Friday, June 25, 2010

Sunburst Buffet at Mohegan Sun Casino Resort, Uncasville, Connecticut

The Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut is an entertainment destination. Not only are there four or five full gambling casinos within the complex, there is an upscale, shopping mall, and a number of restaurants including two complete buffets. I have eaten at both (prior to starting to write about buffets) and the Sunburst Buffet - what is considered the "upscale" buffet here has always been a fond memory that I have longed to return to. I recently found myself in Connecticut and the Sunburst Buffet at Mohegan Sun was on my list of things to do.

Sometimes memories can be far better than reliving the experience again. And I am sorry to say that the Sunburst Buffet has changed a lot or I remember it a lot better than it is today. On our return it was a fine meal but nothing really that would stand out among other casino buffets that I have been to over the years.

The buffet is located just off of the shopping mall and the casino that is located where the big orange glass mountain is that is often shown in Mohegan Sun advertisements. Yes, there is a glass mountain. There are also two waterfalls nearby. You pay as you enter - as you do at most casino buffets. The price of the meal was $21.00 per person. Children are about half that price and there is no difference in price at various times of day - it is the same at lunch and dinner. The meal price includes unlimited soft drinks.

The buffet servers are set up in islands in the center of the restaurant with a carving station and the dessert bar along one wall. Each island is a tiled counter with hot serving trays on top or a cold area with cold selections. Every dish is marked above as to what it is - and this seemed to be consistent throughout and correct.

So what did I not see that I remember. As we go along now I will tell you more, but the thing that stuck in my mind the most were chefs at every station creating dishes to order. For example, a saute chef who would make a dish from a selection of dishes just for you. The stations were actually there, and with the exception of a woman boiling plain pasta at the Italian section, the chefs were not there anywhere to be found.

We started our meal with soup and there were six soup choices. Not bad, but several of the soups were variations of each other with slight modification. I tried the New England Clam Chowder which was a thick white cream chowder with noticeable clams. It had a nice taste. I also tried later in the meal the vegetarian vegetable soup which was a thin vegetable stock soup with a mixture of vegetables cooked in. This soup looked just like the Italian Wedding soup which was close by without the little meatballs. The vegetable soup was overly seasoned and salty. Overly seasoned is a phrase that you will see a lot in this article because that is how I can sum up the entire meal - overly seasoned.

We next went to the salad bar. There is an extensive salad bar, perhaps the most impressive that I have seen. It stretched around one island and then on the "Italian" island there is a second area with Italian themed salads. When we got to where the lettuce was put out - several varieties, they boasted on the sign that the lettuce was "bagged greens" from Dole. Hmm. I am not sure I would boast about bagged lettuce. Even if this may be common in the industry - and I am not so sure it is - I would at least give the impression that the lettuce was freshly cut from whole. Bagged lettuce often has preservatives added. My wife saw this and almost did not take the salad. There were many, many toppings to add to your salad and there were many, many prepared salads as well. Of note, at the Italian island there was a mozzarella salad that was fresh and good with the cheese not dry. There was also a pitted olive salad that was an assortment of Greek and Italian olives - and all with not pits.

Entrees were where we began to be disappointed. The sign in front of the restaurant listing a description of things to be found inside talked about a Mongolian grill where a chef would create entress - the grill was there but no chef - and not just no chef to be found because he was off somewhere - no chef and the grill was closed down. At the carving area there was a large steamship round of beef. There was a carver who just about understood what was being requested. She had to places to cut from for differently cooked beef - what should have been medium rare and well done turned out to be well done and more well done. On the side were caramelized onions and mushrooms together to put on top of the beef. My wife got all excited because she saw turkey gravy and went to get herself some turkey. The turkey being carved was "cajun turkey". This was a flat slap of turkey that had a thick black outside. My wife passed on the turkey. I tried it. It was dry, tough, and somewhat cajun-seasoned on the outside - but the outside was so thick that it was not really edible. I had to wonder why bother and why not just put out a nice turkey breast (I will tell you why later). This was the extent of the carvings offered. The carving area outside on the sign was described as the "Rotisserie". There was a large rotisserie behind the carver. We presumed - one should never presume - that something would be cooking on the rotisserie that would belong on a rotisserie such as chicken. No, we were wrong. Perhaps when the Cajun turkey had been cooked it came from there but there was nothing there now. Along the side of the carving station there were potato dishes and also a tray of St. Louis Ribs. The ribs were thick and meaty but over-sauced and again a bit too much seasoning. Even the steamship round of beef was seasoned with something that did not quite belong with the taste of the beef.

