Friday, July 28, 2006

Cactus Willies Steak Buffet and Bakery

On the recommendation of one of our readers I found this buffet chain that is currently celebrating it's tenth anniversary. One of our readers submitted a comment about this buffet chain to our site this past week. I went to the website that he listed and I discovered that the chain has six locations - five in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania. As the Pennsylvania location is in Lancaster and today I happened to be an hour from the restaurant, my wife and I made a special trip. I wish I could say that it was an entirely worthwhile trip, but I am going to have to give this buffet chain a mixed review.

We visited the restaurant on a Friday night. There was a short wait to get in and a man ahead of us made a comment that there had been no wait when he came in the middle of the week. The wait was no problem. You pay ahead of the meal and order your soft drinks. The price of the dinner buffet is $9.49 for adults. Children from 3 to 12 pay $.60 x age. There is a $1.00 senior (60+) discount. Drinks are additional at $1.49 for an unlimited soft drink. They serve Pepsi products. With the drink the price is slightly higher than meals at other chains. There is lunch and breakfast buffets. Adult lunch is $6.79 and breakfast is $7.69. Kids at lunch pay $.50 x age, There is no kids price listed for breakfast. A breakfast feature is steak and eggs. There are extras offered that are usually included at other buffets. There were ten steamed shrimp offered with the buffet for $4.99 - NOT unlimited shrimp for $4.99 plus the buffet price - but 10 shrimp on a plate. There was also a crab legs special similarly offered extra. This was two small crab leg clusters on a plate for $5.99 plus the buffet price. Don't waste your money - I saw both plates (at the cash register) and they are not worth it.

All of the seating was booths. We were seated promptly after paying. A hostess seats you and offers to explain the buffet. You leave your receipt on the table and a server picks it up and brings your drinks. Silverware is on the table with napkins. You get your own plates at the buffet tables. There are four double-sided buffet tables, a grill, and a L-shaped dessert bar. On the buffet tables are signs that say that children under the age of 9 are not allowed at the buffet tables without an adult - WONDERFUL! Though it should be age 12.

To start, at the end of one of the buffet tables were two soups and chili. The two soups this night were minestrone and Italian wedding soup. The minestrone had plenty of vegetables and was good. There is another full buffet table of salad greens, toppings, and dressings. There were prepared salads and a variety of dressings - three fat-free dressings which were the only fat-free offerings in the entire restaurant. All of the salad dressings are Ken's. There is an emphasis in this restaurant on the name brand items served.

The other hot buffet tables have entrees, sides, and vegetables. Here the problems started because there is very little choice of anything plain. Everything was fried, beef, or pork. There was fried chicken, fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried calimari, in fact if it can be fried it was there. There were barbecue pork ribs. They were well-sauced and tasty, but not as good as the St.Louis ribs were at OCB (when they had them). They were not fall off the bone good. They were meaty. The website talks about carvings - this night there were none - and therein lied the problem. My wife looks for plain - not fried - choices and as we were both told very recently to watch our cholesterol intake and this restaurant posed a problem. I felt bad for her that we came because she had a HARD time finding something to eat - which has never happened to her in any buffet restaurant. Many, many people these days must watch their cholorestrol and would be in this same predicament here. There is steak "grilled to order" but in reality is not grilled to order but grilled and set aside until you ask for a piece and then they try to find a piece done the way you want it. Now, a man ahead of me asked for a well done steak and was told that the crowd was too large to wait for a piece of steak well done. There was no one behind us so where was this crowd that prevented this man from getting his well done steak? There is also a sign that limits one steak at a time up at the grill. Ok, but you are not getting a full steak but a two inch by six inch strip. You may come back as many times as you like for another strip. The steak is cooked on a flame grill and the first piece I had was excellent. The second piece was good. The steak here is far better than that at OCB, somewhat better than at Golden Corral, but not as good as the steak at Ryans.

There is also grilled chicken - that is marinated in something and cooked on a flat grill. It was tasty, but not really plain enough to make my wife happy and qas greasy. Also at the grill was a hot dog broiler.

There is a taco bar with soft and hard tortilla shells, along with chips for nachos. There was a good assortment of toppings. The taco meat was tasty but a half hour later I was tasting that taco meat all over again and had some regret that I had eaten the taco. I have had tacos at OCB and Ryans with this never happening. Almost five hours later I am still belching taco. (Sorry to be so descriptive - but ya gotta know)

They claim to have a pasta bar with sauces and meatballs. All that I saw was spaghetti and tomato sauce next to it with shells on another buffet table that were swimming in butter or oil and were meant for the shrimp Alfredo next to it.

We were there on Friday night so perhaps the abundance of fried fish and fried foods was due to the night - but this is not seafood night according to the "special night" menus. There was baked salmon also - one of the few other dishes not fried.

There was a good assortment of vegetables - some plain and some in butter. There was mashed potatoes, French fries, mac and cheese, and sweet potatoes. There was a baked potato bar on the grill. Also at the grill were sauteed mushrooms and onions - for the steak. There was a sign over a vat proclaiming a special bourbon sauce for the steak and chicken.

