Friday, March 25, 2011

No Seafood Special at Old Country Buffet

I really should know better by now than to believe the emails that Old Country Buffet sends out. Tuesday before Ash Wednesday I received an email through the Old Country Buffet email "club" that this is now the "season for seafood" and that there would now be on Wednesdays and Fridays a seafood feature. The email showed a photograph of a platter of butterfly shrimp. These were large and really nice looking fried shrimp - lightly batter coated from the photograph. My first thought was that I have never seen such shrimp at Old Country Buffet and wondered where they got these for the photograph - certainly not their kitchens. Well, anyway, I tucked this away in the back of my mind.

Ash Wednesday - the next day - we were deciding what to have for dinner and there really was nothing home to make that was not meat. I made the suggestion that we go to OCB just to see this new feature and it would solve the dinner question. My wife agreed and we headed out. I decided that we would go to the "good" Old Country Buffet out in the next county just to be sure that the dinner would be done right.

After we sat down I walked around the buffet servers to see what special treats in this "perfect catch" as the email put it were being served. Well, there was roast beef being carved along with turkey, there was meat loaf, and there was the usual fried and baked chicken. The only seafood was the usual Wednesday night tiny popcorn shrimp, fried, overdone fish, and a thin baked fish fillet. No "perfect catch" in sight. Oh yes, there was the "seafood pancakes" which are covered in chicken gravy. No kidding - I have watched more than once the fish pancakes come out and the employee with the tray go over to the chicken gravy go ladle the chicken gravy on top. Oh boy!

I went up for soup and expected at least to find clam chowder - no - there was cream of broccoli soup along with the chicken noodle and beef-based French Onion. So this was the "perfect catch"?

The baked fish was tasteless. The popcorn shrimp was like eating breading. The fried fish at OCB is never good. My intention for religious reasons was to be good. It was not going to be easy on this Ash Wednesday at Old Country Buffet.

I decided that I would fill up on salad. I like the Caesar salad at OCB WHEN it has a sufficient amount of dressing on it - which at this particular location it usually does. I went to take the Caesar salad and I thought that there was no dressing on it at all. The OCB Caesar dressing is a creamy Caesar and when the correct amount is put on the salad it coats the lettuce. This dressing was clear - at first it looked like the lettuce was just wet but there was dressing there. I filled my plate and went back to the table. I took a bite and there was a sweet taste to the salad. This definitely was not the usual Caesar salad dressing. I am not sure what it was but it had sugar in it - and after dinner my blood glucose level went skyrocketing (despite my medication). Another Diabetic could have ended up in the hospital!

When I got home I took a look at the Old Country Buffet Facebook page. Someone had posted that they too went to dinner for Ash Wednesday and they could not find the seafood "special" either. This person went to the manager and this manager knew NOTHING about any special. She claims to have showed him a printout of the email and he told her it was news to him!

All in all dinner on this night was a disaster. As I write this I am hoping that my blood sugar level will come back to normal in several hours.

If you get an email from Old Country Buffet about anything special on their buffet, ignore it. You won't find it when you get there. I previously fell for this when they sent one about their special steaks - see my article "Where's the Beef?". I really want to like this chain - it is the only buffet chain near me. Why do they continually do things to push their customers away (see the continuous negative remarks on their Facebook page)?

Friday, March 18, 2011


For the beginning of this article please see PART ONE that was featured last week.

We finished our salads and headed up to the buffet servers for the main part of our meals. I walked around all of the servers to take in what was there. Now, remember that from the web site, what is featured at this buffet is southern barbecue and Chinese food. Interspersed with beans, black eyed peas and collard greens are lo mien, spring rolls, chicken and broccoli, pepper steak, General Tso Chicken, chicken on a stick, and other Chinese dishes. With that there was fried Cajun catfish, barbecue chicken, grilled chicken, southern fried chicken, meat loaf, sweet potato fries, thin sliced potatoes - like potato chips, baked potatoes - both plain and stuffed with cheese, french fries, fried shrimp, macaroni and cheese, meat lasagna, cold peel and eat shrimp, broccoli, string beans with garlic, pierogies, plantains, chicken nuggets, crab in cheese mixed, baked fish, corn bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, hot wings, bourbon chicken - and more. And all of this on the buffet hot tables. Over at the back wall where the grill and carving area are there was a large grill for steak which is only available on the weekend, a large Thanksgiving style whole turkey being carved, Salmon being carved and a large tray of barbecue ribs. The carvings vary and smoked ham is another carving that may be found. Next the all of this was a pizza section. The pizza was typical thin buffet pizza and while I am sure was fine, was not tempting enough to take away eating room from the rest. There were also corn bread, corn muffins, and in a server that said dinner rolls there was some other type of muffin.

