Friday, September 28, 2007

Golden Corral - Colonie, New York

On a trip two hundred miles north to Albany, NY to visit a friend, I was surprised to find a Golden Corral in New York State. It is in a suburb of Albany called Colonie and, as I have discovered, is one of two in this region. The other is in Saratoga Springs about thirty five miles further north. These are the only two Golden Corral restaurants in New York State. We decided to see how it is and had dinner.

As I have written about Golden Corral in general in the past I will not go into the general details of Golden Corral, but I will focus on this particular location. The restaurant is very much like the other Golden Corral restaurants that I have tried. The dining rooms are actually a little nicer with the dining rooms partitioned into sections and the partitions pleasantly decorated as walls that would be in a home including framed windows looking between the dining rooms. It was very homey and nice.

I have been to a few Golden Corral restaurants recently on my trip South. This New York Golden Corral had more vegetable offerings on the hot buffet. It did have less salad offerings though. The recent feature on the salad bars at Golden Corral is something called Greenhouse Select and they had this in Albany, but its presentation was not as elaborate as a Golden Corral that I was at in North Carolina two weeks prior. The Greenhouse select are salad toppings of meats to create salads with steak or chicken slices. In the Golden Corral in North Carolina there were special salad plates to use for this feature and what seemed like more toppings. Here is was just mixed in to the salad bar. Golden Corrals also usually have a special section to create Caesar salads - the items were here, but they too were mixed into the other salads. There also seemed to be less prepared salads offered. One problem at this location is that the salad dressings are labeled on the glass over the dressings, BUT they did not correspond. I thought that I was taking Thousand Island Dressing and got Honey Mustard. The sign over the dish said Thousand Island - this seemed to hold true for the other dressings as well.

The grill was serving steaks, pork steaks, and carving a whole turkey. The pork steaks were very tasty. The Golden Corral says that there should be "slow roasted" sirloin at dinner meals, but this was not being served here.

The gentlemen working the grill did not seem to understand English well. My wife asked for some Turkey - he told her it was chicken - it was turkey. He had some difficulty understanding the terms for the doneness of steaks on the grill - and what he had prepared was all well done. Several dinners were told to come back in ten minutes for more steaks to cook to rare, medium rare, and medium well. When I went back after ten minutes a man in front of me asked for Medium Rare. He was told that there was none - still. He went away grumbling - and rightly so. I decided to ask anyway - and I too was told that there was no medium rare - so I asked what he had. He picked up a steak from the grill and cut into it - it was perfectly medium rare. I told him to give that one to me. There were several unhappy guests because this guy did not know what medium rare is or he did not understand what we were asking him for. There are two things that can make or break your dining experience at a Golden Corral - any Golden Corral. A good grill chef is one of them.

The other is your server. Because of the procedure followed at Golden Corral restaurants, you are given a plate when you pay when you enter and then your server brings you more clean plates. There are no dinner plates on the buffet. This is a remnant from the days when Golden Corral had table service in addition to the buffet. They prevented someone who ordered from the menu from going to the buffet and taking food by handing out the buffet dishes one by one. The menu is gone but the practice continues. Your server will both refill your drinks and give you clean plates - no going up to the buffet without a CLEAN plate. If you have a poor server you will wait a long time before and if you get another plate (or a soft drink refill). When have had some poor servers at Golden Corral that make you wish you had gone somewhere else to eat. I must say that our server in Colonie was EXCELLENT. We had more plates than we needed and she made sure our drinks were full. (What a surprise for a New York location!)

The restaurant was clean. As for the restrooms, my wife told me that the ladies room was well maintained, but I found the men's room to be needing maintenance.

If you are in eastern, upstate New York give the Golden Corral in Colonie a try. You will not find other Golden Corrals until you get to New Jersey and western PA. The address is 1901 Central Avenue in Colonie (this is Route 5). The phone number is (518)862-1520. The hours listed stated that closing is 9:00 pm every night - which is early for Golden Corral.

When you go to a buffet, tell them where you read about them!

I am breaking with the usual posting schedule and posting this extra brief article before I post the new buffet article.

