Friday, January 21, 2011

Christmas Eve Buffet at Milleridge Inn, Jericho, NY

Every Christmas Eve my family gets together - my sister and her husband and little girl with my wife and me - and has dinner out. For a good many years the Milleridge Inn was a family tradition and a a number of years back, they began serving a buffet dinner. As time progressed, the special buffet dinner went down hill and a few years back we stopped going there. When it was time to find a restaurant for Christmas Eve 2010, my sister - and I discovered that the restaurants that we were going to either went out of business or were not going to be open on Christmas Eve. With a reluctance I suggested that she find out if the Milleridge Inn was serving the buffet again this year. We knew that they were serving a menu dinner, but that has not been good for a long time. I have actually written about the "special" buffets served at this restaurant before - not positively. I was pretty sure before we went that things had not really improved. So keep reading to find out...

The Milleridge Inn is a "landmark" restaurant on Long Island. It seems that it has been in business forever. It started in the late 18th/early 19th Century as a stagecoach stop and in the 20th Century the mansion became a restaurant. The building has been expanded many times so that the little stagecoach stop has been lost within the many constructions. Years back a little village of gift shops was added in the large parking lot and some time ago a catering building was built at the back of the property. This catering building is where the holiday buffets are held. There are similar buffets for Christmas Eve, Valentine's Day, and Easter.

The Milleridge Inn is not a buffet restaurant. It is a menu restaurant. The buffets are set up as a catered dinner would be set up for a party or a restaurant. I have said this before and I will say it again - the problem that comes up time after time when a menu restaurant tries to serve a buffet is that the staff are not willing or prepared to do what is necessary to take care of buffet diners and the restaurant is not used to dealing with a buffet set up. Here the problem is 95% the wait staff. In the past here we encountered waiters and waitresses that were upset with working on Christmas Eve and made that very obvious. On this night, the wait staff really wanted nothing to do with the tables that they were responsible for.

There were a lot of people dining at this buffet. We had a 7:30 pm reservation which was not the last of the night. We waited to be seated after arriving for our reserved time. We were a party of five - four adults and a child. We were escorted to a very small table that should have seated no more than two. We made a comment to the gentlemen who seated us that five could not fit at this time properly. He smiled and said, "Yes, this is your table." Then he walked away. OK. We sat down elbow to elbow, two on each side with the child at one end. We got up and went to the serving tables as it was quite clear that this was our table or there would be no table.

The spread of food is set out as it would be for a catered party - times two. There were two set ups that met in the middle, both exactly the same on each side. There was a long ice table with prepared salads and cocktail shrimp (already peeled and very large). There was a bowl of greens in the middle on a small table. My sister identified the greens in the salad as mescaline greens. There were two serving bowls of dressing - one that was Catalina French and the other some dark, oil and vinegar concoction. At the wall near the salad was a table with serving dishes of macaroni and cheese, pasta with a cream tomato sauce, and a single server with chicken fingers and french fries. Along the middle and meeting the other side in the center at a roast turkey breast carving were hot, covered serving dishes with entrees and vegetables. There were also stuffed roast pork and sliced steak carvings.

This poor quality photo taken with my cell phone camera will give you an idea of the setup of the buffet. You are looking at one of the sides with hot dishes. Not really visible to the left end of the table are the carvings.

There was no soup so we started with the prepared salads and cold shrimp. There were a variety of Italian style salads - this is not an Italian restaurant. There was a mixture of sliced salami and mixed olives. There were two pasta salads. There was an artichoke salad - which was tasteless and used more than the artichoke hearts making it pretty much artichoke leaves with nothing to eat. There was a nice tomato and mozzarella cheese salad that consisted of balls of semi-fresh cheese with chunks of fresh tomatoes in an oil and vinegar with chopped parsley dressing. There was a black bean salad and there was a string bean salad. At the end of this row was the cocktail shrimp. These were large shrimp peeled with the tail on - very much like the shrimp that would be served in a restaurant as shrimp cocktail.

We completed that course at varying times - one of the reasons that I do not like going to buffets with a group - they do not like my idea that we all eat together and once a plate is empty are up for more regardless of where the rest of the table is for that course. I know that many readers have said that this is the only way to dine at a buffet in a group - and perhaps that is practical, but it does not make for much of a family meal and certainly does not lend to dinner conversation with people bouncing up and down through the entire meal. As it was, three adults and the child finished together after the one of the adults had gone back up and had already come back and continued eating. When we returned with our salads, the plates from our first course were properly taken off the table. Why would I note such a thing? I never talk really about when plates are taken away - UNLESS - they are not taken away. Well, these were the only plates the entire meal that were taken away. Now, I have noted how small this table was. Barely room for the plates that we were eating from. There was certainly no more room to put soiled plates. But no one - after that first course - ever made an appearance to take away any soiled plates. This was not just our problem as other tables around us had the same situation. It got to the point that we were cleaning our own table between courses to remove the used plates. And what did we do with them? We broke a cardinal rule of buffets and stacked them on a small empty table not too far off from our table - as were others. Oddly, the stacks of plates every so often would disappear from that table. The waiter was aware enough to take the dishes from there - but never came near the dining tables to clear the plates away when necessary. OK - someone is going to say, why didn't you say something. Well, I did. I went over to two waiters who were standing on the side with a used plate in my hand. I put it down in front of them and said to them - "you are not taking the used plates off the tables" - I added, "I have never been anywhere that the soiled plates are left on the tables." I got a surprised look, a shrug, and a "huh?" I made my message known again. One of them followed me over to our table - with several soiled plates waiting to be picked up he took one, left the rest, and was not seen again. See, this is what I mean about restaurant that are not buffets doing buffet meals - and about staff on holidays. I have been to a number of buffets where the plates do not get cleared off the table promptly - mostly in the same chain. Sometimes the meal goes along for a while - but eventually every time before someone came and eventually cleared the table - and then returned to continue to do the same (at some point). This night was really a first.