At the dessert bar you can also find pizza, garlic bread, and rolls. The dessert selection was not bad with an assortment of pies, puddings, mixed puddings, custard, cake, cookies, hot cobblers, fresh fruit, canned fruit, sugar free jello, pudding, and hot apple cobbler, and soft serve ice cream with a sundae bar next to it.

The service was good. The server came readily to pick up plates and offered to bring more drinks. When he first brought a Diet Pepsi, on first taste it was not diet. As soon as we got his attention as he passed the table we told him and he immediately took it to get the right soda. When he brought it he assured us that this new one was correct. The restaurant was clean - I did get a soiled dish, but that happens in most restaurants of this type. The decor is Tex-Mex, but the food is not. The name is deceptive. I would have assumed that this was a Tex-Mex restaurant and not an all-around buffet. In fact, I must have passed this restaurant many times since it has been in this Lancaster location and I never knew that it was there. There is no local advertising that I have seen.(And while I am not a local, I am here many times during the year - for many years now.)

They are currently having a "Superman Returns" scratch off contest to win a year of free meals. We actually won a two dollar off our next dinner coupon. (But do I want to go back?)

Now, if you do not care about Cholesterol or your heart, I must say that the food was tasty and for the most part good. Many people in the restaurant around us appeared to be enjoying everything and some seemed to be "regulars". Had there been some sliced turkey, perhaps - or a few plainer choices that were not fried, we would have had a meal more of what we usually expect at a chain buffet. The interesting thing is that there was turkey gravy out, but no turkey. Let me put it this way, at almost every buffet that I have been to, there is always something to keep everyone satisfied. I could not say that about Cactus Willies. I could not expect my wife to just eat salad and vegetables. When she walked from hot table to hot table three times with an empty plate, I felt real bad. If we ever do go back (with our two dollar off coupon) it will not be on a Friday night - but then again, should I take that chance and disappoint her again (she is a real good wife and very good to me).


Robert A said...

A side note -

When I checked the website for this chain before visiting this restaurant, I looked for a nutrition listing for their menu items. This is commonly found on the chain buffet sites. Cactus Willies has NONE. I did email them askeing about this two days ago - and got NO response. Perhaps this should have been a clue to what would be found there.

Faustian said...

Me again, the guy who told you about it :)

Sorry your wife wasn't happy with it. But I would like to add there are 2 locations in PA, the other is just outside, South of Hanover which is not mentioned on there site. I found the one in PA to have less choices then the one I normaly go to in Westminster MD. I have only been to the Westminster and Hanover locations. Westminster was the better of the two. There is probably a 30% larger selection there. So if you ever find your self near Westminster, maybe give it a second try. Save your coupon for this location ;)

Wen said...

I'm a LancCo resident and we frequent CW pretty often. Firstly, there is quite a large section of table seating, two sections actually, but they are both toward the back of the restaurant. So if they seated you close to the buffet itself, you'd probalby not have even noticed it.

Secondly, one of the things we really like about this place is that its perfect for kids... and we have 3. Minimal waiting, tons to offer, kids options galore and ice cream. Its a no brainer.

For us... eh. You're right. This restaurant seems out of place in the boiled and baked land of Central PA. Its much more like something I'd expect to find in my home state of AL. Fried, glazed and sauteed in buttah. However, my hubby and I are low-carbers (when we are behaving ourselves) and CW is a great place to go for that. There is protein-o-plenty with the steak, chicken and fish offerings. And always always ALWAYS good green, orange and yellow veggies to scoop up. And that is pretty rare here in Starch-ville... land of chicken-n-waffles, chicken corn soup (as if the noodles aren't enough starch, you gotta add a pound of corn too) and everything with a side of dumplings.

So... depends on your stage of life I suppose. I do wish it was cleaner. Seems the floor has a permanent coating of grease on it, and the place could use a hosing down with amonia to literally CUT the grease off of the furniture.

All in all, we keep it on our frequent list, because its easy to get out with the kiddos and have some low carb options.

Just my two cents.... nice review, btw!

Robert A said...

Wen -

You will find a number of Lancaster restaurants reviewed on our site.

We found Cactus Willies at just the wrong time for us - so I had to review it based on the dilema that it posed. We were both diagnosed with high cholesterol a few days before our visit - and my wife was told that she has Diabetes. So we had to look for low to moderate carbs that combined with low fat.

As you will find in several of my articles, my wife is a picky eater to start with, so with all that we were dealing with and walking in on a buffet predomently covered in fried, breaded foods, she had a problem. I decided to cheat and tasted a bit more than I should have - as said it was all good. Most buffets have more plain broiled poultry regularly offered. Had there been a turkey carving she would have been fine. There wasn't on the night that we went and that made it difficult to be "good".

I am glad that you could give our readers another positive point of view.

I should have added that another plus to this restaurant in this particular area is that it is open on Sunday night and it is opened other nights later than 8pm. Most buffets in the Lancaster area are closed Sundays, all day and are only opened when they are open until 8.

I am sure that sooner or later we will be looking for a restaurant when we are in the area on a Sunday night and we will give it another try. I will wait awhile though for health concerns to lessen.

Oh and by the way, I love chicken and waffles, Lancaster style.

Thanks again, Appreciate the comment!