Friday, August 27, 2010

FRENCH QUARTER BUFFET- Showboat Casino, Atlantic City, NJ - PART 1

When I started writing this I had intended it to be one single article, but it grew to be so long that I have split it into two parts -

Part 1

For two years I have been told that the best casino buffet in Atlantic City, New Jersey is at the Showboat Casino. When the casino first opened many years ago, I went to the Showboat's buffet a number of times. They were known THEN for their all you can eat lobster buffet and way back then it was served every night. I guess there were a lot more lobsters around then and they were more affordable because at the time the buffet's price at that time was not higher than any of the others. Now, you may ask - how could they do that? Well, the answer is they couldn't and the every night lobster buffet became history at the Showboat. After that the buffet at the Showboat became just so, so. Nothing really to brag about and there were better at other casinos.

Flash forward several years later and the buffet at the Showboat moved from one part of the second floor to another. It became a little more open - though the view that you had of the ocean in its original location was gone. But the offerings remained just average and after trying it again, I was not all that impressed and looked to other casino buffets.

Now we come to the present and as I said, I have been told by a number of people that the best buffet in a casino at Atlantic City is at the Showboat. It had to be really good to top what I consider to be the best Atlantic City casino buffet which is at the Wild, Wild West Bally's Casino. We recently went to Atlantic City pretty much just to have dinner at the French Quarter, Buffet at the Showboat Casino.

We went on a Friday night which is called Seafood Festival. Sounded good on the signs around the casino. We also passed a sign that said - Saturday Night - ALL YOU CAN EAT WHOLE LOBSTER. So hey, they have brought that back too, at least for one night a week. Other nights of the week there are other features and I am assuming a lower price. The Seafood Festival was $27.99 per person and the Saturday Lobster is $29.99 per person. I am going to base this review on my experience at the Seafood Festival Friday night feature. The Lobster may be wonderful and more than worth every penny of the $30 per person (which is reasonable for all the whole lobsters that you can eat), but there was no value in what was paid for the Friday night Seafood Festival. Does the French Quarter Buffet hold up to the claims that it is the best casino buffet in Atlantic City - not in my opinion. Let me tell you about the whole night and I will tell you why.

The buffet is located on the second floor of the casino building, above the gambling area and in the middle of the floor that it shares with a theater, banquet rooms, and the House of Blues nightclub/bar. The second floor is reached by escalated at either end of the building. You walk down the hallway and you will see the buffet - a large open area along the middle of the hall. Getting in was confusing. There are three entrances - each for a different "comp" card holder - holders of the silver, gold, or platinum cards each go into a different entrance and those without cards enter where the silver card holders go in. All of this and all three entrances enter into the same cashier area with the same cashier desk. I am certain that when there is a crowd - on this Friday night on the last weekend of July there was surprisingly no crowd and no line at all (???) - you will wait much less time depending on which card you have in your hand. You have to earn that gold or platinum card with how much gambling that you do.

So, we finally find the right entrance opening and go to the same cashier that everyone else would go to and we pay - $27.99 each. If you do have a card it is swiped and "points" are added to it. The more points you have (from this or gambling- the more things you get from the casino - which are called "comps" for complimentaries). We go to the side of the cashier and are met by a young woman who escorted us to a table. A server came along almost as soon as we arrived and we were asked for our drink orders which are unlimited soft drinks included in the meal price. If you want wine or beer that is extra, but available with a per drink charge. They seem to be serving Pepsi products as that is what my wife thinks her diet soda was - Diet Pepsi - though she commented that she could not be sure it was not a no name brand.

The layout of the buffet is this - there is a dining room that forms an L around the very long serving area. The entire rear wall is the serving area with a salad and dessert island in front of that closest to the dining tables. Each type of cuisine is SUPPOSED to be in its own section along the serving area - Chinese in the Chinese section, meat in the carving section, Italian in the Italian section, seafood in the seafood section and so on. I say supposed because it was actually scattered all over the place with no sense or reason at all. What should have been in one was mixed into another area. It really was necessary to walk completely around and take note of what was offered to be able to find everything because if you skipped say the Chinese area because you were not in the mood for Asian food but you really wanted some plain string beans (NOT Chinese style string beans) you were not going to find them because they were next to the trays of fried rice and lo mein. Behind each serving counter was an open area for chefs to cook what was being served. Nothing was being cooked to order but they were cooking and refilling what needed to be out - at least as some stations - but not all.

