Friday, March 20, 2009

Buffet Europa, North Brunswick, New Jersy - A Hidden Treasure

I am always looking for unique buffets and buffets that feature international cuisines that are not primarily Asian. I recently did an internet search for buffets in a particular area of New Jersey that I would be visiting. Usually when I do these searches I find little to nothing. On this one occasion a name caught my attention - Buffet Europa. I went to the website to find the description of a buffet featuring European cuisine. I poked around the website and the more that I saw and read the more intrigued I became. I even found a coupon good from Monday to Friday. There was no hesitation to decide that this buffet was getting a visit.

Finding Buffet Europa, located in the town of North Brunswick, New Jersey, was not difficult but it is hidden from the main road that it is nearest to - US Route One. The restaurant is located in a very small shopping area of just a few stores. The shopping center is called Aaron Plaza and it is located just off Route 1 on Aaron Road. You cannot see this shopping center from US 1 and if you ride this road everyday it is likely that you have past this restaurant many times and never know it is there. Cross streets are well labeled on US 1 so when you get to Aaron Road - coming from the north it is just a few miles south of where Route 18 crosses US 1 - you turn right and then immediately left into the shopping center. The best landmark - as if it will help - is an Exxon Station on the corner. If you have a GPS in your car put in the address and it will take you right to the door - which is how I found it.

In the parking lot and driving up to the restaurant what you will see is a single storefront with a large sign above - Buffet Europa. From the outside this is nothing that you might expect if you are a frequent buffet goer. Once inside the restaurant is not much bigger. But let me say right now, that big things come in small packages. We were greeted enthusiastically as we walked in by a young woman who welcomed us as if we were coming to a party at her home and told us that we may sit at any table we wished. The restaurant is small - there are just 16 tables total. Five of those tables are booths and the rest are tables and chairs with two of the tables able to seat large groups and all of the tables for four able to be moved together to accommodate any number. The room is very nicely decorated with crystal lighting fixtures on the walls, a crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the dining room and very simple but elegant European decor. It is also nicely carpeted. Each table has a white table cloth covered by a clear plastic cover. On each table is a very nice flower arrangement in a vase. There is soft background music playing in the dining room. Its opera instrumentals and it fits so perfectly with the atmosphere. At the end of the room is one double buffet server - half hot and half cold, with a counter behind that with soup, a soda dispenser, a dessert area, a single carving station, and plates and extra utensils. Each table is set with silverware and plenty of paper napkins nicely arranged in a holder. (It is evident that at one time in the past this was a Chinese restaurant - perhaps even a Chinese buffet - as there is an oriental, etched glass window set into the front wall.)

We visited on a Friday night at about 6:30. There were five tables full at the time. Through the night other tables filled as diners came and went. I think this restaurant is not well known, because if it was it should certainly have had many more diners. The price is a bit high compared to the "chain" buffets but there really is no comparison. The food that is served here is - how should I put it? - real restaurant food, and not the mass cooked buffet fare that is often encountered. The price of the buffet dinner is $15.99 per person, six nights per week. There is a children's price but I do not know what it is. Families with children are welcome. Dress is casual. The restaurant is open from 11 am to 9 pm, Monday to Saturday, and is closed on Sundays for private parties and catering. There is also a menu to order from and if you would like to take the buffet out, it costs $5.99 per pound (which is a very good price for a takeout buffet). The price of the buffet is all inclusive and there is no additional charge for beverages which include Pepsi products and real ice tea.

When I see one buffet server, I have apprehension. Here this one double server held more than enough variety to please anyone. The cuisine as the name implies is European and all of the dishes are from different countries in Europe with an emphasis on Polish and Italian. According to the website, Friday is Polish Night and Saturday is Italian Night. On this Friday night there were several Polish dishes and there was Italian there as well, along with other European dishes.

As we usually do, we started with the soup. There were two soups offered. One was a chicken rice soup and the other was seafood bisque. My wife tried the chicken rice and I tried the bisque. I tasted her soup before I tasted mine. This is chicken rice soup with a the taste of chicken rice soup in a fine restaurant. This was nicely flavored soup and not just chicken broth with rice tossed in. I am going to use this word a lot in this review - excellent! The fish bisque was wonderful as well. It was a thin bisque but it was loaded with large chunks of fish. The taste again was excellent. Right from the start of this meal we were both very impressed.

About a third of the buffet server is a salad bar. There was a variety of greens to choose from or mix together and very fine toppings to create a salad including several types of hot peppers, pickled vegetables, Greek olives, black olives, grape tomatoes and more. There were a variety of dressings. There were also prepared salads including coleslaw, cucumbers in cream (I have had this in German restaurants), and tuna salad. There was a tray of dinner rolls here as well. There was enough to make a wonderful salad. There was also a cut up melon assortment.

When I visit a new restaurant (new to me) I have a small salad selection so that I can try more of the entrees. I am glad that I left room. There were a number of entrees and side dishes. Each tray that was out was a half tray so there was plenty of room for a variety to be put out - and it was. Each item is clearly labeled. I will go through what was there and then tell you about what we tried. There was potato and cheese perogies (with sour cream on the side), chicken francaise, cheese blintzes,rice with vegetables, grilled vegetables, fried whiting fish, poached whole fish (perhaps blue fish or sea bass), vodka penne, mashed potatoes, BBQ small spareribs, stuffed cabbage with beef and rice, Swedish meatballs, and kielbasi. At the carving station was a roast pork loin.

