Friday, September 30, 2011


For many years until several years ago, the Williamsburg Lodge, a hotel owned and operated by Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia served a spectacular seafood buffet in its restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights. I wrote about missing this buffet once it was gone way back in 2006. I was very excited to learn that this buffet was brought back to the Lodge this year on Friday nights. When I made plans to return to this area after my own three year absence I was very excited to have this meal once again - and I looked forward to it with great anticipation. Sometimes, anticipation is much better than the actual event, and perhaps this one time spectacular meal should have been left as a memory.

The Williamsburg Lodge in the past few years was completely renovated. It appears as if the old building was taken down and a new building put up - but in actuality the renovations were done around the former building and some of the original building is there. We made reservations for the Seafood Feast when we arrived in the area. There was little that I was able to learn about it in advance other than the price and that it was "back". We arrived for dinner and searched through the "new" hotel looking for the restaurant. What we found was very different from the large dining room that we remembered.

Over the years everything changes. The room was certainly not the same. The once brightly lit, ballroom type dining room was now a dark, wood paneled room - still very fancy but in a more masculine style - I guess, this is the "Lodge" and woodsy lodge comes to mind to describe this new dining room. Instead of a large room at the rear hosting a buffet laid out in chaffing dishes and serving pieces on tables, there was now a counter built for serving that went around the rear of the dining room and along one side. We were seated at a table near the serving area and the woman who would be our server came over to greet us. She was quick to hand us two wine lists and describe the specials - which were wines and beers being served. She then left and did not return for awhile, never asking if we would like to order a beverage of any kind. We each had a small glass tumbler of ice water that was brought to the table as we sat down. I had intended to order an ice tea, but that never happened.

We went up to the serving area and over to the soup tureen. There was just one soup - the sign said it was Sweet Corn Chowder. This was a thin soup that was more like a broth than a chowder with corn in it. The soup was tasty, but not at all what I would have expected for corn chowder. One of Colonial Williamsburg's historic tavern restaurants serves a corn chowder that is nothing like this. That corn chowder is a thick cream corn chowder. I had expected when I saw the sign that this would be that -as way back in the past - this seafood buffet would serve several dishes that were featured in the Colonial Williamsburg tavern restaurants - but no, that is not so any longer, and this was a very different corn chowder. The soup was good - but not what was anticipated. It was also a surprise that this was not a fish soup to go along with the seafood theme of the buffet.

Anticipation played a very large role in my feelings for this meal. Yes, things change - but some things should not be presented as if they are the same - there are reasons that I say this - and then be very different.

Since my good wife does not eat corn for her own reasons, she passed the soup and went to the salad first - and then walked away from the salad area with an empty plate. She is the first to admit that she is a picky eater and she likes things plain. She does not like dressings and eats her salad plain. This should not be a problem as generally, salad greens and lettuce are put out for you to create a salad of your liking. Not here. There were two "green salads" - Caesar salad (which I had and it was very good) and a salad of mixed greens covered in balsamic vinegar dressing. There was also a black bean salad and an asparagus salad, both with dressing. No plain salad. There was nothing wrong with any of this - if you care for it. The problem is in a world full of allergies and preferences, there needs to be plain included with the fancy.

If I may return to the past for a moment, this buffet would feature an elaborate selection of appetizers including caviar, various pates, cold crab legs, and seafood. I had been able to try things that I would never have been able to try. There was a cold section along the line - actually, past the hot entrees and side dishes - and I went there to find cold shrimp which were already de-veined (which is a step above the usual), raw oysters on the half shell, cheese cubes of Swiss, cheddar and blue cheese, and grapes and strawberries. The shrimp were fine - but nothing special. The oysters were gritty with sand that had not been properly flushed out when they were shucked. Over next to the carving area there was also a small selection of sushi that was a bit odd in assortment and one could barely see a dot of fish in the middle of the rolls of rice. There certainly was no pate or caviar, not even the cold, thin slices of Virginia salt ham that I remembered from past buffet meals here. There was also a basket of dinner rolls that were oily, not buttery, but oily.