We usually start our meal with soup and soup was scattered all around the different stations. Over by the raw bar and some of the seafood there was Manhattan Clam Chowder (the red kind). At the Chinese area there was egg drop soup. At the Italian area there was Minestrone soup. And then between the Italian area and the carving, hidden so well that I did not find this until mid-meal was another soup - Turtle and Snapper Soup. I took the clam chowder and it was fine - nothing much different than the clam chowder that is served every night at every diner on Long Island where I live (yes, in some areas there is always Chili offered, on Long Island in a diner there is always Manhattan clam chowder). Anyway, the clam chowder was nice - lots of clam pieces but nothing special. I will say here that later I went and had to try the Turtle and Snapper soup. I have had mock turtle soup before and I have had red snapper soup before - usually made with sherry. I have liked both when I have had them. The serving tureen of this soup was skimmed over with a thick layer of cooled soup. I took the ladle and stirred a lot to blend this thickened layer into the soup. I started to scoop and long, thick strands of soup hung from the ladle. Was this supposed to happen with this type of soup? None of those other soups that I have had - the mock turtle or the snapper did this. I scooped a half cup. It looked like brown gravy. I thought to myself that perhaps this was not soup at all but brown gravy for the beef. It was actually thicker than the thickest brown gravy would be. Back at the table I took a taste - the thick reddish brown soup clung to the sides of the cup and again, a long strand of something came up with the spoon and down into the soup. I bravely, broke the strand and tasted. It tasted like other snapper soup that I have had. There was the distinct subtle taste of sherry. The taste was pleasant - the consistency was odd. It was super thick and those strands kept coming up with the soup. There was no pieces of anything in the soup - just these stringy strands. I did finish most of the half cup, leaving behind what was clinging to all of the sides that the soup touched.

My wife visited the salad bar next and I went on to the raw bar. The salad bar was very extensive with a variety of salad toppings to go along with the greens and then a number of prepared salads including a Caesar salad that was prepared. I tried the Caesar salad later on and it looked a lot better than it was. The dressing - and most of what is Caesar salad is the dressing - was weak. My wife was upset that a number of the salad toppings contained drippings and pieces from other toppings containers. I commented to her that this was the fault of the people serving themselves moving one spoon to another container but she pointed out to me that at many salad bars at buffets - including the chain buffets - the employees come around and correct this when it happens - removing whatever does not belong or even replacing the container. Here this did not happen and the - let's call them "contaminated" containers remained that way the entire time that we were there. While eating her salad, my wife discovered that the slices of cucumber that she had taken were all spoiled.

As I said, while my wife had salad, I went to the Raw Bar and there were raw oysters and clams on the half shell. The oysters were large - perhaps too large to eat comfortably for raw oysters. I took three oysters and one clam. The oysters were not wet as they should be and instead of silvery grey in color they were a dry, pale yellow. I ate the first one and thought that it was slightly off in taste - not bad but not with that fresh ocean taste that raw clams should have. They were served on a large bed of ice so they should have kept fresh but it is hard to tell how often they are taken and replaced. I tried one more with more concern - and the last thing that I wanted on this night was raw shell fish poisoning. It did not have that fresh ocean taste and that was it for oysters for me that night. I did try the clam and it was OK - too large really to be very good. The Raw Bar also had shrimp in the shell - large shrimp that had been de-veined. The ones that I picked were fine. My wife took some later that she said were under cooked and not good. So far the Seafood Festival was not so festive.

END OF PART 1 - Come back next week for PART 2

Friday, August 20, 2010

Being Diabetic at a Buffet

This is a bit different than my usual articles and perhaps it is aimed at specific readers, but I want to share something important. To do so and make this understandable to all, I am going to explain Diabetes in the simplest of terms. This is a disease in which the body either does not produce insulin or is resistant to the insulin that it produces on its own. Insulin is important for survival and without its proper production or use a number of complications will occur in the body that could lead to eventual death. Now, that is what it is - and again in it simplest explanation. What leads to this condition is a variety of factors only one of which is heredity. People who are over-weight are prone to developing the disease, but believe me the skinniest of people also can be come Diabetic. To control the disease a variety of specific medications are prescribed - some Diabetics require that the insulin in their bodies be replaced and insulin is such that it can only be injected. Not all Diabetics take insulin. Some take oral medications and some take no medication but control themselves with diet and exercise. I need to make clear that traditionally Diabetes is always associated with sugar - and many believe that a Diabetic can never eat sugar or anything containing sugar and this is just not true. What a Diabetic needs to cut back on are carbohydrates - in any form - and this does include sugar, but it also includes potatoes, fruit, breads, pasta, and so much more. These do not have to be eliminated in the diet 100% but they do need to be reduced.

I have gone on above just to easily understand what I am about to write about. Knowing this, how could a Diabetic eat at a buffet? My answer is "easy!". What? Yes, in fact, I know from experience that a buffet is one of the best and easiest places to eat.

