Friday, December 25, 2009


The first time that I dined at Buffet Europa in North Brunswick, New Jersey back in March I knew that this restaurant was a serious contender for best buffet. When I returned in July I had no doubt that this buffet had to receive recognition this year. What I kept thinking, however, was the size of this two person operated buffet and how they compare to the large and lavish buffets that I have written about and been to. As I stated in my two articles about Buffet Europa - March and July - this is a simple restaurant, not much larger than a single store front and everything in this restaurant is done by a husband and wife. Is it fair to put this little gem up against a restaurant that can seat a thousand and more with a large staff? Size should not matter. One of the finest French restaurants that I ever ate in consisted of a single counter with about six stools and one woman cooking and running the whole restaurant that was only open for lunch. It was well known way back when but it could not get the recognition that the large French restaurants had in the same "big city". I feel that it is best to set the small buffets into their own category and that is why this year we are giving an award for Best Small Buffet.

I am very pleased to announce that THE BEST SMALL BUFFET 2009 is BUFFET EUROPA!

What sets this buffet apart from all others is the food! The food at Europa Buffet rivals the finest of menu restaurants. This is not the typical buffet cooking. This is true European cooking of fine quality served in a elegantly decorated dining room with table clothes on the tables and pre-set place settings at each chair. There is classical music or opera instrumentals playing in the background. The restaurant is nicely quiet. There are only sixteen (16) tables total in the dining room. The restaurant offers a buffet in the evenings only and at all times there is a menu to order from.

There is no question as to the quality of the food and the excellent taste of the cooking at this buffet. The food on the buffet is served fresh and is cooked by one of the two owners who do everything here from host to cashier to cooking, to serving to busing tables. When something needs replenishing on the buffet the food that is brought out has just been cooked.

The value of the meal is there to at just $15.99 per adult which includes the buffet and soft beverages. With increasing costs at many of the buffets, including the chains, and higher prices, this price is right there with most - and as I have said, those other buffets do not compare to what you are getting here.

The food here is unique to the usual American or Asian fare found at most buffets. Here the food served is European - Italian, Polish, French and more. Dishes that you may find on the buffet include chicken francaise, Swedish meatballs, pasta ala vodka, blintzes, perogies, kielbasa, poached fish, grilled vegetables, bbq ribs, stuffed cabbage, carved loin of pork, seafood bisque, along with more, and on the dessert table - tiramisu. Each prepared as if it were prepared for you to order, but there out on the buffet. This truly is home cooking - and not the home cooked style that other buffets boast about.

With only one person working in the dining room and one person in the kitchen, you might worry that things will not be kept up - but this is just not so. Dishes are replenished on the buffet when they need to be, everything on the buffet is properly tended, and when you get up to get more, your used dish will be gone when you return to your table. These people do a remarkable job keeping things moving smoothly - and as this is their restaurant they have a personal interest in keeping you pleased. If all buffets were run as Buffet Europa is run, buffets would not have the negative connotation that many have for them. There is a vast difference between "going out to eat" and "going out for dinner". Going to Buffet Europa is "going out for dinner".

All in all, an evening at Buffet Europa is an evening of enjoyable, fine dining. This is a buffet experience like no other. This is one of the buffets that I often think about. I get the urge that I need to go there. I only wish that it was closer (but I know that nothing like this could exist where I am).

Since my visits the restaurant is now closed on Mondays for dinner. They have always been closed on Sundays all day. Saturdays they are not open for lunch. My concern is always that this is such a small restaurant.

All of this and more, make Buffet Europa the Best Small Buffet of 2009. A certificate attesting to this will be sent to the restaurant which we hope that they will proudly display. When you go there look for it- and let them know that you read all about them here!

If you have an opportunity to be near North Brunswick, New Jersey you absolutely MUST plan your day to be at Buffet Europa for dinner. I say over and over, this is a GEM, this is a TREASURE.

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). and they are not open for dinner on Mondays. The buffet is only available at dinner and that starts at 4:00 pm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Washington D.C. Buffets

I get a lot of requests for buffets in different cities and areas. One of my most frequent areas has been one of the hardest requests that I have to answer and that is Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., the capitol of our nation, is as one might expect a very expensive city to dine out in. I learned this during my first trip there with my wife. I had been there as a child and on vacation with your family you don't quite pay all that much attention to the prices of things that your parents are paying for - but once you have to go out on your own and pay the bill, well, you certainly take notice. Of course, way back when I was a kid traveling with my parents, there were no buffet restaurants as we have now. On that first trip to D.C., my wife and I were not sure we were going to have much money left for anything else paying what we were in restaurants in the city. In the many years since then, this has not changed and in all of that time with prices going up, this is very true of dining in Washington, D.C. today.

