Friday, November 26, 2010

My Thanksgiving at a Buffet

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about having your Thanksgiving meal at a buffet restaurant. Well, this year, we did exactly that. We have been looking through the newspaper advertisements for several weeks, going through the internet for local restaurants serving buffet, and considering the suggestions made by readers of the article. By the way, thank you all who made suggestions! What we encountered was that in this area where the only "American-food" buffets are Old Country Buffets was that either catering halls or menu restaurants were serving a "buffet" Thanksgiving dinner between certain hours on Thanksgiving Day. Some were describing the meal as "brunch" which would be served until early evening. Most were specifying a time limit to your "seating" of one hour and a half. We have had holiday meals like this in the past and what we have encountered at these restaurants is that their employees are not happy about working on a holiday, the restaurant is not accustomed to the art of serving a buffet, and they are all to eager to get you out so that the next group may come in. No one was talking about serving a whole turkey. Turkey breast was what was "featured" - some with fancy variations there of. We went up to a week before Thanksgiving deciding what we were going to do - and making a meal for two at home remained on the list of choices. I like turkey. I am not fond of turkey breast. I find that it has a different texture and taste than "real" turkey. So if I was going to eat turkey breast for Thanksgiving then what went with it was going to be important to where ever we chose. Prices ranged from $30 per person to $50 per person. Looking over what each meal was offering with the turkey there were going to be a lot of things that we both don't care for or we cannot eat. We were becoming more and more frustrated and then I suggested that we go to Old Country Buffet.

Those of you who read this site regularly know that I am not a great fan of Old Country Buffet. I should say that I am not a great fan of our local Old Country Buffet. But we have been frequenting another Old Country Buffet that involves a bit of a drive from where we live, but is far superior to the local restaurant. That would be where we would go - and that is where we did go. I did make sure that there actually would be a Thanksgiving menu served including the traditional dishes and checking at the OCB this past weekend I was assured that there would be. OCB would be open to 7:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of $30 or $50 per person, dinner - pretty much the same dinner as would be served at all of those other restaurants - would cost the regular price of $10.99 plus $1.99 for beverages. I did have my concerns that trays would be replenished, turkey would not run out, and that there would not be a line a mile long to get in.

We decided to get to the OCB for 3:00 pm. A good time for Thanksgiving dinner and close to the traditional time for my family for this holiday. We arrived just about that time and there was a short line - about a dozen people ahead of us and a good part of that were large parties. We waited just five minutes to get to the cashier. The manager was seating people at tables. This is Mr. Jolly who I wrote about several weeks ago. He greeted each group and led them to their table. Those he knew - and that was quite a few - he greeted like family and old friends. Despite having to work on the holiday he was making this a very pleasant experience. I will add right here - though out of time sequence - that while we were dining, a family came up to him and thanked him about the dinner saying that they really appreciated that the meal was so pleasant and that it really meant a lot to them. His response was one that every buffet manager should remember - always! He said, "I thank you. If it were not for you coming today, I could not feed my family." He said this with sincerity. If only all OCB managers had this attitude - holiday or not.

So, we were seated and we started our meal. The menu served for the holiday meal was similar to a Sunday menu at OCB but with some significant differences geared toward the holiday. There were three soups - chicken noodle, corn chowder, AND French onion soup. I had the French onion - which I know is served on some night at OCB but rarely a night I am there. It was full of onions and just slightly salty. It was good! My wife had the chicken noodle which was full of noodles. You may wonder why it would not be but there is a certain other OCB that should rename the soup chicken celery soup because that is all that is in it on most nights.

Following the soup there was the usual OCB salad bar and I had the Caesar salad which at this OCB I can always count on having a good amount of dressing on it. (Again, at another certain OCB the Caesar salad is wet lettuce with a tablespoon of dressing mixed into the entire tray.) I am sure that this Caesar salad was just like the others that I have had at this location but today it was particularly good - perhaps it was just the festive feel of the meal.

Festive - that is something that I need to note right here. There was a holiday feel to this meal and that was created in no small part by the people working. The table staff seemed pleased (even if they weren't) to be working. So did the people working at the buffet, the two managers, and the gentleman expertly carving. People were greeted. "Happy Thanksgiving" could be heard and there was the feeling in the restaurant that this is a holiday. There were singles, couples, small families, and large families all around the dining room and at the buffet servers. There were quite a few singles coming in - and what better place to have a holiday meal with people all around when you dine alone. (My wife had an idea for the restaurant and perhaps some manager will read this and do this next year - there should be a table set aside as an option for singles to sit together and have company. It could be offered and just as easily refused if someone wanted to sit at their own table. All that this would mean for the restaurant was holding two tables put together for this ever changing group.) There were a number of children with their families and all were properly behaved.

