the counter, but each item looked like it came from a box - the apple pie, mini-donuts, glazed cake donuts, and cookies. There were two dishes of cookies - both chocolate chip. One was chewy, the other seemed crisp and from a box. There were mini apple turnovers - these were dry. There were two trays of hot cake like puddings. Both looked dried out. There is an ice cream machine which was definitely ice milk and not good.

Service was attentive. Dishes were cleared readily and drinks were continutally brought to the table. The server kept checking in to make sure that all was well.

My opinion of this buffet is based on the maintenance of the food on the buffet tables and not the taste. What we took tasted good. But there were many things that I would not take because they were dried out, crusty, or looked like they sat too long. There was too much out for the number of people dining and not enough was taken to keep it fresh. Things needed to be stirred. Things needed liquid added to them. Frankly, I wondered if we were not going to feel sick after the meal - WE DID NOT. I want to repeat that - we were OK after the meal. But why should one have to wonder?

Evidently, this was once - not too long ago - part of the Western Steer chain (which has no website to find out about the chain, but I know that there is - or there was - one in Orlando, Fl and one in Elkin, West Virginia). Why is this no longer part of the chain - any number of reasons - and I do not know. Perhaps they did not keep the standards? I do not know. The restaurant was CLEAN. The ladies room was very good. The mens room was OK food was ok. It needed TENDING.

I will say in conclusion that this buffet is FAIR. It is not bad. It is not good. I would not recommend it. I might try it again (if I am in this part of Virginia again), but honestly, I have to say perhaps not.

An aside is that there were signs posted that say that Virginia State law requires that a clean plate be taken each time - how nice ! Perhaps the Stae of Virginia has read the rules of buffets posted on this site. Each should be a law in every state! There were also signs posted saying that they are required to check the temperature of the food three times a day and they must tell the patrons what it is supposed to be; this too was posted. Though I am not quite sure that it was accurate.

The restaurant is located at 131 Town Run Lane in Stephens City, Virginia. There is no website. The phone number is 540-869-6907. The buffet closes at 9:00 pm and the hot tables are closed down at 9:30 - this is posted and is fair notice. Should you try it? Maybe not.


Anonymous said...

When this was a Western Steer it was my father in-laws favorite place to eat. He lives near Stephens City and our family would trave from the DC area to meet him there for birthday, father's day, etc. It was a terrific buffet. Food was always fresh and well maintained. The restaurant was closed for renovations and when it reopened it was never quite as good. When we were there last summer, it was so bad, the selection so poor, one of our party asked the waitress when the restaurant was going to close. We returned this past Sunday, 12/31/06 and the name on the sign has been changed to Prime Steak. The buffet selections were much improved. We arrived about 11:30am and the restaurant had only 3 or 4 other groups. By the time we left an hour or so later, it was 3/4's full. It' not completely back to its original quality but it seems to be headed in that direction

Anonymous said...

I used to work for Western Steer in Stephens City, VA. The owner's decided to not buy in to the franchise again because of the costs involved, which is when they changed their name to Stephens City Buffet. I am not sure why they finally decided to buy in to the Prime Sirloin name, but my guess is because food quality was going way down hill and revenue was affected as well...well that and the fact that they own a Prime Sirloin in Duncansville, PA. I have not worked for the owners in several years, but still live in Stephens City. As you drive by the location, the sign now says, CLOSED. My guess is that they never got the same delicious quality of food as they once had.