Friday, August 03, 2007

Old Town Buffet - A Small Buffet Chain in PA and NJ

I found this small buffet chain from a comment made to one of my articles. I had listed the Old Town Buffet as one of the various name incarnations of the Old Country Buffet corporate run restaurants and was corrected that no, this was not one of their restaurants. Hmm. I thought that I had seen this name somewhere, but had no idea where. I did a search and low and behold - there is a chain of four restaurants located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The website called these buffets "international" and showed carvings and steaks being charbroiled on a grill in the middle of the restaurant. They also spoke about sushi. I had the feeling that this was a chain of Chinese buffets, but that was not what their website was describing. The feeling that I was getting looking at the photos and reading the description was an all around buffet.

Now, finding a buffet chain in New Jersey (other than OCB) was exciting. I am in New Jersey several times during the year on business related trips and have looked for buffets to try. I have not found any - other than one not so good Chinese buffet that I have written about - and usually we just head back to New York at the end of the day and eat locally near home. I have figured that other than the buffets in the casinos in Atlantic City there must be buffets in New Jersey. So now I have found a chain. There are actually two locations in the State of New Jersey and two locations in Pennsylvania. The two in New Jersey are not exactly near the areas that I travel to - but it was encouraging to see on this Internet site that there was something.

On this trip to eastern Pennsylvania I decided to find one of these restaurants. We drove one hour away from where we are staying (with gas at $3.00 per gallon) to eat at The Old Town Buffet in Abington, Pennsylvania. I am going to write this article with the assumption that one location of these four restaurants is the same as any other.

The Old Town Buffet, despite website descriptions, is just another Chinese buffet. It does have an extensive variety of foods, but when all is put together, this is a chain of Chinese buffets. So is it good? It is ok. Not great, not bad, better than some but not as good as many.

This particular restaurant is located in a shopping center. It is part of the ground floor of a Target store that occupies the floor above. The restaurant is under the store. The restaurant is large (not as large as Target) and is entered from a long hallway that runs along the side of the dining room. The door to the hall is from the parking lot and the hall is lined with an odd assortment of chairs and benches - including two bench seats from a van. The implication from this is that at times there is a significant wait to get into this restaurant and this is the seating area for those who are waiting. At the end of the hall, in the hall is a reception desk and this is where you are greeted and get your table. We went on a Thursday night and we got to the restaurant late for a weeknight at 8:00, though the restaurant hours every night are claimed to be to 10:30 pm. We were seated right away and the restaurant was not empty. Other diners came in after we were seated.

The prices are clearly displayed on a sign on the wall over the cashier, but as you come in and brought to your table you may not notice it there. There are lunch and dinner prices. Weekday dinner is $11.95, adult, and $6.25, children. On Friday to Sunday, dinner is $13.75, adult, and $7.25, children. Lunch is $7.45, adult, and $4.25, children - Monday to Friday. On Saturday lunch is $8.45, adult, and $4.95, children. Sunday lunch is $10.95, adult, and $6.25, children - until 3pm. All other lunch hours stop at 3:30pm. The restaurant opens at 11 am. All prices for all meals include soft drinks (making the price a bit more reasonable than it appears). They have very specific definitions of children - children are from 3 years to 10 years and if the child is over four foot ten inches tall, you must prove the child's age. There is also a great rule that children under ten are not to go to the buffet tables unescorted by an adult. (Actually, there were a few children up at the buffet who should have been with an adult and no one said anything.) The website claims that there is a senior discount for 55 and over. There does not seem to be any indication of this in the restaurant.

So, as I said, the restaurant is large inside. There are booths and tables surrounding a large buffet area in the middle and the back of the restaurant. There are the equivalent of six double sided, double buffet tables plus a large island in the middle with a Mongolian barbecue, sushi bar, carving station, and charbroil grill. Yes, everything on the website is here in some form or another. Four of the double double servers are in the middle and two very long servers are along the wall - together, the equivalent of seven servers. When you are seated a large wooden bowl is placed on your table for crab leg shells and inside the bowl are a stack of napkins plus several wet-naps.

The server along one wall has five soup choices - all the usual Chinese soups including seafood soup. There is also clam chowder. There were also two rice steamers here for white and fried rice but these were empty with these items in trays on another table. Across the room was a cold table that was three quarters filled with salads and cold seafood, including raw clams and steamed cocktail shrimp. There was greens and toppings with several dressings along with several prepared salads including chicken salad and a seafood salad. The remainder of the table had fruits and puddings for dessert. Behind this table along the back wall was another cold table full of the usual assortment of Chinese buffet "Little Debbie"-type cakes, cookies, and an ice cream soft serve machine.

