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.


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