I had those ribs in mind. I love barbecue. It is not often found on a buffet and I was looking forward to barbecue ribs. I went up to the tray and the server behind the counter was there to take them for you and place them on your plate. He placed two ribs on my plate and went for more but I stopped him at too - there was a large meal to go. I looked over at the flame grill. I asked the chef behind the grill if there was steak. He told me "8 minutes". OK- the website says steak grilled to order - I guess it was not my order that it would be grilled to. He did not put any meat on the grill. I headed over to the hot tables to see what I would take. There was nice looking barbecue chicken and I took a drum stick. I also took a pierogie and some of the strings beans (despite the garlic). With enough on my plate I headed back toward the table. I passed the flame grill and the chef was just then laying raw steaks out in quantity on the grill. Great - that would be next.

I returned to the table and started on the ribs. The first rib that I tried was moist and meaty. The meat did not pull away from the bone but it was tasty. There was a light barbecue sauce on the ribs - not too sweet. I tried the barbecue chicken leg. The sauce on this was a bit different than the barbecue sauce on the ribs. I could not quite place the taste but it was good too. The pierogie was fine - not as good as many that I have had (Buffet Europa comes to mind as does Shady Maple) - these were not as doughy and the outside was more macaroni like. The potato filling was good but did not seem to be seasoned. If you are inclined to add sour cream on top, it was over on the salad bar. The string beans were tasty but I like my string beans well done and the rest of the world likes the snap of partially cooked string beans so I was not thrilled but my wife liked them and I would say most everyone but me would. Note, these were fresh string beans - not canned and I do not think frozen. All of the food here has the taste, appearance and is cooked in the style of "homemade". This is a good thing. If things were not freshly prepared from produce then they were frozen but most seemed to be freshly prepared from fresh ingredients with home-style recipes.

When I started on the second barbecue rib on my plate there was much less meat on the bone and the rib was over-done. The meat on top was dry and chewy. There was little meat on the sides and it was also dry. All together at this meal I had six barbecue ribs. Only that first one was really good. The rest were like this second. On the second trip up to get ribs, there was a man ahead of me at the counter and he kept telling the server behind the counter - "no, give me the soft ribs". At first I was not sure what he was asking for - and I don't think the server knew either - because the man kept refusing what was offered - repeated - "no, the soft ones" and continued until he got what he wanted. I realized when I got back to my table with the next two ribs what he wanted - he wanted ribs that were not dry, but rather were moist and meaty. They were there mixed into the serving tray but I did not get them on that second try. I should have also asked for the "soft ones". On my third try of the ribs, I looked as closely as I could at the tray to distinguish the best looking ribs that I could see. The server was picking up two smaller ribs at the back. Up front there appeared to be the nicer ribs and I pointed at those and he gave me two. Maybe I should have just taken what he offered, because back at the table the two ribs that I thought looked better were just as overdone, overly chewy, and dry. So out of six ribs, one was a winner. Now, this was a busy night. Since there was one really good rib that I had, the odds are that there were others to be had as well. I will say that the ribs are hit and miss. There was a lot more food to take. I was looking forward to great barbecue. I had good tasting barbecue ribs that could have been better.

The turkey that was being carved was a "real" turkey. Why do I describe it that way? A lot of the turkey served at buffets are turkey breasts or reconstituted turkey meat formed into a ball. Here they were carving a whole turkey with drumsticks, nicely browned skin and with no doubt a turkey. When my wife went up for her first plate of food she had some of the turkey carved for her. The turkey that they were carving had been recently started - perhaps just a few minutes before. About a half hour or so later, another whole turkey was started. This shows that this buffet does not hesitate to put out the food that is necessary to feed their guests. I took some of the turkey. It was nicely roasted. It had good flavor. A whole roasted turkey tastes differently than turkey breast tastes - nicer. I did look for turkey gravy to put on top. I did not see any at the carving area and went to look on the hot buffet servers. There was beef gravy and chicken gravy in serving trays next to the mashed potatoes. There was no turkey gravy. I took the chicken gravy. The chicken gravy was thin and clear. It was not the usual thick, cream color gravy one would expect. I was a little hesitant when I spooned some on top of the turkey. I did not need to be hesitant, however. Back at the table it had a great taste and nicely complimented the turkey. On the salad bar there was a cold tray of slices of cranberry sauce. All together it was like Thanksgiving. There was cornbread stuffing on the hot buffet server to go with it all as well. The turkey was an A+!