Over where the Mongolian grill was there were several more entrees around the counter top. There was a seafood fra diavlo - in Italian, Seafood from the Devil. In other words, spicy hot seafood and it certainly was that. The only seafood to be distinguished in the dish were shrimps. There were other fish in there but there was no telling what they were. There was mahi-mahi in a sauce with vegetables. There was a tray of "Summer Vegetable Melody" was was mostly zucchini but again with an odd taste that hinted that the vegetables were grilled but there was some seasoning there that overwhelmed the taste.

Around the far side of the salad bar - almost hidden were more hot dishes. There was beef barbecue that was overly sweet in barbecue sauce. There was also a tofu and cranberries dish. Tofu has no real flavor on its own and takes it taste from the foods that it is cooked with- this one tasted just of dry tofu.

The Italian island was the best of the selections with the ability to have the chef boil you pasta or spaghetti and add your own Alfredo sauce of Marinara sauce. There were also several Italian dishes. There was ravioli which were good but were in a thick cream sauce that again was over-seasoned. The most intriguing dish to me was an Italian sausage stew. Pieces of sweet Italian sausage with potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables in a thin brown stew gravy. When I saw this I was reminded of a wonderful version that I had many years a go in a very, very fine Italian restaurant in New York City. It looked the same. It tasted good - again, less seasoning would have made it much better. This was the dish that I went back to have several times. Though on the ride home from Connecticut I must say that this was the taste that continued to repeat on me with each belch. Also at the Italian Island was focaccia , which basically is thick pizza without any tomato sauce - just cheese. This looked very good but dry so I added the marinara sauce on top from next to the pasta - it made a so-so pizza.

Dessert may be the best part of the meal here. There is an extensive dessert bar with large pieces of real cheesecake, pastries, cakes, a variety of puddings, fresh fruit and hard ice cream. There are also waffle makers to make thick waffles to put toppings and/ or ice cream on. No one seemed to be getting any but the waffle makers and the ladies to use them were there. Next to the ice cream was an extensive sundae bar.

So, I said that I would tell you why no regular turkey. There are two buffets at Mohegan Sun - this one and one off one of the casinos called Seasons Buffet. Seasons Buffet is the less expensive and so-called "plainer" of the two. The big features at Seasons are carved roast beef and turkey - along with made to your order pizza and a variety of dishes from the various menu restaurants in the complex. I had been to Seasons once before and was disappointed there in the plainness of what was offered and the cafeteria feel that the whole buffet had. But apparently if you wanted turkey and roast beef (which had to be the same beef in a smaller version) that was the place to go that night and paid five dollars per person for dinner less.

Service though the night was fine. Our dishes were cleared away promptly. My wife's soda was refilled but when I emptied my glass of ice tea our server walked past our table - there were very few other tables he was waiting on - five times before he stopped when we were just about to leave and asked if I wanted a refill.

Overall, I had to apologize to my picky eater wife who mostly ate salad for her $21 as there was nothing really plain or not spiced for her to eat. I guess the past is always better in memory than in reality. But I truly do remember a wonderful meal here several years ago and I have been looking forward to that meal again. I still am.

The Sunburst Buffet is not open every day. It is closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays. Sunday, Monday, and Thursday it is open from 11am to 9pm. On Friday and Saturday it is open from 11 am to 11 pm. There is a full alcohol bar available in the restaurant at additional charge.