When you dine at a buffet that you read about here, please tell the manager where you read about them - at The Art of the Buffet at This way the buffet owners will start to get the idea that there is a place that is actually paying attention to their restaurant and letting others know about them. They may then come and see both the good and the not so good about their restaurant and others.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Golden Leaf Restaurant - Williamsburg, Virginia

The Golden Leaf Restaurant is a Chinese buffet located in Williamsburg, Virginia that we found looking through a free tourist magazine advertising businesses in the area. We decided to give it a try. The ad stated that it is located next to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It is in a large building that is houses three businesses – this restaurant, a souvenir store that is actually part of this restaurant, and an Italian pizza restaurant (which was doing much more business than this buffet). The ad also stated that there are over one hundred items on the buffet every day. This a new recent – less than one year open.

We went into the restaurant to find a small, pleasantly decorated restaurant with two single buffet servers filling the middle with two small dining rooms on each side. We were shown to our table and our soft drink orders were taken. There were no prices visible anywhere – no sign of any kind near the cashier that was near the entrance door. We had a coupon for ten percent off from the tourist magazine. At the end of the meal we discovered that the adult price is $9.75. We asked about the other prices and learned that this is the price every day. Children under 3 are free and children to 10 are $5.95 and over ten are $6.95. We did not learn if there is a lower price at lunch. There may be. Soda with unlimited refills is $1.00 and is refillable. They also serve beer and wine – not refillable.

We went on a Wednesday night in the midst of a busy tourist area and this restaurant was almost empty. From 6pm to 7:30pm there were maybe five tables filled the entire time. Other restaurants including the pizza place next door were crowded judging by the parking lots that we drove past.

We went up to start with soup. There were the three usual, basic Chinese restaurant soups – wonton soup, egg drop soup, and hot and sour soup. There was just one wonton left in the wonton soup tray with plenty of broth left. I took the single wonton while my wife decided to move on to something else to start and come back for wonton soup when it was refilled. I also took a bit of the hot and sour soup to taste. The broth was light and pleasant – the wontons were light noodles with a very light meat filling. The soup was ok - the wontons could have been better. The hot and sour soup was very much on the hot spicy side. If you like your hot and sour real hot and spicy then you will like this soup.

The ads talked about the various types of sushi that was served and I went for sushi next. There were just two types of artificial crab meat rolls – one with the seaweed wrapped around the outside and one with the seaweed wrapped around the inside. There was also a cold steamed shrimp laid over a lump of rice. The ad had shown a whole assortment of rolls that were not on the server. The crab rolls were crunchy and a bit sweet – not bad, but I was expecting sushi and this was not what I had in mind. There were also raw muscles and cold steamed shrimp. The shrimp were nicely sized and properly cold served over a thick bed of ice. I took some of the thick cocktail sauce that was in a small bowl next to the shrimp. The shrimp were good. The cocktail sauce was too thick and heavy on the tomato with an odd seasoning that I did not expect in the taste. It was ok.

There was a small salad bar that was just lettuce with dressings and very few toppings. It was somewhat lost in the cold dessert server and could easily be missed unless you went looking for salad.

The next things that I tried were the two types of dumplings that they had. Both were the same – one pan fried and one steamed. There was what I thought was the usual dumpling sauce. After I covered my dumplings and got back to the table I discovered that the dumpling sauce was full of bits of hot red peppers and pepper oil. The sauce was very spicy and hot and not what I have encountered in other restaurants. Again, if you love hot then you will like this sauce. The dumplings, both types, were good. They were light noodles and tasty filling.

The egg rolls were good. They were much better than the average Chinese buffet egg rolls. The filling was good and the outside was crispy. There were spring rolls. There was crab Rangoon – little pockets of dough fried with a mixture of crab and cream cheese inside. There was barbecued chicken on a stick that was covered in the sweet red sauce that seems to be the favorite of Chinese buffets everywhere. There were spare ribs but they were in a very wet brown sauce and I did not try them for that reason.