I am a steak fan and there were supposed to be steaks on the grill. On my first trip up to the grill I was told when I saw no steaks cooking that there would be more ready in eight minutes. I think that in ten minutes from that moment they too were all gone. When I got up to the grill on that second trip up to the buffet there was one steak left on the grill and another diner got to the grill just ahead of me and got it. A woman came by and asked for steaks. I heard the chef say again, "Eight minutes". OK. The restaurant was very busy and the steaks were popular. So I took the turkey that I just told you about and that second try at ribs. I also took a little of the pepper steak to try and a few of the sweet potato fries. Later the sweet potato fries ran out and were replaced with little fried pillows. I am not sure what they were but the person bringing them out took away the empty tray where the sweet potato fries had been and put these in its place. Before leaving he took away the sign for the fries, but did not put up what these now were. The important thing really is that another food item was brought out to replace what was empty and it was something that in a way is equivalent (not like rolls for meat).

I went back after that plate determined to get a steak. The steaks that they were putting on your plate from the grill were whole steaks - not small pieces sliced off of what they were cooking. I got to the grill and there was one steak left - and it was mine. It turned out that it actually was two steaks - one on top of the other and actually more than I wanted - I would have been just as happy with one and perhaps the next guy would not have had to wait for eight more minutes.

The steaks being served, and they are only served on the weekend dinner buffets, are skirt steaks, also known as Romanian steaks. These are a part of the diaphragm of the beef. It can be a very tasty steak, but it is grainy and can be hard to cut and tough to chew. It is usually marinated well before cooking as these were. It has a good flavor and these steaks tasted like the classic skirt steaks that I have had in restaurants. This steak must be cut with the grain or it barely cuts at all. The steak was tough - as skirt steak can be - but it was very flavorful and tasty. Despite the job it took to cut and chew it - it was good and enjoyed it - the both of them that I was given. The steak is good. You have to time your getting to the grill just right to make sure you get some. Poorly timed you could easily go through a whole meal and get up to that counter to find the steaks all gone each time - and not because they were not cooking enough of them. They were filling the grill. On a less crowded weekend night - and I do not know when that would be - this might not be the case and there might be enough to go around each and every time.

The fried chicken kept catching my eye each time I went past it on the buffet server. I like fried chicken. I have written about broasted chicken which is served as fried chicken at some buffets. I like that but I am not sure how to describe really good fried chicken. It is not the fried chicken at OCB - which is OK but not right on. Close was the fried chicken at Ryan's years back but now that is the same as OCB's. Golden Corral's can be good. I have had "real" southern fried chicken at southern restaurants. The fried chicken here looked like that. Nicely coated in a light color coating - not deep brown but a light brown when fried. It is flaky and moist inside. I took a what I thought was a thigh. It turned out to be a small chicken breast. It was very good. The closest I have had in the north to what I have had in the south. The fried chicken gets an A!

I also took something that I really should resist but it just looked so good - and was! They serve home-style macaroni and cheese. This is not the orange color macaroni and cheese with thin cheese sauce that some buffets serve. This is thick and gooey, white cheese on puffy macaroni elbows with a crust of bread crumbs and cheese on top. Few buffets serve it this way- the most notable is the one in Bird in Hand in Lancaster, PA. This one was good. I should not eat it for health reasons. I had to take some of this and I did not stop at one small spoon but scooped two full serving spoons on my plate - thinking how bad I was being. While I was eating it, my wife asked me how something was - and she was not asking about the mac and cheese. I told her how wonderful it was - and when I realized what she was asking about I told her that I was actually telling her about the macaroni and cheese. She understood. She loves this type too - but she has better resistance power than I have. I have said this above - this is home-style cooking and what they are cooking does not seem to be coming from a commercial box or a prepared mix.

There were many things that I really enjoyed and I ate more than enough. I was comfortably full when I decided that I had enough. As I had said, I did go back to the Caesar salad to really get a plate full and that was filling and good.

