Friday, October 26, 2007

Fairmont Buffet and Bakery, Savannah, Georgia

I am always on the look out for buffets to tell you about and sometimes I will find a buffet that I will not be able to get to, but want to share with those of you who are in these areas or will get to these areas. The buffet that I have discovered is a family run, single location buffet called Fairmont Buffet and Bakery, named for the street that it is located on, Fairmont Avenue in Savannah, Georgia.

I have never been to Savannah and I will tell you about this buffet by first making clear that I have not eaten there or experienced it. I have found out quite a lot about it and will share that with you.

Fairmont Buffet and Bakery is owned and operated by a husband and wife who have brought Southern home cooking to their buffet. They are "known" for their southern fried chicken which is claimed to be the "best in town" and every meal that they serve has fried chicken. Prices at the buffet are very reasonable and include beverages. Weekday dinners are $8.25 and Saturdays and Sundays are just one dollar more. There are lunch buffets during weekdays until 3:00 pm (from 11:00 am) and these are just 7.50. There are discounted senior prices and children under ten are $5.50 and under four are just sixty cents. These prices - which include soft drinks - are great! None of the chains are this inexpensive for a similar meal. The restaurant closes each night at 8:30 pm.

The buffet is described as having six buffet stations and serves over 70 items at each meal.The menu varies from night to night, but fried chicken and baked chicken are always served - except for Sundays when another chicken dish replaces the baked chicken. The restaurant prepares and cooks all food on premises from fresh ingredients and no preservatives which means that this should be real home cooking. Homemade yeast rolls are made and baked every day.

There are two soups every day - which change each day. There is also a salad and fruit bar. Entrees and fresh vegetables are varied each day and change from lunch to dinner. Remember that with each dinner is fried chicken and every day but Sunday thre is baked chicken. At dinner on Mondays you will find smothered liver, pot roast, and low country creole. On Tuesdays at dinner you get baked fish, country fried steak (a favorite of mine, but not of my doctor's), and hot wings. On Wednesday's dinner there is Brown Rice with Beef, Veal Parmesan, and Salisbury Steak. Thursday - Beef Stroganoff, Pork Chops, and Pot Roast. Fridays bring barbecued ribs, fried shrimp and hushpuppies, and clam strips. The Saturday dinner brings back the fried shrimp and hushpuppies, and clam ctrips, the country fried steak, and adds barbecued pork. Sunday all day is a more elaborate menu with Meat Loaf, Fried Chicken, Roast Beef, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Dressing, and Crab Meat Au Gratin. Everything on these menus are classic southern dishes and it sounds like here they are made right!

Of course, there are many vegetable choices, real whipped potatoes, rice, gravy, macaroni and cheese, and more. No southern meal would be complete with out a variety of wonderful desserts and at the Fairmont Buffet and BAKERY there is an 18 foot long serving counter full of freshly baked and prepared desserts.

When the Beaupre's opened the Fairmont Buffet and Bakery they wanted to feature a scatter buffet service that was not featured at that time at other buffet restaurants in the area. When they opened two buffet chains in the town remodeled to compete with the Fairmont Buffet! They were a leader in this design at the time - many buffets now follow this system. (I must note here and I am not contradicting any claim by the Fairmont but Buffet, Inc - OCB - claims to have invented the scatter buffet.) The Fairmont has been in business for thirteen years! (Miller's Smorgasbord in Lancaster, Pa has had a scatter buffet setup for at least 25 years.)

The restaurant is very community minded and features a community day each month during which they donate ten percent of their sales to a chosen charity of the month. The Fairmont has won several awards including one in 2005 from the National Restaurant Association.

The restaurant has a website which is listed on the side of this page. There are nice photos of the buffet and the dining room. The address is 65 West Fairmont Avenue in Savannah, Georgia. Their phone number is 912-920-4020.

If you have ever been to the Fairmont Buffet and Bakery please place a comment with this article and tell us about it! It really sounds good - and perhaps on one of my trips south I will eventually get to Savannah. If I do I am definately going to the Fairmont Buffet and Bakery!

Know of a buffet that I have not talked about yet - use the email address on the side of this page and let me know about it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Steak Wars

I like steak. I am not supposed to eat it, but I really like it. In my opinion the best steak is restaurant steak - for some reason, it has a different steak than any steak that can be made at home, inside on the stove or in the oven, or outside on a charcoal grill.