I tried everything except the fried whiting fish and the only reason that I did not try that was that the portions were so large that taking one would have prevented me from be able to have room in my stomach to eat other things that I wanted to try. Each piece of fish was a fried triangle that would fill half a plate. I was very tempted though because it looked real good. Again, each item served was fine dining quality. Every tray of food was properly kept at the correct temperature and nothing was allowed to dry out. When trays came just close to needing to be refilled more came out. In fact, there was one whole poached fish and soon two more were in the tray. I liked everything that I tasted. The chicken francaise was better than we both have had at any restaurant in a long time. This is chicken that is coated and fried in an egg batter and then sauteed in wine and butter. Wonderful! The perogies were moist and light with a great taste. The cheese blintzes were not the rolls that are found in the supermarket freezer but light little, light pancakes folded flat around a layer of cottage-like cheese and covered with powder sugar - in the tray with a light butter sauce that was just enough to keep these little sweet treats moist. The grilled vegetables, which were different types of squash, onion, and zucchini, were nicely grilled, charred yet moist and in a light sauce that seemed to have a soy sauce base. The taste was very, very good. The rice was equally good with a mixture of chopped vegetables mixed in and nicely seasoned. The poached fish was very nice. I am not much of a whole fish eater and I there are a limited number of types of fish that I personally enjoy. This fish was not one that I have tried before. Someone who is a more enthusiastic fish eater than I will love this fish. The vodka penne was in a thick cream vodka sauce. There was not an overpowering taste of the vodka which is just right for this dish. The mashed potatoes were freshly mashed potatoes with a good flavor. The BBQ ribs were small chunks of ribs in a rich, tomato barbecue sauce. The meat was tender and came easily off the bones. The stuffed cabbage were small rolls of cabbage leaves filled with chopped beef and rice. They were good. I have not had kielbasi in many years - I once had a Polish girlfriend many years ago. The kielbasi here was just as I remember her mother serving.

You may have noticed that I did not tell you about the Swedish meatballs. They deserve their own paragraph. Swedish meatballs are small meatballs that are cooked in a brown cream sauce. Swedish meatballs at Buffet Europa were excellent! The sauce is what makes them special. It is a piquant sauce that enticed you to eat more of it. After the meatballs were gone from my plate I was scooping up the sauce. We more than enjoyed everything that we ate - we both commented to each other about the Swedish meatballs - and the sauce (and remember, my picky eater wife does not generally eat things covered in sauces).

As I said earlier, the carving this night was roast pork. It was a large roasted piece of meat. It is out with a carving knife and serving fork for you to carve yourself. The meat was tender and moist. There was not much fat, but enough to give flavor. There was a thin au jus gravy in an gravy server next to the meat. Again, this was roast pork that you would expect to be served in a fine restaurant.

I tried not to overeat, but everything was just too tempting and the flavor of each dish tried was such that I wanted to have more. I managed to save a little room for dessert.

The dessert area is small but there is a nice assortment of very fine baked goods. There was what I believe was tiramisu - large pieces, pre-cut on dessert plates. (This is one of their specialties so I am pretty certain that is what this cake was.) My wife tried a chocolate and yellow, marbled pound cake and brownies with chocolate frosting. I tried a square of crumb cake that was thick with crumbs over a nice yellow cake. I also tried the rice pudding with cinnamon sprinkled on top which was very good. There was also cheese cake. Scattered around the counter were Hershey's chocolate kisses. I had a long drive ahead of me to get home so I was not going to over do dessert. Dessert was not disappointing.

As we were eating it became apparent that there are just two people working at this restaurant - both I believe are the owners. The young lady who greeted us at the door was also the person clearing our dishes from our table, tending the buffet server, and interacting with the tables around the room. A gentleman came out from the back who looked equally in charge and he, and the young lady, are doing the cooking. According to a review of this restaurant, they cook all day to get ready for dinner. And they are cooking continually to make sure everything that is put out is fresh. Everything is homemade. There was no drawback to there being just the two of them. The food was continually put out. Our empty dishes were whisked away from our table each time we went back up to the buffet server for more. On top of everything this restaurant is spotless - everywhere.

The restaurant opened 15 months ago. It should be better known. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is excellent, and this buffet is truly unique in a buffet world of Asian cuisine and American country cooking. They seem to be trying to get the word out with increased advertising and they do offer coupons to bring the meal price down. We saved 20% off the check with the internet coupon from their website. When this hidden treasure gets noticed, it may be hard to get in the next time - and for me, there will definitely be a next time (though I am almost two hours from where this restaurant is located with two large bridge tolls to pay).

I highly recommend Buffet Europa. You will not be sorry. If you live in New Jersey or are traveling through the Brunswick area of New Jersey (not far from Manhattan) this unique buffet is a must. This is a buffet of European home-style cooking at its finest! In fact, this little buffet may become our Best Buffet of 2009. I was that impressed.

Buffet Europa is located at 1000 Arron Road, North Brunswick, New Jersey 08902. Their telephone number is 732-940-1122. They do have a website and the link is listed at the side of this page. Remember that they close at 9:00 pm and they are not opened on Sundays (unless you want to book the whole restaurant for a party).


Anonymous said...

Lunch is $10. Orderd catered pasta which was very good, at reasonable price.

Robert A said...

The most recent update of the website for this restaurant shows that they are not open for dinner on Mondays. They are open to 3 on Mondays for lunch. They remain at the same hours for dinner and open Tuesday through Saturday. No lunch hours on Saturday.

Robert A said...

The owners of this buffet as reviewed sold the restaurant to someone else. While I have not personally been there to review the restaurant under the new owner, I am told by readers who have gone since that it is not the same and some have walked out.

So if you have read this article, what is said may or may not apply any longer.