It was time to try the entrees and there were not many. There are hot, steamed king crab leg clusters of a nice size, but if you take these from the buffet server you will be charged $5.00 more on your meal price. There was a baked crab dish with a yellow cheese baked on top. This was very good and similar to some of the local crab dishes served in some of the seafood restaurants in the Chesapeake area. There were four or five chicken dishes – the majority of them spicy. There was General Tso Chicken and Sesame Chicken – both the same but the sesame chicken is not spicy. There was black pepper chicken that was mildly spicy. Missing were the usual beef and peppers and chicken and broccoli. There was a shrimp dish of shrimp tossed with fake crab legs in a light buttery sauce. These shrimp were very good. There was egg foo young with the sauce on the side. There were boneless fried chicken pieces with sweet and sour sauce on the side. There was broiled chicken on the bone and there were fried shrimp. There was a Mongolian beef dish that had beef in a dark sauce, but the thin sliced beef was too chewy. There was a dish of shrimp with walnuts that had a thick white sweet, mayonnaise based sauce. There were Chinese string beans, French fries, and chunks of potatoes. There was lo mein and fried rice. It does not sound like it here but the entrees were actually sparse compared to many Chinese buffets. It was a bit difficult to find something and then go back and try something else. Don’t get me wrong, I was not hungry when I left but I kept looking for something to take that I really wanted to try - and wound up taking more of the shrimp and baked crab. There was also pizza that despite looking like Chinese buffet pizza was pretty good.

Dessert was less than usually found but there were a number of nice choices. There was a try of chocolate chip cookies, one tray of the usual Little Debbie type cake – a different chocolate cake than is usually seen, small cream puffs, pudding, jello, melon, watermelon, orange wedges, and soft serve ice cream. There were two hot desserts mixed into the hot buffet table. These were a hot apple filled pastry roll and a hot strawberry filled pastry roll. These were very good and the best dessert choice. The soft ice cream had a custard taste making this a bit different than the usual soft serve.

My wife counted the items on all of the buffet servers and came up with only seventy – not the hundred as advertised – and she was being generous in her count including condiments, sauces, and counting vanilla soft serve separate from the chocolate soft serve. Was there enough to eat – sure, but if you say 100 items there should be 100 items – and there was no more room on any server to put anything else out.

Service was very good. Young Chinese women came around to clear dishes from tables and refill sodas. The room was clean – table, floors, buffet server. There were knives out for the taking. Serving trays were quickly refilled as they got near empty and everything was kept stirred. The décor was simple and very pleasant. It was a light airy room. This is a nice quiet restaurant where dinner conversation is easy to hear. They have a take out menu and they will do take out buffet by the pound.

This would be a good small neighborhood Chinese buffet. Unfortunately, it is located in a prime tourist area where there are restaurants every hundred yards and in the way of other buffets there is strong competition and better choices in both Chinese buffets and standard American fare buffets. If this was located somewhere else I would say definitely go there – it is inexpensive and we had a pleasant dinner. The food is not GREAT but it is good. If this were near home I would go back – but here in Williamsburg it is competing with what is perhaps the best Chinese buffet that I have ever eaten in and that is Peking Buffet located just down the road from Golden Leaf. The meal there is a little more expensive but the food is better and it is far more extensive. (Look for my review in the archives.) The Golden Leaf is much better than the Shanghai Buffet also in this area – see my review in the archives and the comments that have been left about that restaurant.

But I want to be fair to this restaurant. It is nice. It is simple. It is a good value. I would recommend it – but not as a first Chinese buffet choice in this area. We both felt fine after eating here - no MSG headaches or sour stomachs. (Hey, that could be the most important recommendation for any restaurant!)

The Golden Leaf is located at 1665 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185 in the same building with Chanellos Pizza. The telephone number is (757) 220-5862. We did not get the hours but they are open seven days a week. Call for the closing time if it is late. There are ten percent off coupons in the local tourist magazines that are free all over town and seniors over 65 get a ten percent discount all of the time. There is no website. If you want to try another Chinese buffet in the Williamsburg area this is one to try.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hong Kong King Buffet, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The last time that I was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina was about five years ago. At that time I found one of the very few western-themed buffet restaurants that was part of the Old Country Buffet family at that time (it no longer exists.) I knew that this buffet had gone out of business but was curious as to what may have taken its place. On this trip "South" I went back to the location and found the Hong Kong King Buffet. So what am doing eating in a Chinese buffet in North Carolina when I should be eating the local version of barbecue (shredded, slow cooked pork in a vinegar sauce)? Well, I could not resist seeing how an Old Country Buffet (even under another name) converted over to a Chinese buffet.

I must say it was interesting to see the entire OCB layout inside the restaurant. The usual OCB curtain-topped walls along the booths are now topped with glass partitions with Oriental designs etched into them. The pictures on the wall that were once western themed are now pictures of Hong Kong.

So how was the Hong Kong King Buffet? It was good and for the price of $8.99 per adult was exceptional in what is offered. Let me begin as I usually do in telling you about this buffet.