My wife who is a more selective and conservative eater than I am was very happy with her choices. She enjoyed everything that she picked. She kept telling me how good and fresh everything was. She was right! Sometimes I feel that she just goes along with me in the buffets that I pick - and go back to. She really enjoyed this one.

I told you that the sign outside included "bakery" in the description. There was a small baked goods area at the far side and corner of the carving area. There were several kinds of cookies. There were also three different sheet cakes out cut into squares that were about two inches square and about one inch thick. There was red velvet cake, light chocolate frosting on yellow cake, and a chocolate cake (that looked deep red) with white icing and broken chocolate cookies on top. There was a soft serve machine with vanilla and chocolate ice cream and all of the toppings to make sundaes. On the hot buffet tables there was hot apple pastry dessert - apples in flaky crust top and bottom. There were also fried cinnamon buns. On the back of the salad bar there was chocolate pudding, jello, canned fruit including Mandarin orange pieces, peaches in syrup, fresh orange wedges, two kinds of melon, and fresh strawberries in a red syrup. There was certainly a dessert to please anyone looking for a sweet ending to the meal.

As I noted earlier the service was slow at start and then picked up to very good. Had we been in at a different table with easier access to our table by the server we most likely would have been better for the entire meal. This is no fault of the restaurant as they had to accommodate this very large party - who were there before us. Had there been other open tables when we came in and were seated I would have requested one. There were not. Our plates were picked up - once he got going - and drinks were offered and refilled (correctly).

My wife used the ladies room before our long trip home and she said that for a restaurant as crowded as it was, it was in pretty good shape and cleanliness. The whole restaurant was very clean and the floors were well kept up for the number of people there eating all day.

Looking around the restaurant and the foods being served it appears as if the owner has copied a lot from other buffets. The foods reflect many that are served at the chain buffets and the Chinese buffets. The appearance and layout remind one of the chain buffets. And again, this is an independently owned and operated buffet. It is not part of any chain. The food is higher in quality, freshness, and preparation than the chains. My wife wondered to me if someone in management had not once worked for one of the chains and brought the best of them into this buffet. I don't know. It reminded us of several other buffets we have been to down to the metal rack on the table holding condiments.

I have been writing this article over the course of two days. When I started my thinking was that I would have no hesitation to go back to this buffet again but it would not be a priority must get back to. Well, now, that has changed as I have been thinking about this meal and I would like to go back again soon. I enjoyed the meal - we both did. And the buffet had a lot to offer - and what it has is fresh.

So, would I go back? Absolutely yes. I recommend this buffet. It is an experience and there is nothing like it in NJ or in many other places in the north. I am heading back into New Jersey in about a week. Now I have to decide should I go back so soon - and I am tempted - or should I seek out another new to me (and perhaps you) buffet? There are two others that have been recommended by two readers - one of them Art. That remains to be decided. If you are in New Jersey try it!

Southern Smokehouse is located at Aviation Plaza Shopping Center which is at 611 West Edgar Road (Route 1 and 9) in Linden, New Jersey 07036. The phone number is 908-862-1883. The hours on Friday and Saturday are until 10 pm. Weeknights and Sunday nights they are open until 9 pm. They seem to open each day at 11 am for lunch. There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.


Friday, March 11, 2011


Our readers have directed me to many buffets over the years and one of our readers in New Jersey - Art - has sent me to several good ones. Recently Art emailed this site and told me about two buffets that he was about to try in New Jersey. He had not been to either yet but he had heard some good things. One of those is Southern Smokehouse in Linden, New Jersey. Art's timing could not be better because at this time of the year every year I am in New Jersey. With Buffet Europa gone, I needed a new place to go.

Before the trip I looked at the website for this buffet. It seemed a bit odd from the types of food served - it is called Southern Smokehouse and there is mention of barbecue, but there are also a number of Chinese dishes talked about as being on the buffet. A Southern barbecue/Chinese buffet? I had to see this for myself.

We had business in New Jersey in an area not far from Linden, New Jersey on a Saturday and we decided that Southern Smokehouse was to be our choice for dinner. A new buffet and what was going to be an interesting experience...

Southern Smokehouse is located on the far end of a shopping plaza. Along with this restaurant in the shopping plaza are a Target, a Home Depot, a Shop Rite Supermarket, a multiplex movie theater, and several other stores. This restaurant has a parking lot pretty much to itself at the end of the larger parking lot for the shopping plaza. When we arrived the parking lot in front of this restaurant was packed. We found one of the last open parking spaces at the far end of this parking area. The outside looks a little bit like Golden Corral but not quite. The sign outside under the name says "Buffet. Grill, Bakery" - isn't that what is says outside of the Ryan's Buffets?