Back to the meal. Time for turkey. The turkey was, as expected, the usual OCB turkey breast. There was also roast beef and baked ham. On the buffet tables there was baked chicken, fried chicken, and chicken with dumplings. There also was baked moscatelle - macaroni with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese and there was pizza. There was green beans with ham (the new way to serve green beans at OCB replacing the plain green beans of the past0, carrots, corn, candied mashed sweet potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, mashed white potatoes, baked potatoes with bacon and cheese, macaroni and cheese, stuffing (two trays), squash, and a dish of rice and vegetables in melted cheese sauce (never saw this at OCB before). The taco bar had the usual. There were corn bread and baked rolls. Of course, cranberry sauce was over at the condiments bar. (A few times I heard the manager telling people - and pointing - "The cranberry sauce is over here!")

The carver was working continually. Ask for a thick or thin slice, one slice or several, it was given without hesitation. All of the trays on the buffet tables were constantly and quickly being refilled. Anything that was empty was replaced without much delay. The people moving about the buffet tables were not over-crowding and there were no long waits to get to anyone one of the food trays or the carving station - despite the good number of people dining. All along the manager went around the dining room when not seating newly entering guests, and greeted people, asked how things were, and then went to check that all was well at the buffet tables. And he never looked harried.

The dessert area was as usual. There was no pumpkin pie that I could see - but OCB never has pies. Not a major loss though for some this could be missed. But pumpkin pie is easy enough to come by to add in when one gets back home.

The meal was good. One of the best that I have ever had at Old Country Buffet - and there was not really much that I have not had there before. While I write this I am still feeling over-stuffed from this very fine Thanksgiving dinner. (Oh yes, I try to avoid that over doing it, after meal feeling when I eat at buffets - but this is a holiday after all!)

When the meal was over - about two hours after we began - my wife agreed that the meal was good and we had a good time. That was what I was looking for. When it is just the two of you, married for a long time, meals alone together can be less than festive - despite trying to make them so. This was a great idea. We got to "share" the day with others - even though we knew no one in the restaurant - and we had a good meal that we both enjoyed. I am very glad that we made the decision to go to OCB for Thanksgiving. I am not certain that we would have felt this way following a meal at one of those other restaurants.

Thanksgiving meals have different things for different families. Not everyone has turkey. Here there was a good selection - and even the kids were happy with pizza and macaroni and cheese. Of course, this is not something for everyone. For those with big families, craving granny's special sweet potato casserole, this is not going to be the thing to do, but as I have said before. For those who find cooking a full Thanksgiving meal for one, two, or a few, this is a wonderful way to spend a very pleasant holiday and have a good meal. Just know your OCB before hand and be sure that it is one that usually does a good job on ordinary days, and you should not be disappointed on the holiday.


RemixedCat said...

Excellent review! I'm glad to see that OCB was great. I Normally go to Ryan's (No OCB or HTB until I head north about 2.5 hours) and I like it a lot. I didn't go there for thanksgiving, but this would be a neat idea for next year.

I just hope they have plenty of ham!

I do have one question.....

I am a very sensitive person. I would like to know how the smells and textures of the foods vary at both OCB locations. I would really appreciate it ;-)

Great blog and I really enjoy it ;-)

Robert A said...

The smells don't vary at all. The textures are dependent upon the cooking - and one of these OCB's over-cooks a lot of dishes sometimes to the point of burnt. The other - the one that I went to for this Thanksgiving meal seems to get things right for the most part so the textures are as they should be for the particular food.

dave1973 said...

Good review on OCB. I had looked into going to OCB for Thanksgiving on a few occasions, but took a pass on it. Too bad there's no one that could chime in on how Golden Corral's Thanksgiving dinner was. I don't know if I'll try thm next year.

I will tell you my best Thanksgiving buffet I had was last year at a local church. The church was providing a free meal to the local community & they didn't care if you had money or not. They had both ham & turkey (white & dark meat), stuffing (or you might call it dressing) in both regular & cranberry, mashed potatoes (real mashed potatoes), turkey gravy, corn, creme of green beans (supposedly had creme of mushroom soup in it), dinner rolls, & lots of desserts. I had most of the food, but when it came to dessert, I had to have pumpkin pie, & luckily, they had some. For beverages, it was milk, water, lemonade, kool-aid, pop (primarily from the 7Up lineup of brand pop, or you might call it soda). I was wanting to have it again this year, but I got invited to my Aunt Dawn's house, & didn't enjoy myself. I will say that for this Thanksgiving dinner I was at last year hadmostly poor people at it, but there were some people who were there who had no family in the area, & needed a place to feel welcome. The church was even nice enough to bus people to the church for dinner, if they needed a ride there. It was only 3 hours, but still a good dinner. Compared to select items that OCB serves that would be considered Thanksgiving food, the local church's food tasted better.