As I said this space once was an OCB and all of the booths, all of the tables, and some of the serving areas are the same. This is a really big restaurant. We went on a Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm and there were diners spread through all of the dining areas. Had this been a more conventionally sized restaurant for a Chinese buffet it would have appeared very busy, but because of the size and layout, it looked sparse (but wasn't). Now this is North Carolina - the home of most of the tobacco and cigarette companies and smoking is not so frowned upon in these here parts. So this restaurant has a smoking section - which for a buffet is very unusual. We asked for a non-smoking table only to find later on that we were sitting on the edge of the smoking section - and the smoking section is right at the edge of the buffet serving area - well, this is North Carolina.

This restaurant had six double sided buffet servers plus a Mongolian grill. There was also a server along one wall. Prices at this buffet are very reasonable - Dinner is $8.99 per adult and $6.99 for children ages 6 to 10. There is also a younger child price from age 3 to 5 at $4.99. Now, there are king crab legs on the buffet, BUT if you want these there is an additional $5.00 charge for all you care to eat. On their website there is a current weekend offer that adds unlimited lobster to that same $5.00 additional charge- which is not bad (I am not sure how they serve the lobster (whole or pieces).) There is a lunch menu for $6.99, $4.99, NS $2.99 , respectively. Now all of these prices are from Monday to Thursday for dinner and to Friday for lunch. Saturday AND Sunday lunch is $7.99, $4.99, and $3.99. Lunch ends at 3:45. Dinner prices on Friday to Sunday are adults $9.99, children 5 to 10 $6.99 and children 3 to 5 $4.99. The crab leg charge at dinners is always $5.00. There is a clear sign over the crab legs on the buffet table that if you take crab legs on your plate you will be charged $5.00. There is a ten percent discount for seniors over 65 at all times. Soft drinks are $1.50 with unlimited refills - all Pepsi products. Hours for this restaurant are from 11:00 am until 9:30 pm and !0:30 pm Friday and Saturday.

To start off there is an extensive salad bar with greens, dressings, and toppings, along with prepared salads. There were four soups - the usual wonton, egg drop, hot and sour, and an unusual vegetable seafood tomato based soup with a Chinese name that I have never encountered before. I tried the hot and soup soup and it was good - not too hot and spicy. My wife tried the wonton soup and the broth was very good but the wontons were just fair - when she first went for soup there were no more wontons in the broth in the server - it took about twenty minutes for more wontons to be brought out - she felt it was not worth the wait. There is sushi with a good assortment of raw fish on rice and raw fish rolls. The rolls looked as usual,but instead of avocado rolled with the tuna it was cucumber. Looked the same but not what I expected as I bit down and crunched the cucumber. There were steamers for dumplings but no dumplings. Instead there were steamed rolls and steamed cake in the steamers. There were no dumplings of any kind.

There was a broad assortment of entrees. Some of them very unusual if you are used to Northern US, Midwest, or Western US Chinese buffets. This buffet offered steamed crayfish and frogs legs made salt and pepper style. Crawfish down South are known as "bugs" and they look like a cross between tiny red lobsters and bugs. You eat them by biting off the heads and sucking out the meat in the body and tail. I find them very fishy and salty. They are not bad. It is more of a get used to how it looks and how you eat it than anything else. If you like 'em you can have all that you want here. I did not try the crawfish or the frogs legs here. I have had them elsewhere and yes, frogs legs do taste like chicken (so does rabbit). There was plenty to eat without them. There were crab halves (included in the regular buffet price). There was a lot of shrimp and seafood dishes. There were several fried fish dishes and there was a steamed white fish in a light sauce. There were several chicken dishes - many hot and spicy and the hot sauce was very evident when you looked in the serving pan. There were beef ribs and boneless pork spareribs (that looked over done). There was Peking Duck - mostly carved duck pieces but these looked much too greasy - perhaps sitting in the tray too long and the duck fat melting into the pan. There were fried scallops but these also were overdone and hard when I tried to eat one. There were some dishes that were very good. The shrimp with scallions was great. This is one of the House Specialties on the take out menu. There was a good chicken in peanut butter sauce - thin strips of lightly fried chicken with a liquid peanut sauce on the side to pour on as you wish.I have had peanut chicken before but this one was much better. Of course there was General Tso Chicken, chicken with broccoli, and pepper and beef. There were several American dishes including fried potatoes several ways. There was also pepperoni pizza.