We went inside. There was a short line but it was obvious looking into the dining room that this restaurant was crowded. The price of the buffet for dinner on weekends is $12.95 per person. The price for children under 10 is $.85 per year of age. On weekdays the price is $11.85 per person. The price includes everything - which means, yes, the soft drinks are included in the price. You pay as you enter much like the chain buffets. This is not part of a chain. It appears to be independently owned and there are no others. The restaurant has been around for awhile as there were a numbers of letters of commendation on the wall going back to 2006. There were also several locally won awards including one for their soup. They also serve lunch at a lower price. There is no carving station at lunch. I believe that the extent of the carvings increases on the weekend dinners.

We were escorted to our table. Our table almost ruined the experience of this restaurant for us. It is not that the restaurant did anything wrong but the table that was available for us was the last booth in one of the two dining rooms and we were closely next to a very large party of more than twenty people with children who were celebrating a birthday of a relative. People from that table kept getting up and circulating around the table talking with others in the party. This made getting up from and out of our table to get to the buffet servers difficult at times. Again, no fault of the restaurant, but I was a bit put off from the start and I was trying very hard not to let this influence my experience here. Had we been at another table, I would have been much happier from the start. These circumstances also made it difficult for our server to get to our table - and while he started out questionable and I started to feel that service was going to be a problem, he improved greatly over the course of our meal.

We were seated and we got up right away for our first course- and as in most buffets for us this is soup. The layout of the buffet area is a salad bar across the front of the buffet area with four buffet servers behind going back into the room. At the far wall across the room is the grill, carving area, pizza, and bakery. The room is brightly lit and everything was labeled - more about that in a moment. There were two soups - one was New England Clam Chowder and the other was labeled Chicken Noodle Soup. There appeared to be no soup cups or soup bowls. There was a section next to the soup with soup spoons but along with those were dinner plates. At the salad bar there was a chest full of bowls for the salad. Not seeing any alternative or a place for such, we took those bowls for the soup. I pulled the ladle out from the chicken soup and right away we could see that this was "homemade" chicken soup. The broth looked fresh and there were large shreds of chicken along with large slices of carrots and celery in the soup. There did not appear to be any noodles but it looked to me at the moment that there were pieces of dumplings so I figured that these were the noodles. Back at the table I discovered otherwise. Those "dumplings" were actually clumps of rice - and there was more rice but not a lot at the bottom of the broth in the bowl. Now, everyone will say - so it was chicken rice soup - no big deal. Well, to me it is minority a big deal as I have not been able to eat rice for almost a year now. My wife was fine - but had I seen a sign that said "Chicken Rice Soup" I would have taken the clam chowder. I ate around the rice - after eating one of the clumps of rice and discovering that it really was not a dumpling after all. This is the importance of good labeling - there are many with food allergies or food complications that must know exactly what something is - especially on a buffet. During the course of the meal I discovered that when a new dish came out to the buffet replacing something that they were out of the sign either was taken away and not replaced OR the old sign was left. Hmm. This is a problem. Not major but a problem none the less. So many buffets don't label at all or label incorrectly that this can be overlooked - unless you have a problem when you discover that what you thought you were taking isn't that at all.

While we were having our soup another minor problem also developed. Eventually, mid-soup the server came to our table and took our drink orders. (I will put here that he must have come when we were at the buffet getting our soup as there was now silverware on the table and a stack of napkins when we got back.) My wife ordered her usual "Diet Coke". It took awhile for him to come back with the drinks. When my wife sipped the soda, she said to me "taste this". OK - I reluctantly did. It was odd and slightly sugar sweet. As she is also a Diabetic not knowing for certain if this was actually diet was a big problem for her. I avoid this problem by usually ordering unsweetened ice tea - if it is sweet when I get it before I add artificial sweetener to it I know right away that it is wrong. (And I always sip taste it first before adding anything to it.) So we needed the server and he was no where to be found. We finished the soup. My wife told me to go and get my salad and she would wait until he came back to pick up the dishes from the table to tell him about the soda. Let me add here that this did not taste like Coke either nor did it taste like Pepsi. It was definitely an off brand of cola. I looked up to see if I could see the server and he was not around. I got up and left her at the table and headed for the salad bar. Along the way I looked for him with out success.