Would I recommend this if you are at this casino? Let me say this - go check out both buffets here first before you decide which to go into. Ask first to go inside and walk around and look. If you are happy with spiced and highly seasoned food you may like this. If not and you are a "plain" eater - skip this and go to the Seasons Buffet - but again, walk around inside first and see what is being offered. Frankly, if you want something different skip the buffets and check out the variety of other restaurants. There was an Asian food court restaurant - the whole Asian restaurant is the food court - that looked interesting.

There is a link to the Sunburst Buffet at the side of this article.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Golden Corral New Feature - Babyback Ribs!

There are now two major buffet chains - Golden Corral and Buffets, Inc, which operates Old Country Buffet and what is left of Ryans. There was a time that all of the chains would have special menu features - and make a big deal about these. Only Golden Corral does this any longer. And they do it very well.

There is a new feature currently at the Golden Corral buffet restaurants across the US. The feature is babyback ribs. That is what is being advertised on television and on the posters, but this feature actually consists of a lot more and it will please barbecue fans! As with most features, this is offered for a limited time and I hope that I can get to a Golden Corral while it is still offered.

Let's start with the main feature, the babybacks. Golden Corral has taken babyback ribs and seasoned them with dry rub. Then they cook them until they fall off the bone - my sign of the best cooked ribs! Once cooked like that they are brushed with barbecue sauce and then flame-grilled. When you get the ribs you are offered three sauces to put on them yourself - more traditional barbecue sauce, sweet hickory bourbon sauce, or spicy habenero bbq sauce. Oh my! I love babybacks when they are cooked right. These sound perfect!

Another part of this feature are Kansas City Full Rack Spare Ribs. Here the ribs are seasoned with a barbecue blend and then slathered in traditional barbecue sauce and flame grilled.

If that all was not enough the feature keeps going with Hawaiian Glazed Split Pork Ribs. The same ribs that are used for the Kansas City ribs are covered in a Pineapple Dijon sauce and flame grilled. They are then hand cut and served hot.

Had enough barbecue? I hope not because there is more - North Carolina Slow Roasted Pulled Pork and Kentucky Hickory Bourbon Smoked Beef Brisket. The a whole pork roast is seasoned with a special barbecue blend and then cooked for five hours! It is then hand pulled and seasoned with the barbecue sauce that is well known in eastern North Carolina - a vinegar-based sauce. This is served up hot on the buffer server. North Carolina style barbecue is a bit different from the sweeter barbecue in other regions. But if you crave the sweeter style then go for the Brisket which is hand carved at the buffet. This brisket is first cooked until tender and then flame broiled with hickory bourbon sauce.

Of course, all great barbecue needs a great side dish and Golden Corral has added Homemade BBQ Potato Chips. What? Potato chips that don't come in a bag? Yes! Hand slice whole potatoes very thin and then fry them up. The chips are then sprinkled with BBQ seasoning. They are fresh and they are crispy! I have had homemade chips before but I have never seen them offered on a buffet.

It all sounds great and readers report that it all tastes great! This feature will not last forever. If you want to enjoy this do not wait. This is a summer time feast that is served along with all of the other Golden Corral favorites including flame grilled steak. This is the season to eat barbecue and Golden Corral lets you enjoy for very little money! AND OF COURSE, IT IS ALL YOU CAN EAT! Or perhaps we should say - all you care to eat!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Old Country Buffet

I had an opportunity to have dinner at a different Old Country Buffet and though I eat at OCB often, I decided to see what happens at another location. I went on Memorial Day night to see this OCB on a night when the day would have been busier than normal. As it happened there was a carnival going on in the parking lot that day and night right outside the restaurant so business that day was good.