When I go to a buffet I seek out what steak they may have. Some like buffets for the crab legs. I like to try the steak. A good steak needs a flame, chargrill. Steak cooked on a flat grill - frying the steak - is no match for a steak that has been charred on an open flame. To my taste, the best steak is charred black on the outside, but inside it is red and juicy - not raw but red before it turns to pink. Some like their steak medium some like it burned through to the center. It is all a matter of taste, but to get to that taste takes some skill on the part of the chef. So what buffet has the best steak.

Looking at a single location buffet, the steak at the buffet at the Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City,New Jersey is the best. The steak there is cooked to order on a chargrill with flames shooting high - right there behind the serving counter. The raw steaks are taken from a butchers case facing the diners and placed on the grill as you get up to the counter to give your order. The steaks are cooked just right and rival any steak in the best steak houses. This buffet limits each diner to one steak by a ticket given to you when you pay to enter, but you are given a whole steak.

But, unless you are in, near, or travel to Atlantic City, you want to know which of the chain buffets located across most of the US serves the best steak. Steak is popular at buffets. Old Country Buffet added steak to their buffet just a few years ago and they still do not serve it every night - no steak on Sundays at OCB. Unfortunately, as I am sure you have read here before, the steak at Old Country Buffet is terrible. They are not cooked to order and you get whatever has come out from the kitchen off the broiler and sits until it is well done. To be fair, some OCB's are getting grills but I have not been to one that has this and they seem to be few and far between. In looking at which buffet chain serves the best steak, I am not going to include Old Country Buffet. The two large chains that we will look at are Ryans and Golden Corral.

A year ago I would have told you Ryan's but I am not so sure any longer. This summer I dined at several Ryans and several Golden Corrals across the US Southeast. I had a chance to compare sometimes night to night. In fact the idea for this article came to me at that time. I will say that for the most part each chain is pretty consistent from location to location on the taste and quality of the steak. I cannot say this about the cooking of the steak, but we will get into that more later in this article.

Before parent company of Buffets, Inc. (the owners and operators of Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, etc) bought Ryans about a year and a half ago, the steak at Ryans was the best. It had the best taste, was tender, and had (and still has) the best cooking. Since the buy out, the meat has changed. Rancher's Select Choice steak was introduced to Ryans at the same time that it was put into Old Country Buffet. This steak is often tough and is seasoned. I still go into Ryans expecting those great steaks of a year ago - they pretty much look the same, they are cooked the same, but biting into a piece I remember immediately that this is not the same steak. It has a bite to it- the seasoning- a little bit spicy and peppery. Tender? Sometimes, but not consistently now. The method that it is cooked does remain the best.

At Ryans there is a flame grill apart from the rest of the buffet servers. There is a window above the serving counter with just enough space to give your cooking preference and pass a plate through. Adjacent to the flame grill is a fry grill - sometimes used to keep the steaks hot. The steaks are cooked on the flame. The chef usually has several large steaks that have been cooked from rare to well and when you tell him/her how you would like the steak, he/she will cut into a steak and show it to you. You decide if it is cooked the way you like it or it needs to be cooked more - or another rarer piece needs to be found. The system works fairly well and there are not long lines to get the orders filled. I have had a few experiences where there were no rare or medium rare steaks and the cook has offered to cook one special for me - even coming to find me when it was ready. These have been the best of the Ryans steaks that I have had. Some cooks really understand the difference between rare and raw, rare and medium, medium rare and well done. Some do not. It is hard in any of the chain buffets to find a properly cooked rare steak - rare usually is interpreted as raw and is barely cooked outside, much less inside. To get rare, I now ask for medium rare - usually I get what I expect as properly cooked rare. At Ryans you are served a piece of steak - usually about an eighth to a quarter of the whole steak.