If you could not find something that you like among the claimed 180 buffet items, there is also the Mongolian Grill. Here there was a large assortment of raw vegetables including three types of mushrooms including the black mushrooms that are usually in the most expensive Chinese dishes. There were several types of noodles to add including the hair thin rice noodles that make up Mai Fun dishes. Of course there is meat and here it included beef, chicken, pork, crab, and shrimp. You mix what you want on a plate and hand it to the chef at the large flat round grill. He asks what sauce you would like added and rather than put it on at the beginning as is done at all of the other Mongolian grills that I have been to, here they put it on after the mix has mostly cooked through. There is a sign on the counter explaining exactly what is in each sauce which is a great idea! The chef was very nice and accidentally dropped my mix on the counter as he took it from me - he appologized in limited Chinese English a million times and with no problem I made a new mixture which he took and excellently cooked- handing it to me still apologizing with me saying, "No problem."

If you still want dessert after all of this there was a great assortment of the usual Little Debbie type Chinese buffet cakes, puddings, fruit, jello, and soft serve ice cream.

Service was very good. The dirty dishes were removed quickly enough and soft drinks were refilled regularly. An interesting aside to the drink area is that it is the old OCB drink island - two sided, with all of the equipment from the former tenant. They do not want you to go up and get your own drinks - they will bring them to you - and they do.

The restaurant was clean and nicely decorated. Restrooms were fine. The atmosphere was very pleasant (except for the cigarette smoke - BUT THIS IS CAROLINA!)

When the check comes the tax is added to the individual amounts so they don't look like the prices listed - but they are with the sales tax (for our UK readers this is the VAT) The check came with a fortune cookie for each of us - these were commercially baked cookies with the plastic sealed wrapper around them - the fortunes inside however were a bit unusual - a little nasty actually (I guess to bring a smile). Mine said,"You laugh now, wait until you get home." Oh boy! Not what you want to read after a meal!!!

The owners advertising claims that this is the largest "international" buffet and grill in "town". On the website they say that they are from Hong Kong and that is why they called the restaurant the Hong Kong King Buffet. That normally would imply Cantonese cuisine, but there was a broad mix of Oriental cuisines served here.

Do I recommend this restaurant? Yes. Would I go back? Probably, though I might want to go looking for one of those North Carolina barbecue restaurants (no buffets like that unfortunately). If you live in this area give it a try.

The address is 1237 Silas Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27127. There is a website and that is listed on the side of this site. The phone number is 336-725-9788. The restaurant is located in a shopping center next door to an Office Depot store. (Exit 192 on I40)

One other thing- restaurants are inspected by health officials everywhere, but in North Carolina those health inspection reports are on the internet. If you search for this restaurant you will find the latest year's reports. Maybe you don't want to read these. This restaurant got a score of 94 out of 100 on its last report. This is good. The violations were not significant. I think that I would not want to see the reports on many of the restaurants that I enjoy.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sweet Tomatoes / Souplantation

On my recent trip to North Carolina I was able to try a Sweet Tomatoes/Soup Plantation restaurant. On June 15, 2007 I wrote about the Souplantation chain. The furthest north the chain has restaurants is North Carolina. The chain spreads across the country to California, where they originated. The specialty at Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation is salads, soups, and bakery!

The Cary, North Carolina location is a Sweet Tomatoes. The names Sweet Tomatoes and Soup Plantation seem to be interchangeable and dependent on the location. Regardless of which name the location has it is the same. In fact I thought that I was looking for a Souplantation in Cary based on the website located. I almost missed the restaurant driving around the shopping center that corresponded to the address when my wife spotted the Sweet Tomatoes sign and asked if that was what we were looking for. I certainly was!

We went on a very hot day – predicted to be 99 degrees and it felt hotter. We went for lunch on a Monday at around 12:45 pm. It was one of those days that you really do not feel like eating because of the heat – especially a large meal. Well, that did not discourage the Sweet Tomatoes patrons because the restaurant was almost full. This is a place for business people to have lunch as well as families and shoppers. The restaurant is large – perhaps about three quarters the size of an Old Country Buffet, Golden Corral, or Ryans.

