Friday, April 20, 2007

CACTUS WILLIES - REVISITED

On July 28, 2006 I reviewed a chain of buffet restaurants on the recommendation of one of our readers. The chain is called Cactus Willies Steak Buffet and there are locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I reviewed their location in Lancaster, PA and at the time I was not totally pleased. I recently commented in an article that I would try the chain again if I ever had the opportunity and give it another chance.

I just had that opportunity and I revisited the same location. This time I was very pleased, and if you read my first review, this time so was my wife. We went on a Sunday evening at about 7:00 pm. The restaurant was busy but there was no wait to get in. The layout and decor is the same as it was a year ago and I will not go into that again. I will say that the decor is pleasant and still tex-mex. Very nice.

There was a greater variety in food than the last time that we dined here. This night there were three soups - a beef minestrone, French onion, and New England Clam Chowder. We both tried the beef minestrone and it was excellent. It was also very, very hot - and that is a good thing. The soup was savory and thick. It was a bit different than minestrone that I have had in a good way. The French onion looked good too and I was tempted to go have a bowl of that too, but I decided to move ahead to the rest of the buffet.

The salad bar has all that is necessary to create your own Caesar salad (except croƻtons) and there is also a nice variety of salad greens, salad toppings, and dressings (both regular and fat free). One small point at the salad bar - the mushrooms out for the salad were dark and wet (they may have been pickled mushrooms, but if they were not they had turned).

I moved on next to the steak grill. There was no line at the grill. I asked for a steak rare and the cook at the grill checked a steak, showed it to me, and asked if that was how I wanted it. It was and it was very good. This was definitely a great improvement over the last time. This steak is FAR better than Old Country Buffet, better than some that I have had at Golden Corral, not as good as Ryans, BUT it was GOOD. There is a comment card given to everyone at the end of the meal that asks if the steak was "delicious". I wrote in "Very Good". Delicious is too good. But it was good. (Ok I have said that enough now.)

There were several other good entrees on this night - and one unusual, but good one. There was something that they called "Turkey Pot Roast". It looked like American pot roast - small pieces of meat in a savory gravy with potatoes, carrots, and onions. It looked like beef, BUT it was turkey. And the turkey was brown like beef. It was good. My wife and I, both, are not sure how they got the turkey brown, but it worked and we both enjoyed this.

Barbecue ribs were good. Nicely sauced with barbecue sauce with good meat on the bone. If you have a taste for barbecue these ribs will satisfy that "need".

This restaurant is located in the "Pennsylvania Dutch Country" and a local dish is chicken pot pie, which is not the little pie shell filled with chicken, vegetables, and cream sauce. The dish in this region is pieces of chicken in a broth with dumplings, carrots, and celery. This restaurant serves its own version of this local dish - I am not sure if it is local to this particular location restaurant or if it is chain wide. The chicken pot pie at Cactus Willies is a close approximation of the local favorite. The difference is this dish has pasta squares instead of dumplings. It tasted right and it was satisfying.

There was also grilled chicken on the flame grill. My wife asked if it was marinated or spiced. She was told that it has only chicken broth on it and she said that it was good. It was not spicy and it was appropriately moist. It was not greasy as we experienced a year ago.

On the buffet tables you could also find baked ham (pre-sliced) and fried chicken. The fried chicken was nicely crispy and not greasy. There was a large assortment of potatoes, rice, vegetables, and side dishes. There were plain string beans, creamed spinach, mac and cheese, rice, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, nice French fries, mashed potatoes, kernel corn in butter sauce (much, too much butter sauce), stewed tomatoes, and other sides. Next to the steak grill were good sauteed mushrooms and fried onions. The hot dog server is still at the grill.

There was fried shrimp and broiled salmon. There are signs that say that on Friday nights they now have unlimited steamed shrimp - as well as other shrimp dishes.

There is a taco bar with all of the fixings to make tacos and nachos. There were both moist flour tortillas and crispy corn tortillas. There was also a pasta bar - which is spaghetti, sauce, and meatballs. My wife gave her approval on the spaghetti and meatballs. Near the desserts was good looking pizza.

The dessert bar is long and has everything from puddings and fruit to cakes, cookies, pies, and good soft serve ice cream and sundae bar. The baking is good. My wife tried the bread pudding (an unusual thing for her) and she liked it.

Service is EXCEPTIONAL. The server paid A LOT of ATTENTION to us - and everyone. She cleared away plates immediately and offered drink refills before the glasses were half empty. Excellent service! This was the vocal comment from all of the tables around us - wonderful service from this young lady!

One more minor complaint - as it was getting later and coming near closing time, the men at the grill started to take down the overhead exhaust fan's cover to clean it. They were doing this over the grill's serving area that was still active and serving. It seems to me that this is not something that you want to do when there is still food AND CUSTOMERS around. Anything could have fallen down from that fan vent and into the food unnoticed! We'll just put this to poor judgment on the part of the employees. (I hope.)

So on this revisit to Cactus Willies we could not be more pleased (except for the vent). I am very glad that I decided to give it another try - and if the opportunity presents itself again we will go back. I wish they would expand their locations. It would be great to have one of these on Long Island.

If you see one, try it. Look at the website link at the side of this page and find out where they are. The particular one reviewed is at 101 Roherstown Road in Lancaster, PA (in the Regency Square Shopping Center). You may call them for information at 717-391-7060. They do close earlier than the other chains - 8:30 pm Weeknights and Sundays and 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday. Good steaks, good meal.

1 comment:

Robert A said...

I went back again this past Sunday night to the same Cactus Willies and things were even better - there were croutons on the salad bar,the mushrooms on the salad bar were fresh, and no one was cleaning any vents. There was also the presence of a manager on duty.

Give one a try!