Friday, April 16, 2010

Looking for Corned Beef on St. Patrick's Day

It was St. Patrick's Day and I decided I wanted corned beef. I enjoy good corned beef. Lately I have been on a kick to have a decent corned beef sandwich. Now, there are places that I could drag my wife for what I know is going to be a good sandwich, but she does not appreciate it as much as I so I have been trying to make do with one in the local restaurants that we go to - when we are not going to buffets. Primarily they are diners - and at one time, in this area, one could get a fairly decent corned beef on rye at one of them. Not any more. What I have been given is commercial, sliced cold cut corned beef put into a microwave to make it "hot". What comes to the table is far less than is expected. At one such establishment I tried a " hot open corned beef sandwich". It arrived covered in brown beef gravy. Ycch. At another I ordered a hot corned beef on rye which around here means hot corned beef on fresh and NOT toasted rye bread. It came to the table toasted - and the corned beef had been laid on the griddle to make it hot. No, not what I had expected.

We have just had some really bad rain storms - really bad. In the midst of these storms a local town was to have a St. Patrick's Day Parade in which a group that I belong to was to march. Following that march every year, my group gets together for corned beef and cabbage made by one of the members. She makes a good corned beef - and I (and several others) were looking forward to that corned beef. The rains came and the parade did go on, but our group wisely decided to stay home and not brave the high powered winds and rain. So much for the corned beef.

So as I said in my first sentence - it was St. Patrick's Day and I wanted corned beef. I did not just want a serving of corned beef. I wanted corned beef on a buffet. Lots of luck I thought.

I started by going to the website of the buffet who in the past has had a one day feature of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day - Old Country Buffet. I had received no email from them on their email list about this for this year. I hoped that the website would say so. Nothing. Not a mention. Not the words, corned beef. In fact, they have not had a featured menu in quite some time of any kind. Maybe they were just not mentioning it. Maybe they were afraid of the massive hoards of corned beef lovers, Irish, and the Irish at heart. Maybe. It seemed like I would have to look further.

I started doing an internet search. Corned beef + buffet + my area. Lots of references came up to each of those phrases (well not much ever comes up about buffet). And with most buffet searches that I do - there was one of my articles in the list of results - "a one day feature of corned beef at Old Country Buffet on St. Patrick's Day" - as part of another article a few years old about features. Anything else? A few local clubs were having private parties featuring this sought after meal, but other than that nothing. I tried adding "all you can eat" and the letters "AYCE" to my search. Still the same results.

When my wife got home from work I told her about my desire and suggested that we go to OCB. She said that even if they did not have corned beef, Wednesday is one of their better menu nights. She is right - as always - and the plan was set to go to OCB and hope for corned beef.

When we got to OCB it was very crowded for a Wednesday night. There were a number of people wearing green shirts and I began to gather some hope. After we found a table - which was no easy thing, I went to look at the carving area. On a carving board were the shreds and remnants of what had been a corned beef. I met up with my wife at the soup pots and she asked, "Well did you find corned beef?" I said that I found what once was corned beef and we probably missed it. Now, why would I say that? Because this OCB is notorious for not replacing something with the same item - and often the replacement is not even close to the same type of item, like rolls for chicken. We got our soup and I watched the carving station from our table to see if another corned beef would be brought out. When we had finished out bowls of soup it had not been.

We went up to the buffet servers and I went to that carving board - no employee to be seen.There were pieces of fat with some edible meat present and a few very well done pieces that had been on the ends. I took what I could find that was edible and headed back to table. As small amounts as it was after taking away what should not be eaten, I had a few bites of what was pretty good. All the while I kept my eye on that carving station.

I was not the only person there that night craving this meat. a crowd started forming around the carving area - yet, nothing had changed. It was still empty except for the few scraps that I had not taken - and no one else was taking either. But then... then... a tray came out with a whole corned beef! Those around the counter descended upon the woman who set it down on the carving board and picked up the carving knife ready to serve. We had both finished our plates and were ready to go up so I headed directly there, picked up a plate along the way and got on line. It was a large corned beef and there was plenty for the crowd that was waiting. My wife came up behind me on the line - she likes corned beef but does not eat anything with that much fat for health reasons. She asked me if it was any good. I told her that what little I had tasted was actually pretty good. She waited behind me for a slice. When I got up to the server, I asked for two slices - no sense in taking any chances. No problem, the large corned beef was still more than half there. My wife took a small slice. To go with the corned beef was the traditional cabbage and wedged boiled potatoes with a light butter sauce. I took some potatoes. I passed on the cabbage - I like it, but after my eating it, no one around me appreciates that I did. So I passed on the cabbage, both as a public service and to avoid the physical discomforts.

Corned beef is actually beef brisket that is spiced with pickle seasons and traditionally either boiled or, as some specialty delis do, steamed. It can be baked - and that is how OCB makes it. This corned beef was coated with the seasonings (much like a pastrami) and baked or roasted in an oven. This method of cooking results in corned beef that is thick and crusted on the outside. The remains of the seasonings baked onto the black and crusty surface. It is tasty but at the edge tastes more like pastrami than corned beef. Further inside, beyond the crust it gets moister and more like the traditional corned beef. I have had corned beef made this way in other parts of the country - one place was Boston (though this may just be the way that this one particular restaurant in Boston prepared it). Cut away the fat while you eat it and cut away the crusty outside, and what you have at OCB is some pretty good corned beef. Not the best, but far better than the excuses for corned beef that I have experienced locally recently.

When I looked up from my plate over toward the carving station just a few minutes after starting on that first slice, I saw that once again the carving board was left with just remnants and shreds. But, shortly, another whole corned beef was brought out - and they actually kept on coming out through the time that we were there. I would say that at least five were brought out while we were eating - and each time there was a crowd at the carving station to get the first slices from each new one.

That first whole one that I had slices from was the moistest of all of the rest that I tried. Other slices from others that I had were drier - more well done. But they were still good.

One thing that goes along with corned beef for many is mustard - except for my wife who hates mustard. With those first shreds that I took, I went to the condiment bar to fill a small serving cup with mustard. The tray of mustard was empty with the exception of a thin coating at the bottom, which also happened to be coating a lemon that someone had dropped in from the condiment tray behind the mustard. I scraped what I could into my cup. Later that tray was even emptier, with many trying to do the same as I had - and of course, that lemon remained there at the bottom - more visible now. I must say that one dip of my fork of corned beef into the mustard cup came up with mustard and a lemon pit. I spit the pit into my plate and continued eating - nothing was going to spoil this. At one point I went up for more mustard. Some time had passed and I figured that it had been replaced - especially since several very large men were telling the women working around the buffet servers that the mustard tray was empty. Mostly it looked like the women were ignoring them - or did not understand what the men were saying to them in English - as this is a problem at this particular OCB. As I approached the mustard tray - still empty - another man was there looking for the same thing. He had tried communicating the need to one of the women who went about wiping up the counter below the drink machines there behind the condiment bar. After about five minutes we walked away in frustration - never getting any acknowledgment of what was needed. A while later I went back to see if anything had changed and in fact, someone had made the need known well enough that the tray was now brimming full of mustard. As I took some I wondered if the lemon was still there at the bottom.

I ate more corned beef than I should have. I had a good time doing it. I satisfied the urge, at least for the time being.

So despite the lack of anything on OCB's website, next St. Patrick's Day if you are looking for all you can eat corned beef (and all of the rest) you will probably find it at Old Country Buffet.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I enjoyed reading your corned beef post. Thanks for sharing. Not exactly what i'm searching for (a unique corned beef recipe), but i read your post until the end and enjoyed reading it.