Entering the restaurant we were a bit confused. As we entered we were faced with the beginning of the salad bar stretching out down the entrance with the cashiers at the other end. The salad bar had rails for trays along each side and each side was either the same or easily accessed the other side. An employee standing inside the door handed each person who entered a tray and directed them onto the line that went down the salad bar. There was a large sign to explain things but basically it said to take a tray, take a plate, and create your salad. We took plates and followed along the line wondering to each other how one would go back to the salad bar if the cashier is at the end and it is necessary to come through the line if you were to come back for more salad. I started wondering if this was really a buffet or all you care to eat restaurant – but the signs inside all did say buffet and all you can eat. We went along and took salad.

There were salad greens to take at the beginning and several special prepared green salads that followed, I took two of these special salads – the Caesar and a Chinese chicken salad called Wonton Chicken Happiness Salad. I also took a prepared noodle salad that had the name tuna in it but no tuna listed on the ingredients. I had decided that I was not going to fill up on the tossed salad. Many were filling more than one plate full of salad and the many, many toppings and dressings that were offered. If you can think of a salad topping they had it. They had small cups of chicken to top salads but there was a sign under the cups stating that the chicken cost $1.25 extra for one small serving. This struck me as odd but my wife speculates that they do this so that someone does not make a meal of chicken (though if you take the chicken noodle soup – which I will say more about later – you could eat all the chicken you desired. As we got toward the end we were approaching the two cashiers – one on each side of the salad bar right on the bar. Just before you reach the cashier you are asked for your drink order. You are given glasses with ice. If you would like just water at no charge you are given a blue colored glass. All other glasses are clear. We paid for our lunches and my wife asked the cashier what to do if one wants more salad. We were told that you just come back through with your paid receipt. Fair enough!

Price for adult lunch is $7.29. Adult dinner is $8.69. Children’s prices at all times are $4.49 for age six to twelve and $1.49 for age three to five. Under age three is free. Drinks are $1.79 for all at all times. There is an extra charge for salad bar chicken at $1.25 and they were also selling bags of thirteen cookies for $1.69. While cookies are not on the dessert bar there were plenty of other dessert choices.

We sat down and discovered that on each table as part of the little advertising platform was a card to signal that the table is occupied. This is great and comical! It said “See you next thyme” on the back to signal that you have left the table. We set the card and went for drinks. The soft drink bar is extensive and there are signs encouraging you to mix the drinks to create your own. There were fruit juices, coke soda products, “sweet” tea, and “unsweet” ice tea, lemonade, etc. This was one of the best soft drink bars that I have ever seen in a buffet. We returned to our table with our drinks and saw that everyone around us took everything off their trays and put them on the side of the table. Soon someone came to pick them up.

The salad was good. The Chinese chicken salad was exceptional. I would swear that I was eating a Chinese entrée from the taste. It was greens with herbs, a light oil dressing, bits of fried wonton noodles (which are also on the salad bar to add to any salad), and pieces of chicken. It was wonderful! The noodle salad with tuna in the name did not taste like tuna but was very good. If there was not so much more to try I would have been back for more but because this was lunch, and because it was so hot outside, and I would be driving to my next stop four hours away, I decided to make this a tasting lunch and not one where I fill up on everything that I like. (The tasting lunch filled me to the brim!)

After the salad we headed up to the hot buffet bars which lined the wall at the front end of the side of the restaurant. There were seven soups to take. We discovered after we sat down that the chain is having an international feature week from the beginning of August to the end of September. We were there during the second feature which was Mexican. We had just missed Italian. To come will be Greek and then Asian. There is a little folder brochure that is available to take that says passport on the outside and has the features for each of these special weeks. Mexican is good but not on a hot day when you are going to be traveling in a car for five hours with little chance to stop. There were many soups that I would have tried had this visit been under different circumstances. What I did try was the chicken noodle and the cream of mushroom. I also had some of the vegetable soup that my wife took. Everything is clearly marked every where in this restaurant which is really good. You not only know what each item is but also what it is made with. If you are not sure about something there is sign explaining the whole recipe. Every thing that is vegetarian is marked that way. The chicken noodle soup was called big chunk chicken noodle and that was not an exaggeration. There were large pieces of white meat chicken – enough to eat a whole breast of chicken or more along with thick dough noodles. The broth was light. The soup was good. The cream of mushroom soup was thick and hearty. It had large pieces of mushrooms in a thick brown cream soup. This too was good. The vegetable soup had plenty of vegetables in a light tomato based broth – this was a thin broth unlike many vegetable soups. The other soups that were offered were spicy and part of the Mexican theme. They were Albondigas Locas soup, Posole soup with pork, a chile, and a chicken soup with lime that was spiced with chilies.