One of the problems with menu restaurants for a Diabetic is the limitations of what is on the menu and portion sizes. Either the portions are way to large or ridiculously low or the offerings just don't fit in to what one can eat - and they are site unseen. Now, go to a buffet. The portion sizes are up to you. If you want to eat something that perhaps is OK but only in a small amount, you take a small amount. Not sure what is on something - is that vegetable covered in breadcrumbs - at a buffet all you need to do is look.

Now, it does take a proper mindset of not going in to the buffet as a "free for all" eating marathon. There has to be a lot of self-control to pass up those tempting desserts or pass on the lasagna. But there are many choices and possibilities at a buffet for someone determined to enjoy the meal while keeping track of that to eat or not to eat.

At a buffet you will almost always find a salad bar and this is a wonderful place to fill up a plate and create a salad to your liking. Skip the croutons, pasta salads, or potato salad and pretty much you can eat as much as you care to eat. But you are not limited to the salad bar. Remember what I said - what needs to be limited are carbohydrates and while you will find many at a buffet that you may take in small amounts there are plenty of meats, fish, and vegetables to enjoy. As long as one does not go "overboard" there is no problem for a Diabetic at a buffet.

I have been Diabetic for many years - even before I started writing this site. Some of my lowest carb meals have been at buffets - maybe most of my lowest carb meals and I did not leave that buffet hungry. I have to actually watch that I eat enough carbs at a buffet meal. Yes, too few carbs can lead to too little sugar in your blood (the insulin controls the sugar in your blood and what your body does with it) and the result is a low blood sugar reaction which believe me is nothing anyone wants to go through too often - imagine being upside down on a roller coaster with blurry vision. At a recent visit to Shady Maple I was too careful about eating carbs and had this reaction on the drive home - not good at all. A Diabetic who is knowledgeable about what to eat and is actively working on control soon learns what can be eaten and what can't - and everyone's body is different so there are few universals. To learn this the Diabetic tests his/her blood with a simple prick of the finger and an small electronic meter that will tell you what your blood sugar (actually blood glucose) is at the moment. Test two hours after eating and you will know how that meal and those foods effect you. Complicated, not really. Necessary, absolutely.

So, as I have been rambling on here the point is that if you are a Diabetic or a member or your family is - or a friend - you all don't have to forget about going to a buffet. Just be wise and choose wisely. Eat and enjoy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Changes at Yoders

I have written several times about Yoders Restauant - the buffet located in a supermarket in New Holland, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. On a recent visit there were a few pleasant surprises - a few new additions. Before I tell you about these, I will give you a brief rundown on this buffet - my "second" most favorite buffet to go to.

As I say, Yoders is located in a supermarket building. It is off in a wing of its own connected to Yoder's Supermarket. It shares this area of the building with two gift shops and large banquet catering rooms that are an extension of the restaurant. Yoders Restaurant offers both menu and buffet dining. Look here for Yoders and you will see pricing, etc.

Don't go to Yoders expecting eletgance in decor. The dining room is filled with hard, but comfortable booths similar to those found in family restaurants or even some fast food restaurants. The main dining room seats four at the most at a table but there is another dining room to the rear that accommodates more at a table - so have no concern if you look in and wonder where your family of six is going to sit. The rear of the dining room is the buffet area. There are several hot and cold double sided buffet servers, a grill at the back, and two buffet servers on each side wall.

On this particular Saturday night the feature was Surf and Turf - and this is the same on Friday nights. Now, don't equate surf with lobster - there is no lobster to be found here but there is some very good seafood - and nice steaks grilled to order on a flame grill. The soups went along with the theme too - vegetable beef and "Krab Supreme" which was very large pieces of the "fake" crab meat in a cream of broccoli soup. It was rather good - different, but good!

The only complaint that I can say about this particular meal was that some of the portions that were given at the grill and even on the buffet were too large. NOW, this is A GOOD THING - but I would have been happier leaving more room in my stomach for trying more. The steak - which they call Marinated Steak - was a whole steak - not a cut off piece or a small cube of meat. The steak had a slightly sweet and seasoned taste which was very good. I took a piece of fried cod fish from the buffet and the pieces were large pieces of fish. The taste was excellent and I guess I could have cut into one in the serving tray and taken less but I hate to do that. My wife asked for turkey at the carving station and was given several substantial slices. BUT I would rather the servings are large than too small - as so often is the case at some buffets.

Now for the changes -

The most impressive change is an expansion of the dessert area. Still within the same space, there is an increase in cakes and also the addition of a sundae bar. Built onto the wall are cylinders that dispense sundae toppings - sprinkles, nuts, etc. along with a variety of syrups.