When we were taken to our table at the beginning we walked past the salad bar and I noticed that the tray of romaine lettuce was just about empty. That was a good fifteen minutes before I went up to the salad bar for my salad. Certainly, it would be refilled by then. No it had not been. The same few pieces of lettuce remained in the almost empty tray along with a lot of water as the lettuce had not been dried before it went in. I took what was left and made my salad. The salad bar had both the romaine lettuce (which is part of the weekend salad bar and is not there other nights according to the web site), mixed lettuce, and a large assortment of toppings and dressings. Other than the wet romaine everything was very well kept - nothing was over-ripe, the raw vegetables were fresh, and everything seemed to be properly labeled. I will say now that I went back later in the meal for another salad and the romaine had been refilled and while still a bit wet, there was plenty of it. Again, this was a crowded night and a lot of items were moving quickly on the buffet. Though other than this lettuce everything was refilled or replaced with something else fairly promptly.

When I got back to our table, there was my wife, along with her same soda, and the dirty dishes. She went off to get her salad and I was now to wait for the server to tell him about the soda. When she returned he had not yet been back to the table. Every so often I could see him in the distance scooting around and then gone. I told her that we either had to wait for him or go to the beverage area and tell someone else. We began to eat our salads and waited. Eventually he did show up - asked "how is everything?" and we told him about the soda. He said something that we could not understand about a box and picked up the glass and took it away. It took several long minutes for him to return. This time the glass had a lemon on the top - a general sign that the soda is diet. She sipped the soda and looked at me again and moved the glass toward me. This time the soda still tasted odd but the after taste of the artificial sweetener told me that this time it was diet for sure. So don't expect Coke or Pepsi products - I could not tell you what the soda they serve is.


Friday, March 04, 2011

Midweek at the Festival Buffet at Foxwoods Casino Resort - CT.

Back in September I wrote at two part article on the Festival Buffet located at the Foxwoods Casino Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Since then I have been thinking a lot about this buffet. I have been thinking when are we going back and looking for a reason to take the almost four hour drive just for dinner. The occasion recently presented itself - a museum exhibition in Connecticut that both my wife and I wanted to see. I decided that we needed to go mid-week - not on a weekend - so that I could see what this buffet was like on a weeknight. When we were last there it was a Friday night and on the weekends, which always seem to include Friday nights, the buffet is considered "enhanced" - meaning it is a special weekend buffet with extra offerings - and here that means an emphasis on seafood, particularly crab legs. I loved that meal. What would I think about the meal at this buffet mid-week?

We went on a Thursday night. The buffet is three dollars less than the weekend - $16.95 and with a casino card that to get all you need is ask for, register, and walk away with on the spot you get $1.00 off the price of the meal. This time we each got a card and headed off to the buffet.

This is winter - cold - and mid-week. The buffet was not crowded though there were many people inside. There was a line of only a few people ahead of us to get in.

Everything inside is as I described it to you in September so I will not repeat the layout of the buffet. Since there were not the crowds that had been there in late summer, there was no need for the roped lines at each buffet serving station, though there was still such at the carving station.

We sat down, ordered soft drinks (included in the buffet price) and went off to the soup area at the end of the salad bar. As I wrote last time, and again this time - there were two soups and both were cream soups. I really do not understand why this buffet does not offer a cream soup along with a clear/broth soup. Again, my good wife passed on the soup as she does not like cream soups. There were New England Clam Chowder and Cream of Chicken Soup. I took the cream of chicken. It was a thick white cream chicken based soup with rice in it. It was tasty but not what I would say as outstanding. Don't get me wrong but my expectations were set high from my first visit to this buffet and the cream of chicken soup was just fine. I am sure that had I taken the New England clam chowder as I had on the last visit I would have been just as impressed as I had been then - but I was intent on trying something different to get a broader picture of what the buffet has to offer.

A visit to the salad bar came next. I went over to the Caesar salad area - yes, it has it's own section on the salad bar. I seem to recall that on that first visit the Caesar salad was pre-mixed with dressing. It was not this time. There was a large salad bowl with romaine lettuce nicely cut up. I filled my salad bowl with the romaine and ladled on the Caesar dressing. I prefer when you can do this as you can control the amount of dressing on the salad. Last time, I had read before going about the special "grilled" Caesar salad and what I found when I got there was a bowl of cold chicken next to the lettuce to put on the salad. This time there was no chicken. There was a bowl of real bacon bits. I added some bacon and shredded cheese to the salad. I enjoyed this Caesar salad. I eat a lot of Caesar salad - out at buffets and at home. The dressing here was tasty and had a little pleasant bite. I actually thought about going back for more - but there was a whole buffet ahead of me.

