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.



Sebastion said...

"leeches in syrup"?

Writer said...

Thousands of readers read this article - Sebastian, you are the first to find the error. Of course, that is peaches in syrup. Correction has been made. Thanks for pointing it out. You are now the official "editor" of the week. :)