On our second trip to Washington, D.C. we saw an advertisement in one of those explore the city magazines that are free in hotel lobbies. It was for a restaurant that was not only advertising Prime Rib for $6.99 - this was 1980 - but with that there was an all you can eat salad bar. The restaurant was located just across the bridge from the city in Rosslyn, Virginia just across from the Iwo Jima Memorial and it was called Tom Sarris Orleans House. If you search through this site you will find an article about Tom Sarris. But don't get your hopes up - it was knocked down about a year or two ago. We had continued to dine there each trip to the area until it was gone. The food was good and the price - while no where near $6.99 any longer, was still affordable compared to surrounding restaurants.

So my first recommendation when anyone asked about affordable dining in D.C. - much less a buffet - was Tom Sarris. With that gone - well, the search was on. I am know for certain that if you want an Asian/Chinese buffet there are several both in the city and in the not too distant suburbs. In fact there is a Chinese Buffet that I will recommend that I have written about before and I will get to that but what about other types of buffets? There are actually a few.

In Washington, D.C. itself - within the city - there is one that I have not been to myself, but I have been to another location in Maryland and I always enjoy eating at that buffet. The restaurant is Phillips Flagship Seafood Buffet. This location is both menu dining and buffet. The Baltimore, Maryland location that I have eaten at many times is buffet only. Phillips is a restaurant with several locations in Maryland. They are known for their crab and crab cakes and this is the area's specialty, This is the Chesapeake and crabs are king - but not king crabs - blue crabs. If you look in your supermarket fish area you will see Phillip's crab meat in cans and packages. They are are very well known. If you go to any of Phillips menu restaurants you are going to pay quite a bit for crabs, crab cakes or any of the local seafood specialties. Surprisingly, most of that seafood is found on the Phillips seafood buffets. The price when recently checked was around $25 per adult - not bad for what you are getting. When blue crabs are not in season, they replace them with snow crab legs- which they often have in addition to the blue crabs. If you want a buffet to go to in Washington, this is the one to try. It is located down near the Potomac River boat yards, not too far from the U.S. Navy Yard. You can find out more about Phillips Flagship in D.C. here. If you or someone in your party does not like shell fish, there are other selections that are not shellfish or fish - but not much.

I am sure there are probably other non-Asian buffets within the city - most likely in the many hotels, but I suspect they are not going to be very affordable. If any are noteworthy, they have not come up in my research or travels about the city.

Our search of buffets in this area takes us outside the city, primarily into Virginia. For those of you who are not familiar with how Washington, D.C. is located, this small city (actually it is a District) sits surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. Cross a bridge and you cross into one or the other of those states. The Capital Beltway is a parkway that travels in a circle around Washington, in and out of Maryland and Virginia. The roads around are good - except at rush hour when you can sit bumper to bumper for hours. So anyway, back to buffets. The other buffets that I have found are all in Virginia. There is one that I have discovered, but not gone to in Oxon Hill, Maryland which is just outside the District, called Pienza Italian Market Restaurant. It is located inside the Gaylord National Hotel. The price is around $32. So why have I not written about this buffet - after all it is an Italian buffet, and I am always looking for Italian buffets? The reason is that the reviews that I have seen about this restaurant have been mixed - some good, some bad - and not enough one way or the other to make me comfortable about it. Perhaps on a future trip to D.C. I will try it - and hope that the good reviews were the correct reviews. Until then, if you try it, let me know - and I make no recommendation to go or not to go.

So where do I go and where have I been?

I have written several articles about The Green Olive Buffet and there is and has been a link to the restaurant at the side of this page. Despite the Italian sounding name this is an Asian buffet. It is nice and the food has been good the several times that I have been there. It is on Richmond Highway in Alexandria/Arlington (but outside of the city of Alexandria on the highway heading toward Mount Vernon). The choices are not just Asian and there is seafood and American selections here enough to please even those who don't like Chinese/Asian cuisine. I have recommended it and I still would.

There is a chain of steak restaurants called Western Sizzlin' that is very similar to Ponderosa. They used to combine their order off the menu steak restaurants with small buffets (which were terrible for the one I was at many years ago) BUT they have since split their buffets off into their own chain - with few locations. One of those locations is just outside Washington, D.C., also in Alexandria called The Great American Buffet. I have eaten at this buffet. It was a number of years ago - the food was fine. The selections were much like those at Old Country Buffet - basically Southern US-style cooking. As I say, it was a number of years ago and it may have changed - either way, better or not so better. If I was in the area and was not going to any of the others to choose from I would go back again. As the economy has led to a lot of restaurants closing even before company websites are updated I would call first to check it out - (703) 329-1555 You can find it at 5902 Richmond Highway, Alexandria VA.