OK - maybe the entrees would make up for what has been lacking up to this point in the meal. There were several hot entrees and a single side dish that were on the counter between the salad and the cold shrimp. There was an unusual crab cake au gratin. This was a crab cake mixture with cheese and covered in bread crumbs in a casserole. It was baked into a pan rather than formed into crab cakes. There was broiled talapia in a vegetable mix and covered in a sauce. There was marinated chicken sliced thin with lemon and thyme with a mixture of green beans, bacon, onions, and cherry tomatoes sauteed together. There was "Five Spice" salmon cooked with roasted potatoes, both white and dark purple potatoes. There was sliced loin of pork with mustard sauce. The only side dish was garlic mashed potatoes. There were no other side dishes. The only vegetables were mixed into the entrees. If you wanted a vegetable you were scooping them out from around the entrees. There were also shot glasses sitting out with a hot yellow liquid in them. I could not figure what this was until I realized later that it was melted butter for

Remember my picky eater wife that does not eat things with sauces and likes things plain. So far she was not eating anything other than cold shrimp and some string beans that she managed to get out of the chicken dish as plain as she could.

There was a carving area also and they were carving a small round of prime rib of beef. The beef was very rare which was great for me but many people coming up to the carving station were asking for well done and that meant that the beef had to be taken to the kitchen where it would be cooked more. Those that I observed were not happy with that. There were three horseradish sauces on the table for the beef and the carver kept having to explain them. One was hot and spicy, one was just grated horseradish, and the other was pretty much oil. There was also a saute pan where scallops were being seared and served to order. (I had to wonder if they had been over to Golden Corral to get this idea.)

Now, there was this large ice display next to the carving station that had crab legs on the ice. There was no serving piece. I asked the carver for a serving piece and she said that she served the crab legs hot from a pot that was next to the ice display. She put a cluster on my plate. Crab legs cannot just be kept cooking. The crab shell was mushy and just crumbled when I tried to crack it. This was what those shot glasses of butter were for. If one had not noticed it over on the other serving table, you would not have had butter with your crab if you are so inclined. The crab was overcooked and not worth the effort to get it away from the rubbery shell - and it tasted water logged.

I tried a variety of thing. The beef was good, but I like rare beef. The loin of pork was dry. The chicken was OK. I do not like garlic mashed potatoes so I pulled the white and purple roast potatoes out of the salmon dish. I have never had purple potatoes before and they were interesting. The crab cake casserole was unusual and did not exactly taste like crab cakes but was differently nice. The talapia was fine - why do so many restaurants (and not just buffets) use talapia so often? (Guess - it is a lot cheaper than flounder. And an aside, as I have written before, it is NOT a heart healthy fish.)

Overall the food was good. If you found things that you like to eat. My wife did not. She ate very little. This was another of those infrequent meals that I felt very bad that she was not able to eat. Any picky eater would be in this same spot - and there was no kid-friendly food AT ALL here.

There was a dessert table that was laid out very finely with plates of very small pieces of cake and what can only be described as petite fours. There was traditional southern pecan pie, key lime pie, and small slices of cheesecake. The was a hot server with hot bread pudding. There was also the only colonial dish on the buffet here on the dessert table - Tipsy Triffle. This is a bowl of cake, strawberry syrup, and cream with liquor flavoring. I tried the key lime pie. It was good. If you like sweets there were good things to sample here. With the size of each thing out, you would be putting several on your plate to equal a usual sized dessert.

Service was fair. The server did show up when we were away from the table to take away the plates. She did come by a few times to ask if we wanted more water and with the small tumbler glasses that we had she filled them numerous times. Eventually, my glass accumulated so much ice from her pitcher that there was no more room for water.

We were both very disappointed. My wife was miserable. At least I was not hungry when we left. She barely ate anything.

This meal cost $32.00 per person. With the tax and tip this meal experience cost over $80 for the two of us. This meal - even if you like everything being served is NOT WORTH IT. There is no value here for what you are getting. I have had better meals at chain buffets at a third the price.

As I said, some memories are better left as memories. We will be back again - many times - to Colonial Williamsburg. We will not be going back to the Lodge for the Seafood Feast. I so much wish that I was writing otherwise. I so much miss that buffet that no longer exists.

The Williamsburg Lodge is located in Colonial Williamsburg at 310 South England Street
Williamsburg, Virginia. For details to to and look at dining and lodging.


brian said...

Wow, sorry to hear your wife didn't have much to eat. One thing my wife suggested we do before paying for a new buffet is to ask the buffet if we could look at the food first. Doing this we make sure there is enough food for both of us and if not, we go on to another place. This has saved us from a few buffets that weren't up to par.

Writer said...

:) If I did that I would have very little to write about. She has suffered through a lot of meals for the sake of my articles - as she admits, and I have mentioned many times, she is a VERY picky eater.