I headed up to the different stations and like the first time here, I passed by all of the serving counters to see what there was to offer. Just to repeat the stations that are here - there is a seafood area, an international area, an Italian area, a Chinese area, and a barbecue area - all of entrees and side dishes. Missing from this mid-week buffet that you will see on the weekend were the crab legs (in their own area). There was a difference in dishes that were offered too - and perhaps there were less than there were on the weekend - not obvious by looking but there were repeats of several dishes in slightly different forms but close enough that if you took one you were likely not to take the other.

I did not read my first article before going back and I was only remembering parts of what I found and enjoyed on that first visit during this 0ne - what was memorable it seems was the over great experience on that first visit and that the food was sensational. I remembered some of the things that I had on that first visit - but mostly by seeing them again on this visit. I was not recalling the details - on things that were not out this time. I say this because I had a sense on this visit that there were things missing - or something was lacking - and coming back now and re-reading that first experience, I believe I know why - though that night I could not put my finger on it.

I remembered that the barbecue area particularly impressed me and I headed there first. There were barbecue ribs - but they were not the riblets that I had had the first time but rather ribs that were large, thick and meaty - in fact there was little bone except at the tip. They were in a thick red barbecue sauce. Missing was the pulled pork. Also not there were the grilled steaks and these are part of the weekend buffet only. There was fixings for tacos. There was chili. There was barbecue beans. There was taco beef and strips of grilled chicken. There was also a tray of broiled chicken which was labeled fried chicken. The broiled chicken - or perhaps it was some other type of chicken on the bone - was in an oil that was evident on the bottom of the serving tray. I took two of the ribs - as I say there was a lot of meat on each of these ribs - not really like one would expect of a rack of ribs. I added to that some of the Italian meatballs and some of the grilled Italian sausage that was served as Sausage with Peppers. I added a spoon of the Chinese sauteed string beans so that I could say that I was eating vegetables.

The ribs were good. The sauce was not too sweet as the riblet sauce had been on that first visit. The meat was tasty. I don't know why I should feel that there was too much meat on these ribs - after all the more of a good thing - but there was too much meat on the ribs and I did not have a "rib sensation" eating them. Sounds crazy but if you are a barbecue rib eater you should understand. The rest of the plate was good too - the meatballs were nice and the sausage was good. Some sausage lately is too highly seasoned - this was nice. The stir fried string beans were a bit on the spicy side but not too spicy.

So what next? On the last visit I had not taken much from the seafood area and I was drawn back there for the fried fish. Last time a lot was labeled cod - this time it was "fish". There was a seafood special of the day but that was all that it was labeled and the fish also was unidentified. The peel and eat shrimp were here as well but I passed on those to save more room for less common things. (Imagine considering shrimp cocktail common but when you go to buffets you will generally find it - other than at the chain buffets.) There were fried clams. There was a sign that said Jambalaya. Beneath it was a tray of what looked like fried rice. There was nothing evident in the tray but fried rice. Jambalaya is usually served with rice but it is usually seafood and sausage in a red sauce with peppers and such. This just looked like fried rice. I did not take any - I was not interested in fried rice. All together at the various buffet areas there were four different variations of rice. There were also fresh cut french fries with parts of the potato skin still on. It took some of that as well along with the fried fish and a some of the fried clams.

The fried fish was just OK - nothing wrong with it - just fried fish. The fish inside the batter fried coating was pure white and thick with no sign of bones - which is a good thing. The fried clams were chewy and tasty. I have to go off on a tangent here about fried clams. A long time ago there was a chain restaurant that was everywhere in the US called Howard Johnson's and Howard Johnson's had the best ever fried clams. There was nothing like them in texture or taste. And I tend to compare all fried clams to those - these were not those - but then again, neither are any other fried clams I have had since the last Howard Johnson's closed many years ago (replaced by the massive fast food industry). You may still find Howard Johnson's Fried Clams in the freezer case of your supermarket - they were around after the chain closed down and may have stuck around even until now - but you know what - the frozen ones are not like the real thing at all either.