Beyond those we are left with the usual chains - there is an Old Country Buffet in Alexandria - again on Richmond Road (get a pattern where the action is here). There is a Ryans way down in Fredericksburg - which is my favorite Ryans. This is about forty miles south of D.C. and at least an hour's drive. There is also a Golden Corral in Fredericksburg. And there is another Asian buffet that I have written about in Fredericksburg called Kings Buffet which I can only assume is still open - always call first. I am not sure that I would drive all the way down to Fredericksburg for any of these - and I love this Ryans - but I do always plan a stop at this Ryans when I am traveling south. (Why do I love this Ryans? I am not really sure - and most of my experiences have been pre-Buffets, Inc. takeover - but it has always been good.)

I wish I had more to recommend in the Washington, D.C. area. As I said, throw a dart and you will probably hit a Chinese buffet - a bunch come up on a search. But for the ones that I go to and would recommend, you have them here.

If you know of a buffet in this area, please send me an email and tell me about it! Or leave a comment with this article!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Return to the New Grand Buffet, Islandia, NY

Sometimes you start out for the evening with one destination in mind and when you get there you find a not so great surprise. It was the night after Thanksgiving and we drove the distance to Good Taste Buffet in Commack, NY. When we pulled into the parking lot, my wife said to me that the restaurant looked dark. We drove across to the front of the restaurant and sure enough, it was closed, as was the Italian restaurant next door. The window of the Italian restaurant was boarded over. Both restaurants had signs stuck up - "Reopening Soon". We surmise that there was a fire in the Italian restaurant and it spread through the wall to Good Taste Buffet next door. Oh my! Good Taste has become my local favorite. My first thought was were are we heading right now - as it was getting close to 8:00 pm and my second thought was that I hoped that when it re-opens they don't decide to change anything. I thought this because around here when things change or are redone, it is rarely for the better. So anyway, we thought about what was not too far away and with the help of a cell phone Internet browser located the Wal-Mart in Islandia and got directions to get there - as in that same shopping plaza is New Grand Buffet.

I wrote about New Grand Buffet in March, 2008. At the time I liked the restaurant and have thought about going back again, but have not. At that time I recommended it. Read on as I have some reservations now.

We arrived just about 8:10 pm which in this area is not late for dinner out on a Friday night. There were people in the restaurant but it was not overwhelmingly crowded. My wife feels that many do not eat out on the night after Thanksgiving. I am not so sure, as many have had their fill of turkey and are saving the left overs (if there are any) for a night the following week. The layout of the buffet and restaurant have not changed. The prices have increased by $1.00 for both adults and children making the adult price now $13.99 every night and the children's price $7.99 for children up to five feet tall. (My wife commented that if she was just two inches shorter she could get in for the children's price - I told her that I didn't think so.) We were seated and went up to the buffet.

If I had known I was coming before I started out on this evening I would have read through my article on the restaurant to see what I should look for and what was especially good. As it was I was going on a distant memory. We started, as we always do, with soup. I was in the mood for Hot and Sour Soup and went to the tureen. The soup's color was redder than I expected and looked loaded with hot pepper. I decided not to take that and took the wonton soup instead. Last time around - I find out now - the Hot and Sour soup was on the mild side and the better of the two soups. I was not complimentary of the wontons last March - but I must say that tonight the wontons were fine.

There were several more sushi selections tonight than last year - but the salmon on rice did not look as it should. One piece I took was fine. I took two pieces and when I was back at the table with the dish and I could see better in the light, I saw that the second piece had a dark area on the front of one side. I cut this away before I tried it but the fish had a dry and off taste - and I did not eat it. Ok - so every so often an off piece can get through. With sushi it is always, the diner be careful. A piece of tuna on rice that I took was fine. Large peel and eat shrimp that were kept well cold on a bed of ice were good.