At Golden Corral there is a flame grill, smaller than at Ryans, set into the center of the main buffet server. There is also a fry grill next to the chargrill. There is a cook again behind a glass window. Here there are large, thick steaks cooked on the flame grill - usually. I have seen Golden Corral cooks close down the flame grill early in the evening and then cook the steaks on the fry grill. This is one of the problems at Golden Corral. Some need better management supervision of the grill area and some Golden Corral grill chefs want to "rule the roost" despite customer needs with a what you see is what you get attitude - if you ask for something I will say no. In fact with a better system for grilling their steaks and with grill chefs who were more motivated to please the customers, Golden Corral would have the best steaks of any buffet chain - hands down! The flavor and the cut of the meat is very good. The meat is tender and juicy. The "steak house" ad campaign that Golden Corral ran translated well to practice and the steaks are like those in a steak house. BUT - and this is a BIG BUT - the cooking and chefs need a lot of improvement. I want to say they are hit and miss, but the grill cooks have tended to be more miss than hit. I can remember really good ones in North Carolina and Virginia - not just this past trip but over the years. But I seem to remember a number of bad ones too. Here are some things I recall. A diner comes up and asks for medium rare. He is told there are none, come back in ten minutes. Ten minutes later he comes back and is told the same thing again. At two locations the chargrill was closed down at 7 pm - the restaurant is open for another three hours. The steaks were then fried on the fry grill. Not right! Another - I asked for medium rare. The cook cut a piece off that was more than well done and put it on my plate. I said, no, medium rare. He looked at the steak and said, medium rare and passed it over to me. (I was not going to argue - I was going to write about it instead!) Anyway, you get a piece of the large thick steak at Golden Corral - it is thick enough so that even a small piece is as much as larger pieces elsewhere.

So who has the best steaks -Ryans or Golden Corral?

Is the steak good at Ryans? It is very good - despite the spice. The cooking method and grill chefs, for the most part, are excellent.

Is the steak good at Golden Corral? It is excellent. The cooking grill chefs, however, are so inconsistent that it drops the experience from excellent to very good.

Do the steak wars end in a draw? (How disappointing that would be after reading all the way to here!) No, there is a winner (for the moment) and it is Golden Corral. The meat tastes better. When there is a good chef who serves you what you want, this thick steak is properly charred and crispy on the outside while still red/pink and juicy on the inside. It has been good that it has brought out a verbal, "hmmmm!"

This is how I have experienced these steaks and tasted them. If you disagree let us know what you think by leaving a comment. But if you do, you have to state clearly why - if you like something or dislike something be specific as to why.

One more thing -

Just after I wrote this article I went to OCB. I was passing up the steak and then I saw it - a piece (pre-cooked, pre-cut, and sitting under the heat lamp on the cutting board - of course) that looked like the "perfect" piece of steak. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was red-pink on the inside, it was crispy charred on the outside (not sure how they did it because there is no grill), and there were red clear juices sitting on the top. I took it. I brought it to my table and showed my wife. I said that I could not believe it - it looks like the perfect steak. How did it get here? Ahh, I put my fork in and started to cut a piece to eat and my plate moved back and forth with my knife. Still not cutting, I almost pulled the plate off the table as I tried to cut through the tough meat and side grizzle. Finally, I ripped as I forced the knife through. I put the piece into my mouth and then... tasteless. The rest was just as hard to cut, tough, and not really worth the effort. So - Golden Corral and Ryans has nothing to worry about from OCB steak!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mixed Grill Favorites - New Feature at Old Country Buffet

There is a new feature at the Old Country Buffet - and I am sure Ryans too. Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp, Steak, Steak is gone! Thank goodness. The feature that has come in to replace it is called Mixed Grill Favorites.

Now, Mixed Grill on a menu usually means sausage, kidneys, and lamb. Here at Old Country Buffet there is nothing like that - perhaps, we should breath a sigh of relief! The new feature offers three new dishes and the same bad steak that Old Country Buffet has been serving for almost a year or more. The three new dishes are Grilled Pork and Applewood Bacon, BBQ Bacon Cheddar Chicken, and Rotisserie Chicken. While not mentioned on the sign touting this new feature, there is also are also grilled mixed vegetables called "Montreal Grilled Vegetables" for some unknown reason.