Art said...

For 32 dollars, they should have thrown in a boiled lobster! Oh wait, it probably would have been overcooked, anyway. The most I ever paid for a buffet (barring specific holiday buffets held at country clubs) was $35.00. It was a sushi buffet, and well worth it. Many types of fish that I had never even heard of. (Ichiumi at Menlo Park Mall in Edison, NJ)

Klavin said...

I've been to Vegas buffets that were in the $60.00-$70.00 range. But for that price, you can come for breakfast and stay as they roll out lunch/dinner foods around 11 AM and eat into the afternoon. Once you pay, you can stay, there are no "seatings" by meal. People bring the newspaper and take up residence at their tables all day. Problem is, you can barely walk after eating that much. But you get your money's worth. Except you have to go out the next day and buy bigger slacks.

Writer said...

Eating at a buffet is not a challenge. It is not a marathon eating event - no matter what you pay for it. To go for breakfast and staying for dinner while eating throughout the day is way beyond what is reasonable and has nothing to do with getting one's money's worth. Getting one's money's worth is getting a good single meal of value for the amount paid.

Jeff said...

I've also been to those Vegas buffets. They actually encourage diners to stay beyond breakfast for the lunch offerings, even for the dinner. They do not consider it to be unreasonable. In fact, the staff is very well tipped by those who stay for many hours and it's like a party atmosphere.

Writer said...

Well, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It is not recommended that one try this at any other buffet outside of Vegas. At most buffets you may be able to come just before breakfast or lunch ends and stay while the change of meal is brought out but if you sit for the day you are going to be asked to leave - or pay for the next meal.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to see your experience was sub-par. We have been to the Seafood buffet 6-7 times in the last 3-4 years. The food has always been better prepared than Captain George's to us. We plan to go back next week and will let you know if they have truly gone down hill. Last spring,I noticed the crab legs overcooked too. The rest of the table was fine. You mention the redecorating and a ballroom from before. The Williamsburg Inn has a ballroom for their dining room. Did you go there at one time? It is across the street.

Writer said...

The Lodge was closed and redone several years ago - parts completely rebuilt. We had not been back to CW for three years until this past summer. Before the renovations and reconstruction, the seafood buffet was served in a large catering style room with chandeliers, etc. The seafood buffet at the Lodge was discontinued before our prior trip for a few years. We wondered if when the Lodge was finished if the buffet would be brought back again. It was with great excitement, as I wrote, to learn that it was back - but it is NOTHING like it had been and very much limited -especially for the current price (and I knew what the price would be before I walked through the door - but I expected what it had been before or at least close). I am sure if everyone in a family or party has no problem with the few dishes that were offered, no vegetable selections, and a very limited selection of foods "plain" it is fine. For us - who knew it before - and how lavish it was then - and the very limited selection of foods offered now, and for my wife who always manages to find something no matter how limited the buffet- but here was at a total loss, it was a great disappointment. We were just back to CW in December - and we did not go back to the Lodge for the Seafood Feast.

Anonymous said...

Here is our latest take on the buffet at the Williamsburg Lodge. We went 1-13-12. The Lobster Bisque was great, better tasting than the one we had in March. March's was a little too salty. There were 4 fresh salads to choose from. The one I had was delicious. Hubby sampled all 4 and thought they were very good.They had many different cheeses to sample. They had several fish dishes (Tilapia, Salmon)along with a wonderful crab augratin with tomato and parmesan topping.Very little fillers with a great crap taste. Mounds of cold steam shrimp,crab legs, oysters on half shell and sushi. Also had hot crab legs too which I find tasteless in the past. Sliced Pork dish with a spanish rice and a sauce topping. They prepared sauted Sea scallops to order and also roast beef sliced as you wanted it. They had some other vegetable dishes. Their pastry chef always has some great desserts. Sometimes 15-20 items to choose, other times 8-10. The rolls are great too. One aspect we do think could have work on is the service. On several occasions we have had waiters/waitresses who do not check up on items we need refills on like water, coffee and cream. It was not crowded but it took awhile for our waitress to acknowledge us and she had to be prompted to fill water and coffee. She did realize after the first prompt to keep checking. She and everyone else were very pleasant. Though this buffet does not have the 100-150 items some buffets have, the quality and taste make this buffet one of our top favorites.Cost was $32.The reservationist said $28. We had paid $32 in March 2011 so when she said that, I thought either they reduced it to bring more people in or she was given wrong info.