My next course was dumplings. My wife had take some before I did and warned me that the steamed shrimp dumplings were overdone, dried out, and tough. I took one to try and took two fried pork dumplings. She was right, of course, the steamed shrimp dumplings were just as she described. Had I not taken the fried pork dumplings, this review would have had a much different outcome. These dumplings looked great. I cut one in half and put it in my mouth. I started to chew and heard a crack. My thought was a piece of pork bone and I hope I did not break a tooth. I felt something sharp in my mouth. I quickly went in with my fingers and brought out this. It was too dark in the restaurant to really see what it is. It turns out to be pieces of shard of a shell - from the color, probably a clam shell. The pieces, as you can see are sharp and pointed. As they say, in time all things must pass, but if that thing is sharp and pointed it can do considerable damage as it makes its way out. This is not a good thing. This is the worse thing that I have encountered in any buffet. Some may say, lucky you, as it is not uncommon for things like bone and such found in food served in almost every restaurant. Had I been eating stuffed clams, I might expect a piece of wayward shell. This was pork dumplings - and no where near were there any clams. In fact, I looked around the buffet suspecting that it was some type of shell and saw no clams at all. I stopped and took check of myself - bleeding in my mouth - no, pain anywhere - no, feel cut in my throat - no. I pushed the dumplings aside and went on. Did I call over the waitress? I have found that unless there is some damage that you can show and prove, you are not going to get too far - and while these young ladies should all speak perfect English, you never get the impression that they understand what you are telling them, especially when it is a complaint. At best there is an apology, at worst it is taken and ignored. I am lucky that I caught this in my mouth before I swallowed. A child would have been in trouble. We had started out fairly well. This now put an edge to the rest of the dinner.

A number of the dishes on the hot buffet table and at the barbecue appetizer area were not hot. They were warm, but not at the serving temperature that they should be. There really is no reason or excuse for this. The buffet tables are steam tables and the temperature can be controlled. Heating elements heat water below the serving trays. This water should be boiling and the resultant steam and heat should keep every dish hot. This is wet heat through the steam and thus the food should remain fairly moist and not dry out. In addition, several dishes that I tried were overdone- kept out too long in the heat. As I said, this restaurant was far from empty. There were people in each of the dining areas and a steady flow of people up at the buffet servers. Despite the time, there were people still coming in right through the time that we were finished and left.

Dishes offered were pretty much the same as those that I wrote about in March and I will not repeat them here. While there are a lot of dishes out, there felt to be a limited selection. The best of what I tried this time was a stuffed flounder - a thin strip of flounder stuffed with a crab stuffing and baked. The stuffing was very good, the flounder was tough and dry. I had blue crabs in ginger sauce and they were tasty, though they could have been hotter. Mixed in with the blue crabs were a few snow crab cluster tops. This was better than than the blue crab as there is a considerable amount of meat over the limited meat found in the side of a small blue crab.

As I pointed out last March, crab legs are a big thing here and they did keep bringing out more and filling up the serving tray. I actually went up to get some and looked for something to put a bit of the butter sauce in, which was there near the tray of crab legs. There were not little dishes. That was the point that I passed the crab legs by and went for the ginger crab. Later, when I did not want any crab legs there was a stack of little dishes next to the tray. The crab legs now are not served as clusters, as they were a year ago, but now they are individual legs. Full cluster legs cook better and become less water-logged. Even if they are cooked as clustered and pulled apart when put out, while they are in the steam tray they take on more water than full cluster legs do.

My feeling of the limit of choice is overcome by a real Mongolian grill. There is a large selection of vegetables and noodles to add to chicken, pork, or beef. The meats at this type of server should be kept frozen, but here they were not - and I made this same observation last year. This is one of the real round heavy iron grills and the chef walks around the grill with a paddle moving your selections around on the grill as they cook. You choose what you want your dish to consist of and you, yourself, put the ingredients, as much as you would like, on a plate and then add sauces and seasonings to your liking. With this you can always create yourself a hot entree to your liking.

Service was fine. Dishes were picked up. Glasses for beverages are huge and there are refills on top of that. We were seated at a table next to one of the large glass window walls that looks out to the parking lot. The white metal framework of the window on the inside should have been much cleaner. Similar to my note last time about the walls.

I am now reluctant to recommend New Grand Buffet. Had the shell or whatever not been inside the dumpling I would say that the food needs to be warmer but it is ok. With my luck of getting that one in a thousand dumpling that had something inside, we need to be forewarned. Yes, it could happen anywhere. But unless it happens to you, you don't think about it. Now, here, I would be thinking and looking through what I am eating. So, maybe not, a good choice for a relaxing night out.

The location is 704 Veteran's Highway in Islandia, New York. It is just south of US 495 at exit 57 in the Islandia Shopping Center where the Wal-Mart is. The phone number is (631) 582-3888. There is no website.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Return to the Golden Buffet, Centereach, NY

In 2006 I wrote about a Chinese buffet in Suffolk County, New York in the town of Centereach called the Golden Buffet. I have not been back in the last three years only because the restaurant is located some distance from me and I am not in that area much any longer - at least not at dinner time. We found ourselves nearby on a Saturday night and it was a choice between this restaurant and another that I have not been back to in some time. We decided - as this was closer - that we would return to Golden Buffet.