You may be surprised that I am going to rave over something that Old Country Buffet is serving but the Grilled Pork was excellent. It consisted of large strip chunks of pork that were char-grilled to a burnt, crusty exterior but were moist in the middle. The Applewood bacon was almost an afterthought. It is mixed into the serving tray, and perhaps gives the pork some flavor, but the bacon was tough and the pork was great without it. Each piece that I took was blackened, but there were some less done pieces in the serving tray. These may not have been as good, because, in my taste opinion, the charred outside lent to the good taste.

For me this and the "Montreal" grilled vegetables were the highlights of this feature. The vegetables were a mix of zucchini squash, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes grilled and served in a nice light "sauce" (which may have been nothing more than the juices of the vegetables).

The rest of the mixed grill features were just ok - if that. The BBQ Bacon Cheddar Chicken was just a boneless chicken breast with cheese melted over it and bacon added on top. There was no bbq taste or sauce. It had a mild spice taste and you are not missing anything if you pass it by. The Rotisserie Chicken has not come anywhere near a rotisserie. This is just baked chicken - a little charred on the outside with dry seasoning on the outside. It was not very good. There has been better baked chicken at OCB.

I really don't need to say anything about the steak - you have heard it from me before. This is the same "Rancher's Choice" steak that OCB over cooks, is tough, and not worth eating.

This feature at OCB is offered Monday through Saturday nights - six days a week. I am sure that at Ryan's which is owned by OCB's parent company the feature is the same as at OCB as it has been for months now. At Ryans the feature is usually offered seven nights a week. Also at Ryans I am sure that the steak is MUCH better.

There was a time when the featured items were served in addition to the regular buffet entrees for that particular menu night. Lately, the feature is replacing some of the better things that would be on the buffet if there was no feature.

The best thing about Mixed Grill Favorites is that Shrimp, Shrimp, Shrimp is gone. The next best thing is the grilled pork. If you go to Old Country Buffet during this feature, try the grilled pork!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Yoders - A Buffet In a Supermarket, New Holland, PA

I have known about Yoders Restaurant and Buffet in New Holland, Pennsylvania for many years. I have never been there before. Several years ago we looked inside and it appeared that the main entree on the buffet was fried chicken and did not go in to eat. Yoders is a rather unusual buffet restaurant as it is located inside a supermarket. A buffet in a supermarket - think of the possibilities! The entrance to the supermarket leads into a hallway - to the right leads to the supermarket and to the left leads to the restaurant.

This is a restaurant that offers both buffet and menu dining. The buffet is quite extensive and as we learned the Friday evening that we dined there the buffet is very good! When you enter through the door to the restaurant from the entrance hallway you walk past the cashier and are seated by a hostess. There are only booths in this restaurant. The room is large, but not enormous. The front three quarters of the room is the dining room and the rear of the room are where the buffet servers are located. There are five double-sided buffet servers, two single servers along the two side walls and the back wall is filled with a grill area. Every buffet server has a large, clear sign on top indicating what you will find there. At the very rear of the room was a door to a private dining room for parties. There are also banquet facilities available here.

The adult price of the dinner buffet is $11.99. Soft drinks are $1.49 and are refillable. There is a children's price. There is a higher price on Saturdays and two additional entrees are served on Saturdays. There are also lunch buffets and breakfast buffets. Each night's dinner is themed. Friday is Land and Sea (seafood and London Broil) and Saturday's the theme is Dutch Grill which offers baked sausage and other local Pennsylvania Dutch dishes.

There is a buffet server with two soups and bread. A buffet server with a salad bar is next to that. There are two buffet servers with hot food. There are two buffet servers with desserts. The soups offered this night were clam chowder (Friday) and vegetable pasta. We both tried the vegetable pasta soup and it was good. It was thick with vegetables and small shell macaroni. There was a nice assortment of bread and rolls on this server also.

The salad bar had three different greens and a large variety of salad toppings and dressings. There were a number of prepared salads - many prepared as the local Pennsylvania Dutch prepare them. One prepared salad popular here is called Pepper Cabbage. It is a finely chopped mixture of cabbage and green peppers with a sweet vinegar dressing. In some areas of the country this is called Chow Chow. In the PA Dutch area Chow Chow is a mixed vegetables in a sweet pickled dressing. This was on the salad bar also. Another local delicacy is apple butter on top of cottage cheese. These were on the salad bar also. Apple butter is a deep brown cooked down apple sauce - more tart than apple sauce but also nicely sweet. This area is known for mixing sweet and sour. At one time Seven Sweets and Seven Sours were spoken of in restaurants in this area - no one mentions this much any more but you surely can enjoy them from the salad bar at Yoders.