We went in, paid our $10.99 each plus the now additional $1.69 for beverages, and sat down. Immediately, looking around the dining room, the floors were clean. If there had been spills or things dropped during that busy day, and their must have been, they certainly had been cleaned up promptly. As soon as we were seated our server came over quickly and greeted us. Asked if if there was anything we needed and invited us to go up to the buffet. Now, this is a scene that takes place thousands of times at buffets everywhere, but this was certainly different for me at an Old Country Buffet. I watched as this same server went from table to table as people were eating, picking up dirty dishes almost as soon as they were put down, and asking the diners if they needed anything. Amazing!

We went up to the buffet and most serving trays were full enough and those that were low were being replaced by several people working at the buffet table area - in addition to the woman who was at the carving station. Throughout the rest of the night while we were there trays of food kept coming from the kitchen to replace what was "beginning" to empty out.

Even the food was prepared better. The pizza was not incinerated. The macaroni and cheese was not macaroni floating in liquid cheese. There were noodles in the chicken noodle soup. The Caesar salad had the proper amount of dressing on it.

When we went up for our beverages there was ice in both machines and not only were there plenty of clean glasses, there were also coffee cups as well. Why I am so surprised to even mention this? This is not something that I have often encountered at the usual OCB.

Now, I am not writing this to knock the usual OCB that I go to and I know a lot of you may take some of my other articles and say look, he is doing it again, but as I suspected all along it is not the chain - it is the location. And this pleasant meal at another OCB just goes to prove that. Perhaps refresher courses are required for some OCB restaurant management staff. A good manager trains good employees and makes a restaurant stand out.

I know that there are other OCB's out there just as good as this one. I have heard from a number of readers recommending OCB's all over the country. Again, it is not the chain, but the location.

Friday, June 04, 2010


I have been informed by one of our readers that on a very recent visit to Buffet Europa, he discovered the restaurant was sold. The restaurant remains in business but the original owners are gone, and apparently have moved to Jersey City, New Jersey.

This reader reports that they went into the restaurant, immediately learned that there were new owners and then they looked around at the buffet to decide if they wanted to stay and try it. They had been to Buffet Europa before and saw nothing of what they expected. As the reader put it to me, they did not like what they saw and left.

For all of you have been to Buffet Europa - the restaurant that this site chose as the "Best Small Buffet of 2oo9" - this is a real tragedy. I say this because it was the two people who ran this restaurant all on their own who made this the unique and wonderful place that it was.

I cannot judge the new owners or their cooking or the food that they are serving. It may be very nice - though as I say, I reported above what a reader encountered when he and his wife went their. I have been told that the ethnicity of the new owner is not the same as the original owners who were Italian and Polish - and the reason why this European cuisine featuring buffet was so good. Whether that should make any difference remains to be seen.

I have looked at the website and it remains exactly the same as it always has - the site shows the same hours, days, and menu items on the buffet. There is no mention of new owners and the links to all of the reviews remain from various media including ours. Of course, that review no longer holds true without the people who made this restaurant so special.

I look upon this is just one more notch in this bad economy's belt. We have speculated for a few months now how they could remain in business with the few customers that would be there on nights that several of our readers and I have been there in 2010. A month or so ago we learned that they had closed for renovations - and from the description of the person who spoke to our reader that time and the person who spoke to the reader who informed us of the new owner - well, that had to be the same person.

For now, I can no longer recommend Buffet Europa until some of our readers report back to me - if they try it - how the food is now. Maybe they will be pleasantly surprised. I hope so. Whether I will return any time soon remains to be seen - and if I do, I, too, would go in prepared to walk right back out if I don't see what I think is a quality meal being served. If you go to Buffet Europa after you see this article please leave a comment. If you have been there before - even within the last few months it was likely you were there with the original owners - so to be current with this restaurant - only comment on the food if you are there from here on.

Buffet Europa is located at 1000 Arron Road, North Brunswick, New Jersey 08902.

Farewell, Buffet Europa. Maybe the nice couple who started this restaurant will open another just as good in a location deserving of the food that they serve and they get the business that they should.