Next - I know you are thinking - does this guy ever stop eating at one meal? Well - as I have said before I take a sampling plate when I take from the buffet - especially a buffet new to me. I take a small amount - enough to get a good idea of how it is and also in combination there is plenty to eat. (And I go back later for more of what I really liked.) I went next to the carving area or as they call it the "international" area - which has an assortment of entrees, potatoes, and the carvings. I went for the Prime Rib which was nice and rare. A large slab was sliced off and placed on my plate. Next to it in one of the hot trays were meatballs stroganoff. I took two of those. There were pirogi's and I took one of these. And again just to say that I had a vegetable I went to the Chinese area again and took some of the Shrimp Chow Mein.

The prime rib was excellent - as I remembered it. My wife took the other carving which was terriaki loin of pork. She said it was good. The meatballs - now these are another repeat - there were Italian meatballs and these meatballs strognaoff. Both were exactly the same meatballs - one was in tomato sauce and the other was in brown gravy - and it was just that - meatballs in brown gravy. The shrimp chow mein was good - it was good on the first visit too. It was nice because it was not thick and starchy but thinly covered in its semi-clear sauce. It made for a satisfying vegetable.

The last plate was a small sampling of some of the things I had taken earlier - two more Italian meatballs, another rib, and some green olives mixed with cold artichokes from the Italian area. That was very tasty- just a simple olive salad but well seasoned and the parts of artichoke were soft and tender.

Again on this visit there was no room for dessert but I went and looked and there were many really great looking desserts to take including crepes and hot desserts - and cheesecake! If you have been reading along with me for awhile you know that I can't really indulge in these any longer so it was hard not just giving in to temptation. But I was satisfied never the less with all that I did have.

Service was very good. The server at our table was there when we needed him. Empty plates disappeared when we went up for more and drinks were offered and refilled.

Was I disappointed at all that I went back? No. Was it the same experience as I had remembered? I have to say no. It was fine. It was good. Had I not been here before would I say that this was exceptional - as I had felt that first time. No. I would say that it is a cut above most but not memorable. Why? One thing is that this is way off season - this weeknight buffet in mid-summer may very well be very different. Another thing is that it just may be that the main effort is placed into the weekend buffet and that is what impressed that first time around. The quality of the food was the same - very good. Gourmet preparation? Yes, that first time - not really this time. Will this keep me from going back - midweek - again? I will be going back. As I write this a few days after the meal my mouth is watering. So maybe there was something there that is still drawing me back again - even mid-week.

Go and enjoy. If you go mid-week, take heed of this article. If you go on a weekend - take note of my first article.

Now getting there as I said back in September is a bit of a drive through the woods. We got there just fine this time with the help of our GPS, but going home in the really dark - with snow considerably still covering the ground from a recent heavy hitter storm was a bit of a story. We set the GPS for home and left the parking lot and came to the end of the driveway road into and out of the complex. The GPS said turn left when I-95 was to the right. Hmm. Maybe it new about traffic or such and we had come from the left though we had not come there directly form home but more north from where the museum we visited was. Ok - silly me we listened to the GPS voice and turned left onto what was a long and dark country road into the woods and out of the woods and into the woods again. In a while it said we were to turn left down a road that was no where yet near the main road we had come down on. Listen or not? We were not sure what to do if we went straight on ahead to parts unknown so we turned off onto the road it directed us on. I entered the road and went "NO WAY!" This was a narrow, single lane road into the woods that just went off into the darkness. Where? And as I said there was still snow on the ground and the roads were iced. I stopped in the middle of this road and said we are going back to the casino and going toward I-95. I managed to make a u-turn on this narrow dark road and headed back. Don't you know that every cross road we came to that GPS chirped turn here, turn at the next corner - make a u-turn. It was relentless. It was not until we were well past Foxwoods and heading to I-95 that it gave up and routed us on the main road. I expected it to come back and say - "All right already, we will do it your way!" By the way - this is a new GPS from the one I had on the first trip here.

Be prepared when you go to Foxwoods. Have an idea of where it is and how to get back home - without totally relying upon your GPS.

The Festival Buffet is at Foxwoods Resort Casino. The address is 350 Trolley Line Boulevard,
Mashantucket, CT 06338-3777. The phone number is 1-800-369-9663. There is a website with directions, etc. and that is listed at the side of this page.