At one point my sister got one of the waiters and asked for two things - this was after telling him about the plates - which he still did not come and take. She asked for a glass of ice and one of the loaves of bread that were on other tables but were never brought to our table - perhaps because there was no place to set it down. Again, she got a stare, a "huh?", and a total blank. Eventually, she got the message through and a loaf of bread showed up on the table - on a plate but without a knife to slice it with.

So back to the meal. The hot dishes were chicken Parmesan - not bad, sausage and peppers - much too greasy, eggplant rollatini (i did not try that), string beans and carrots - underdone (to my liking), salmon teriyaki - my brother in law said this was very good, mussels and shrimp in garlic sauce, red potatoes, and fried calamari - which ran out mid meal and were replaced with stuffing (some substitution!). The turkey that was being carved was a "real" turkey breast on the bone roasted with the skin on. There was a very thin turkey gravy for it. The steak was a thick, but narrow length of steak that was being sliced. When I went up for it, it was nicely rare and juicy. When I went back for more, what was left was well done and dry (so I did not take more). I did take, at that point, a slice of the stuffed pork loin. There was a thick gravy for the pork. Condiments including apple sauce were set out along the carving area.

On one side of the duplicated sides there was a hot dog cart serving steamed hot dogs on a bun and along side were very large soft pretzels. This may have been intended for the children along with the chicken fingers and french fries, but adults were getting this too. I took a hot dog (I love hot dogs) - this one was nothing to boast about. My little niece wanted one of the soft pretzels and brought it back to the table filling the plate. She took a few bites and was not happy. Asked why she said it was covered in butter - she did not understand why and evidently never had the buttered pretzels sold by some hot pretzel chains. She is used to NYC street pretzels which are more like the Philadelphia soft pretzels. I asked her how it was - other than the butter. She was very emphatic - "It tastes like NOTHING!" She even spelled out "n o t h i n g". Hmm, if you can't impress a kid with a giant soft pretzel...

Desserts are not on the buffet but were included with the meal. There were three desserts offered - a piece of cheesecake, what they called a little Christmas cake that was actually a cupcake with green frosting, and peppermint ice cream. One dessert was offered to each. They also brought a small serving dish of little pastries to the table. My brother-in-law said that they were very good.

Overall, the food was fine. My picky wife (regular readers know about how she eats) had a hard time finding things. She had planned to make salad and turkey the bulk of her meal but the salad was not to her liking. For the most part there was plenty of it, though as the night went on the carvings were getting down to the barest of remains and there was no intention on what we being brought out. Way back in the past, there were somethings in the cold seafood section that were not there this night - most notably clams and oysters on the half shell. I would just say that they have removed them from the menu, however, as we were first coming in I overheard someone talking about the oysters. Did the raw shell fish run out and was not replaced? If so, that was a big thing to be missed for the cost of this meal.

I cannot tell you how much this meal cost. I was the guest of my sister and her husband and it was not polite to ask. I am going to say that based upon the prices at this restaurant in general and other buffets that I have seen advertised here, the cost was $40.00 per person. I hope the child's price was less. That is a lot. Perhaps not for a holiday dinner, but it really was a lot for what was offered. No beverages were included in the price. And soft drinks were NOT refillable - without full charge.

Above all the worst part of this dinner was the service. We were clearing off our own plates! I turned to my little, 8 year old niece who was astounded at this too and I asked her, "Do you know what it means when the waiter does not take the dirty dishes off the table for the whole meal?" Then I answered when she said "what" - "No tip!" Her father chimed in - "That's right!" I always tip at a buffet provided the server actually does something - and at most buffets that means taking away the dirty plates promptly and refilling the beverages. I don't know if my brother-in-law left a tip or not - but had I been paying - I would not have. Gratuities should not be expected unless they are earned - in even the smallest way.

So! What will happen next Christmas Eve if other restaurants do not open for a holiday dinner? I don't know. Would I recommend to you to come to the Milleridge Inn for any buffet meal for any of the holidays on which they offer it - absolutely not! And I am really sorry to have to say that. I had hoped that in the several years since we had done this last that perhaps things had changed - attitudes had changed. No, sadly, they have not. I must say that I had a better Thanksgiving meal with a friendlier atmosphere and nicer employees at OCB than I had a Christmas Eve dinner at the Milleridge Inn buffet.


laxingnewyorkcity said...

I may have read this really quickly, but I do not think you commented on the beverage service, which is usually a staple of your writing. Did the servers ignore your plates and get you drinks? Or did they really provide poor service and do neither?

Robert A said...

There was no "beverage service" as is usual at a buffet. Drinks, including soft drinks, were from the bar and were charged by the glass - and a small glass, at that. When we were seated we were asked what we would like to drink. Most had water. The water was not refilled. One of our party wanted a second soda and we had to search out a waiter to get that. Coffee and tea was not included with the meal either and when they brought the dessert tray around at the end they asked if anyone wanted those. The coffee and tea were then brought - it is usual to serve tea in a restaurant with hot water in a small serving pot to allow for a second cup - here a small cup was brought with hot water and a tea bag. No one ever came around to offer more coffee. As I was a guest and did not see the check, I hate to think what that tea bag and cup of water cost.

All in all, this was beyond poor service - this was no service.