Jumping back to the front of the serving area is a large grill island surounded on all sides with hot and cold servers. On the front end is the sushi bar. There was an interesting assortment of sushi - a variety of raw fish and some interesting rolls including an Alaskan Roll that was mashed raw salmon with crab rolled in rice and seaweed with sesame seeds on the outside. These were pretty good. Two sides of the island have the incredients for the Mongolian barbecue - all the usual meats and raw vegetables including shrimp and noodles. There were two sauces to put on the mixture - one hot and spicy and the other mild. There was also chopped garlic to add. I began to spoon the sauce on and the bowl was taken from me for the grill chef to put it on. The grill is a round grill about a yard in diameter - smaller than some, but more than adequate (unless there is a crowd waiting). The grill chef did a good job and moved the mix of ingredients around the grill in a circle as it cooks. The raw mix is handed to the chef in metal or wood bowls and then when cooked are placed into a clean dinner plate. On the other side of the grill is the carving station which offered turkey breast, a very over done roast beef and a tray of spare ribs that were coated in that sweet red sauce that Chinese buffets like to pour ober their spare ribs. There were also trays of raw "New York' steaks, raw salmon steaks, and shrimp on skewers. You select these and give them to the grill chef to be charbroiled. The steak was far from "New York" steaks - they were more like beef round slice to less than half an inch thick. For some reason the steak did not char on the grill and barely browned. There was a layer of fat on the edge which would not cut with the steak when eating. There were no salmon steaks when we arrived and there were no salmon steaks when we left. There were large shrimp in the shell to be grilled.

On the hot buffet tables there was a wide assortment of Chinese appetizers to American side dishes. There were three types of potatoes - mashed, french fries, and potato wedges cooked in butter. There was corn on the cob. There was macaroni and cheese and there was a baked seafood dish covered in cheese. There were crab legs - just single legs and not clusters. There was also hot rock crab - the large hard-shell crabs that seemed baked. To round out the shell fish there were steamed crawfish. There was broiled salmon. There were several Chinese chicken dishes and seafood dishes.

It all sounds great and plentiful - plentiful, yes - tasty - well, it varied. Nothing was bad. BUT nothing stood out as terrific. I did not find anything that I would say that particularly stood out and that I could say I really, really liked of all of the hot foods. I tried the Mongolian barbecue and made a dish of noodles, cabbage, two types of mushrooms, beansprouts , shrimp and beef. It was all good but the beef -which despite the seasoned sauce was bland. The best thing that I had was the soft serve ice cream - which my wife agreed was the best thing that she had in the entire meal. It was creamy and tasty. If only the entrees were equally tasty.

Now, I did "eat my full" and I was more than satisfied after the meal. I just wish that it was better. Would I go back again? Only if I was in the locale of one of the four restaurants in the chain - it was not worth the 120 to 140 mile round trip from and back to my hotel. (Some buffets would be worth the trip!)

Something else that is very important to note - this restaurant hours every night are posted to 10:30 pm. At 9:00 pm with a good number of diners still in the restaurant they started to clean the restaurant to get ready to close. The tile floors in the service areas were washed with ammonia and bleach with an odor so strong that the smell came to our table and I was gagging. The Mongolian grill was washed down at 9:25 with no announcement asking if anyone cared for more. Essentially the restaurant was closing an hour earlier than posted. As we were leaving someone came to the door and asked if they were opened. He was told that he could come in but only what was still out would be available to him. If you post a 10:30 closing and you actually close an hour earlier then it should be posted that the last seating is X time. They do not do this.

The service was good. Plates were cleared from the tables quickly and drinks were offered without asking. At one point my soda glass was empty and I thought that the server was ignoring me as I tried to get his attention to let him know I wanted more. When I finally caught his eye as he was walking across the dining room he actually had another soda for me in his hand - before I asked. The restaurant was clean. The floors were clean. The room was pleasantly decorated. The logo for this restaurant is OTB and is on the servers shirts. (OTB - OCB?)

There are four locations - Abington, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Morristown, NJ; and Eatontown, NJ (near Monmouth). A fifth location is coming soon to New Brunswick, NJ. If you are near one of these towns or traveling through NEAR BY then try Old Town Buffet. It is a lot of different food for a reasonable price. You will not come out saying that it was the best buffet that you have ever eaten at, but you will be satisfied with the amount you are offered. If you are looking for great taste, keep going. There is a website for the chain and that is listed at the side of the page. If you have been to one of these Old Town Buffets, please share your opinion with us in the comments.

1 comment:

Albert said...

East Brunswick,NJ location. This location has clams on the half-shell,snow crab claws and clusters,rock crab,and my favorite,shucked oysters. The 13.75 price tag is small considering I usually start out with 4 or 5 dozen of the oysters which are suprisingly sweet and good quality. Anything extra is just icing on the cake.Soups are good. The Dim Sum is above average,the sauces are fresh,and the salad bar is above average. The other foods as you have reported are ok,not great. Service is OK,but I had to ask for Drink refills several times. I have an eight year old who is tall for her age and when they askme her age,they look at me like Im lieing. The place is kept clean,including the bathrooms. I live 20 minutes away so I frequent this location about every 2 weeks. Its pretty consistant and a good value for patrons that like seafood.