There are now two large screen televisions hanging down at each side of the carving area/grill. This is not for watching shows but electronically displays the specials on the grill and carvings. Very nicely done! Easy to change and I have not seen this anywhere else. The screens blend in well and do not distract you sitting in the dining room eating.

At the middle of the grill area they have placed a new buffet server. This replaces a small serving module that had been in this area previously. The new server has both hot and cold - condiments, hot mushrooms and hot onions for the steak, sauces, and on this night - steamed, spiced shrimp. This small double sided buffet server divides the grill/carving area and compliments it well with items that go along with what is served there.

The last change we did not notice until we were dining for awhile. There has always been a wall length buffet server along the left wall at the back with the soups and breads. For as long as we have been coming here, I never noticed the far area at the other end used to serve anything. On this night my wife was a bit disappointed that her favorite dish here on the buffet was missing - baked oatmeal. It is generally served every night but it was not on the buffet servers with the entrees and side dishes - which is where it always has been. Almost at the end of the meal she was walking past that far end of the wall buffet server and glanced in - and there was the baked oatmeal. Not only that but there was also baked oatmeal with fruit and other similar dishes. So this area is now being used and if you go make sure to look to see what may be there. Now, I wish I could say that this made my wife happy as she loves their baked oatmeal but she said that it was different - not the same consistency and texture as usual, and a slightly different taste. So she told me she wished that she had not found it or it had really been missing because it just was not the same. Maybe a different person in the kitchen made it - maybe it was a one time difference... I will encourage her to try a small bit of it again the next time just to see. I was happy to try a slice of something called Funny Cake - this is a cake in a pie shell - yellow cake with swirls of a dark chocolate syrup-like mixture of chocolate (not sure how to describe it because it is not filling and it is not syrup). What it is is good and this is the first time that I have seen it here or any buffet. It is not commonly found and is specific to one German region of Pennsylvania not in Lancaster County. I have had it at festivals - but never at a buffet. This one was not the best that I have had but it was good and a delightful surprise.

There is a website for Yoders listed at the side of this article. The restaurant is located at Yoder's Supermarket or perhaps, more properly, Yoder's Country Market, Route 23, New Holland, Pennsylvania. The phone number is (717) 354-4748. Yoders is open from Monday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner until 8 pm. It is also now open on Sunday morning/early afternoon for Sunday Brunch.

Friday, August 06, 2010


They are called many things. In some parts of the southern US they are known as "bugs". In some regions they are "crawdads". Most technically they are crayfish. Crayfish look like tiny lobsters. In some respects because of their size and shape they do look like bugs.

There is a legend about crayfish - it goes that when the French settlers were forced out of Nova Scotia in the 18th Century and journeyed down the east coast of the United States to settle in what is Louisiana and there became the Cajuns, the lobsters in the waters around Nova Scotia followed them. All along the way the lobsters cried in sorrow and with each mile became more and more emaciated. When they reached Louisiana they had become very small - and thus became what we know as crayfish. Nice story - certainly with no fact.

They are naturally black and when boiled their shells turn bright red. To eat them, since they are so small - about two or three inches long for the larger ones - you twist their heads off and then eat out the meat from the tail by placing the tail end into your mouth and pulling and sucking. They tend to have a very fishy taste - especially when steamed or boiled - and they are full of juice. Many will tell you to suck on the ripped open end of the head and you will get a great taste there.

Some seafood buffets will offer crayfish - Captain George in Williamsburg, Virginia is an example. Some Asian buffets also will include crayfish. There is going to be a one day special in of all places the Ikea Stores' in-store restaurants. They are offering a dinner of All You Can Eat Crayfish! Ikea is the assemble it your self furniture store chain from Sweden that has locations across the United States and I am sure the world. I am not sure why but Ikea has announced this AYCE special Crayfish Party for August 20, 2010. The price is just $9.99 for adults and just $2.49 for children under 12. This is an annual event!

I am sure there are kids who like crayfish - they have a very strong flavor and it is not something that I believe the average kid will like but at $2.49, if your kid loves crayfish it is a deal. The $9.99 adult price is great for adults too!

Here is a link to the event. This link may only work until the day of the event, but look again in a year for this annual event if you miss it this year.

If you love crayfish this is your opportunity to get your hands on all you care to eat! Personally, I can't eat many - the flavor is too strong and I can't get past how much like bugs they look. (The meat is great when cooked into things like a bisque soup.) But a lot of people love them and I say get to Ikea on August 20, 2010 and dig in! A sign at the store says to go in advance to purchase tickets - so if you want to get this one night feast, head on over to your local Ikea now!