Entrees and vegetables have grown over the years to far more than the fried chicken that I saw when I looked in years back. The fried - rather "broasted" chicken was there, but there was so much more, They are known in this restaurant for their chicken, so I will speak about that first. Broasting is a combination of broiling and roasting in a special oven but the result is fried chicken (though supposedly healthier). The chicken was crispy and good. Large meaty pieces were in the server - mostly white meat. Some pieces were stuck together and I wound up with two pieces when I thought that I was taking one. It was ok because it was good. There were several local entrees on this buffet server along with the chicken. It is common in this area at buffets to serve roast beef sliced into thick slices and put into brown gravy on the server. This was on the server. There was ham loaf - meat loaf made with chopped ham and served with a pineapple sweet sauce on top. Later during the meal the ham loaf was gone and was replaced with ham balls - the same thing but made into meat balls rather than a loaf. We liked the ham balls better than the ham loaf but we are not certain why. There was also baked chicken.

The next buffet server was filled with seafood. There was fried fish, large fried shrimp, fried clams, baked fish, mussels, hot shrimp in a spicy red sauce, scalloped oysters, and more. There was seafood au gratin.

On the grill they were cooking and slicing London broil steak. There was also grilled salmon, stir fry shrimp, and corn fritters made on a griddle. The London broil was cooked on a flame grill. The London Broil was just fair - it had little taste and was tough. The first piece I had was well done and the next was rare - it did not make any difference. Actually, the well done piece because of the charred outside was better than the rare piece. This was the only disappointment. In front of the grill was a small server with cold shrimp and all of the usual seafood condiments.

There was a great assortment of vegetables and side dishes including some local specialties and some not usually found. One of the most unusual was baked oatmeal. This was terrific. It was mildly sweet. They also had potato filling. Filling is what they call "stuffing" in this area. This was made with riced potatoes and was excellent. There was also dried corn - a corn dish made like fresh corn with dried corn kernels. It is sweet and toasty in taste. There was fresh stewed tomatoes that was not made sweet as it is usually served - very good. There were hush puppies - fried corn meal balls. There was a sweet cooked apple dish. There was macaroni and cheese, noodles in butter sauce, and the corn fritters. The corn fritters were made like pancakes and were sized like pancakes as well. They had a soft inside that was full of corn. Of course, there were mashed potatoes, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, rice, carrots, and many standard vegetables.

If you still have room there were quite a few desserts. There was chocolate cake with white icing and there was chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. There were fruit pies and fruit crumb desserts. There was shoo fly pie - the locally originated pie with molasses and crumbs on top. There were sugar free pies. There was a full buffet server of puddings and fruit desserts. There was two types of tapioca pudding. There was a local pudding called cracker pudding - a pudding like rice pudding that uses saltine crackers - very good! And if you want more this is a soft serve machine and a sundae topping bar.

I think that you can tell that I enjoyed this meal. The server brings you your drink refills and clears the plates away and ours was great (as were the others that I could see). All of the staff were friendly. The restaurant was extremely clean. Restrooms were located outside the restaurant a little further down the hallway and were well maintained and clean.

At the grill you are given generous portions - more than you may want. This is a great restaurant and I am sorry that it took me so long to finally give it a try. I am looking forward to the next time that I eat there.

The restaurant is open from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. There is a small website that is linked at the side of this page, though the website gives a much more limited description of the buffets than they actually are. The restaurant is located at Yoders Supermarket, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. I have never seen discount coupons for Yoders as there are for some of the buffet restaurants in this area as found in the free tourist papers. There are pamphlets for the restaurant with a much better description than the website offers.

If you would like the experience of eating in a buffet that is located in a supermarket - or you would like to eat in a really great buffet - please do go to Yoders Restaurant and Buffet. (Do not confuse this with Yoders Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida - I do not believe there is any connection, though that is also an Amish food buffet.) This restaurant is in Pennsylvania in Lancaster County where the Amish and Mennonites live.

Since eating at Yoders, I keep thinking about going back - so it really must have been good!