I am not going to give a total description of the restaurant as I have already done that in the first article from 2006. Just click on the restaurant name at the start of the above paragraph and read that article first.

When I go back to a buffet restaurant that I have only been to once before I look at it as if I had not been there before and try to get a completely new impression. I then come back and before I write the re-review read what I had to say before to see how things compare. There have been some changes here at the Golden Buffet.

First, I am happy to report that the prices at the Golden Buffet have actually gone DOWN in the past three years. Prices were pretty good before and now they are even better. Weekend dinner is now only $12.99 - down a dollar. Monday to Thursday the price is down to $11.99 and again this is down dollar. These prices make this buffet one of the most reasonable on Long Island - especially for the type of foods and quantities offered.

I have often commented that when you go to an ethnic restaurant and you see a number of tables filled with people of that ethnic background you have a pretty good indication that the food is both authentic and good. On this night at this restaurant there were a number of tables of Asian people. All seemed to be enthusiastically eating. This was the first thing that I noticed when we were seated at our table.

The food was good three years ago and it is fine now. There were some disappointments adn had I not been there before I would be much more positive but there have been some changes here too. Was everything great? Well, no. Not because it should not have been, but because the trays of food out on the buffet servers needed tending. What do I mean by tending? A good buffet has staff going around the buffet tables stirring and checking that nothing is drying out. When food is found that has been out too long, it needs to be taken away and replaced with fresh trays. This was not happening on this particular Saturday night Now, we did arrive to the buffet later than we wanted to - about 8:00 pm. The restaurant is open to 10 pm. There were a number of tables filled and people in the restaurant eating and going back up to the buffet for food. Yet, there were too many trays of food that had dried out and items not edible any longer because of that.

Items that were fresher were very good. There is a lot of assortment here and more than the usual number of buffet servers that you find in these restaurants. There were some items that were very well served - and need to be. There were raw oysters and clams out. They were on a thick bed of ice and were not dried out by any means. I like raw oysters but will only eat them if I feel that they are properly cold and have not been sitting. Other than a bit more loose shell and sand in the oysters they were good. Whoever shucked them should have both rinsed them better and cut the oyster from the shell. Never the less, they were fine. The sushi was also good and there was a broad assortment of sushi for a buffet sushi bar at a restaurant with an $12.99 dinner price.

The variety was not what it was three years ago. While there are many dishes - there was a lack of Chinese entree dishes. What do I mean by that? Many of the entree dishes that were out were single item dishes - fried shrimp, fried fish, roast duck. There were not many dishes like X with Y in Z sauce - the types of entrees that you will find on a usual Chinese food menu.

One thing that I had stood out and that was steamed flounder in ginger sauce. When I have had this at other restaurants the fish is on the bone and is difficult to eat without getting a bone in a mouthful. Here the flounder is filleted and the thin sauce nicely seasoned the fish.

There were a few odd dishes such as a long thin roll that was filled with a mildly seasoned fine chopped meat. I am not sure what it was because while there were signs over most items not all of them matched was in the tray. There was something called Italian Tacos - filled taco shells of chopped meat that looked just like Mexican tacos. I was not bold enough to try that - and it was a bit dried out looking. My wife tried the boneless spareribs - a staple at these buffets. It looked as usual with the meat strips in the typical thick red gel. But she did not eat it after a bite, as she said that the sauce just did not taste right.

I had praised the egg rolls here in my last review - they must have changed considerably since then because now they are just your standard buffet egg roll - small with more roll than filling. There was nothing wrong with them but they are not praise-worthy now.

You know, when I started writing this article my thoughts were more positive than they are now as I see what has been coming out on the page. So we are coming down to a mixed review on this return visit - though three years later - that I had praised the first time around.

The restaurant was clean. The service was good. We were satisfied when we left. Not hungry by any means and we felt fine after the meal - the most important thing to know about any restaurant.

So, was the problem the time that we went? In some areas 8 pm is late for dinner but in metro-NY on a Saturday night - not late by any means. But still I would like to see this restaurant again earlier in the evening. By comparison to another Chinese buffet on Long Island was similar pricing - and as I said this is few and far between at this price - this restaurant is far better - cleaner and so much more in many ways.

For the Golden Buffet in Centereach on our return visit after three years we are left with a mixed review. Some good, some not so good - yet the good is still there. Would I go back again? Yes, absolutely, if only to see once more if it was the night, the time, or if this is how it is now.

Golden Buffet is located at 1973 Middle Country Road in Centereach, NY. This is in the same shopping center on Route 25 as Walmart so it is not hard to find. There is no website. The phone number is 631-588-5188.