Moving along the hot bar there was a baked potato bar that included both baked potatoes and baked sweet potatoes, each wrapped in foil. There were little bowls to put the potato in and there were hot and cold toppings. There was melted cheese and a light bean chili.

Following the potatoes there were two pizzas and a Greek style focaccia bread. The pizza was thick and loaded with cheese. One pizza was four cheese pizza and the other went along with the Mexican feature. This pizza had olives, peppers, chunks of tomatoes, cilantro, cheese, etc on top. It did have a mildly spicy taste. The cheese pizza was very good and if you like pan pizza or what is known as Sicilian style pizza you will love this. Moist, thick, and nicely seasoned – all making this a great item. Near the pizza there were fresh baked breads and muffins. This day there were corn muffins, blueberry muffins, double chocolate muffins, crusty bread, and others.

If you are still looking for something more, they have it. The hot bar ends with a pasta bar. Here were two prepared pasta dishes. There was fettuccine Alfredo and Macaroni and Cheese. There was also a hot bean dish (part of the Mexican feature) called (obviously) Hand Crafted Mexican Beans. It seems that they always have two pastas and then a bean of grain dish. When my picky eater wife saw the selections at the pasta bar she was disappointed. She likes things plain or basic and is avoiding high fat items. Behind the counter were trays of plain pasta and servers of sauces. I told her to ask for some plain pasta. The lady behind the counter was creating the pasta dishes out on the bar using these items and large skillets – right there at the counter. My wife asked for plain pasta and there was no problem! The lady scooped up some plain pasta and put it immediately into one of the skillets with some water to heat it. In moments she served my wife plain pasta and asked if she was sure she did not want some kind of sauce. My wife got a big bowl of pasta – more than she really wanted – but she was happy and her request was treated as if it happens all of the time, which given the kids eating here probably does happen all of the time, and all done with a smile. I tried the Fettuccine Alfredo and was a little disappointed. It was very bland and needed salt and pepper. With all of the spices in the Mexican themed dishes I expected this to be better than it was. It was nicely cooked but it should have been prepared with a little more salt and some pepper. I rarely add salt to anything but this pasta needed it.

All done – no, save room for dessert. There is soft serve frozen yogurt and a sundae bar with toppings. There was fresh fruit including grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, watermelon, sugar free chocolate mousse, and jello. Remember those double chocolate muffins on the bread bar? Those made a wonderful dessert – if you have room to eat it. They were rich and chocolaty. Really good, but I really had no more room. I had set out to just have a taste but I was full! (What I do for my readers!)

It was time to turn that little card over to the side that said, “See you next thyme!” and leave. We had a great lunch and this would have made an equally good and filling dinner. We really did not need to know how to get back to the salad bar because we had so much without a return trip, but had we wanted to it would have been no problem! Despite the change in price from lunch to dinner I believe that the menu remains the same all day.

Service was very good. Dishes were cleared regularly from the table. You get your own drinks and refills. The room, the tables, the buffet bars, the floors, and everything was clean. The room was very pleasantly decorated. There was no smoking in this restaurant (even though this is North Carolina). There was a choice of booths or tables spread through out the restaurant with the serving bars to the front end of the dining room.

I only wish there was one of these restaurants near to where I live in the northeast. I had a real surprise one evening watching a re-run of an episode of The Gilmore Girls. This show takes place in State of Connecticut. In the dialog of this episode the “girls” are talking about this great restaurant that they had just been to in a town nearby. They spoke of all you can eat salad, pasta, and soup! My ears picked up as I had been only half paying attention. Then they named it by name – Souplantation! A Souplantation in Connecticut! Not exactly in my backyard – unless you have a boat to cross the Long Island Sound and then you can reach Connecticut in 25 miles but a two to three hour drive taking the land route! I had to check the Souplantation website to see what I had missed. No luck! This was just a bit of Hollywood. Obviously the show is filmed in California and some Hollywood writer must have just discovered Souplantation – and just had to send the Gilmore Girls there even if the nearest one to them is almost 1800 miles away! Ah well!

Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation is a must try! I highly recommend it assuming that they are all like the one that I had the pleasure to try. If any of our readers have been to another location please share your experience in our comments. If you live in North Carolina there is also a location in Raleigh. The chain has a website with menus (they change regularly) and a location finder and it is listed on the side of this page.