Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Buffet at the Milleridge Inn, Jericho, NY

In January I wrote about the Christmas Eve buffet at which I was a guest for dinner. I ended that review by saying that I could not recommend any buffet on any holiday at this restaurant. To recall, that article, the buffet dinners served at this menu restaurant on holidays in their catering building as special holiday dinners. This is not a buffet restaurant and the restaurant has been around for years and years. In fact, the holiday buffets have been around for years and years. So what happened this Easter? The same people invited us to holiday dinner again and again at the holiday buffet at this restaurant.

I must say that the experience was considerably better. But read on to my conclusion of whether you should spend a holiday dinner here.

The restaurant was crowded, both the menu dining and the holiday buffet. We were at the last seating and I anticipated a meal of empty trays, but that was not the case. Food was continually replenished. One of the problems at the Christmas Eve dinner was that our party of five was seated at a table that was barely large enough for three. This time we were seated at a table for eight and we had plenty of room.

Another problem at Christmas was that the dirty dishes were never picked up from our table and the service was terrible. For Easter the service was much better and dishes were picked up on a regular basis.

So with these improvements the meal must have been good. Well, yes and no. The meal was OK. The meal cost in the vicinity of $45 a person. Remember we were guests, so it is not polite to ask your host what they are paying for your meal. What surprised me was that soft drinks and coffee were included with the meal - and when you could grab a waiter you could get more soda (which is coming from the bar).

The meal was very similar to the menu served at Christmas. There was a large cold salad area that included prepared salads consisting of either pasta or rice. There were mozzarella cheese balls with tomatoes in a vinaigrette dressing. There was a chopped antipasto salad consisting of salamis, peppers, and olives. There was also a large spread of iced shrimp that had the shells removed. These were very sizable shrimp and would have made for a very expensive shrimp cocktail in a menu restaurant. The shrimp did taste as though they had been on ice too long. They were fine but they did not stand out as to what one might say were "tasty" shrimp. This is what I found to be the problem with most of the food served. For lack of a better way of putting it, the food did not "pop"! There was nothing that you would say, "Wow! That was marvelous X, Y, or Z!"

There was a bowl of mixed salad greens that appeared to be mostly spinach. There were two dressings next to it - a balsamic that was overly oily and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Next to the salad area there was a table set up with hot trays of "kid" food. There were small pieces of hot dogs wrapped in dough. There were chicken fingers. There were French fries and there was macaroni and cheese.

The main hot food tables held chicken parmigiana, ziti ala vodka, eggplant rollatini, thin sliced beef with peppers and onions over rice, salmon in cream sauce, string beans, and roast potatoes. Carvings followed next. There was leg of lamb, ham, and for a short time there was pork roast which when it ran out was followed by a roll of beef.

Dessert is brought to your table by the waiter - one per person - and there was cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, and ice cream to pick from.

All of the food was fine, but nothing stood out. Nothing was exceptionally tasty. In fact, I have had tastier food at chain buffets at a quarter the price. This is a restaurant that does these dinners as a way to show off their catering. The object is to have me think that the food is so wonderful that I want to have a large party there. Would I to have a party to plan, I would not come here if I wanted to impress my guests with the food.

Again, I must say that the service was much, much better. I just wish the food was better. I still cannot recommend this holiday buffet, this time on the basis of the food. For this much money it really does need to "pop". There should be some "wow" for something during the meal.

Do I now recommend this to anyone to try? If you want food that is just OK and you want to take a chance that they don't go back to the poor service that has been experienced here in the past - well, you decide.

Of course, if I am invited again, I can't really say no. This remains to be seen until next Christmas. We shall see. And obviously they do not read my articles.

Friday, April 22, 2011

More Ryans Being Closed

I recently received this comment from a reader on an article that I wrote in 2008 about Ryan's buffets being closed by the parent company, Buffets, Inc. (Old Country Buffet). This is the recent comment in its entirety.

"They're at it again. On March 15 more stores are being closed Ryans in Gadsden, Al. and Ryans in Lancaster, SC were closed. Trying to find out if anymore were closed today. This is not a stable company. I worked for them twice - Once as Ryans and once as Old Country Buffets. Ryans had direction, cared about the customer and the employees and cared about their store's condition. OCB just looks at the bottom line. They don't care about anything but money - unfortunately that is the trend today. Companies look at the bottom line and all they think is close the store and cut the loss. When in reality, the under-performing stores are a mirror image of their direction or lack of and company practices. It shows up in smaller stores and markets quicker than in larger ones. OCB needs to look at themselves instead of their stores. Find their problems, correct them, then put proper practices in their stores. They want to compete with newer, fancier stores - but don't want to make the improvements at store level to make them competitive. They put fancy spice racks in old run down stores and don't know why it didn't work. They are constantly changing recipes that customers like to ones that are labor intensive and not that good and wonder why a cook that makes a tad more than minimum wage - can't adhere to the recipe. They make cashiers (minimum wage again)to force customers to buy beverages (high profit) to add $2 each to a bill. If they fail to maintain a sales quotas, they are replaced. I can tell you from experience that you can go to work for McDonalds and make more money and have 1/2 the responsibility. These under-performing stores are a sign of things to come and I don't feel the sign will be read."

I have since received other contacts as well about Ryans buffets being closed location by location. I will make no editorial comments. I believe that this comment from our reader speaks for itself. I do feel that it is important for our readers to be aware of what is going on. I like Ryans Buffet. There are none near me and I have not been to one in more than two years because of distance and lack of travel to where there is one. I do know from comments that they are now more like OCB than they are like the former, pre-Buffets, Inc. Ryans. That is a shame and what is commented above appears to be the result.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Seafood is the New Feature at Golden Corral

Just when I thought that I might get a chance to try to the steak feature at Golden Corral, their feature menu has now changed to seafood. That is the way it is with featured menus - don't delay because a new one will be coming soon. But the important thing is that a new feature menu does come at Golden Corral. They are one of the last chains to vary their buffet with limited time features of dishes that are new.

Seafood is done well at Golden Corral. I always enjoy their fried fish. The new feature is called Seafood Lover's Paradise. The name, itself, is inviting! And one of the things that Golden Corral is advertising with this feature is that you are getting seafood for $10! Seafood in restaurants is expensive - even a simple fried fish platter can get close to $20 in a basic restaurant. So an all you care to eat (AYCE) seafood meal for ten bucks - and one that is good, is something to advertise.

The feature adds a few new seafood items to the buffet. One of the new items is grilled jalapeno glazed talapia. This is a spicy grilled fish dish. Another of the new items is sweet pecan breaded talapia. Talapia fillets are breaded in a crunchy mix of bread crumbs with a bit of heat. They are topped when served with pecan pieces.

Included in the feature also are Seafood Newberg with puff pastry. Like a pot pie, a puff pastry crust is placed over a mixture of seafood in a cheese sauce. There is seafood salad - a regular on the buffet. There is salt and pepper flounder - deep fried flounder fillets. (I have had those in the past and they are good!) Add on to the buffet New England Calm Chowder and hush puppies (fried corn meal dumplings) and you have the new Seafood Lover's Paradise.

I have not been to Golden Corral to try the new dishes added to this feature. I have had some of the dishes that are included that have been around before. I like Golden Corral's cooking so I am pretty sure that this feature is worth a try.

Allow me to talk a moment about the fish, talapia. There is nothing wrong with it. I like the taste and I have had it many time. It is important to note that farm raised talapia, which is most of the talapia that is served, does not have the Omega-3 health factors that we are told fish has. In fact it does just the opposite and takes the benefit away from what you may gain from the other fish. This is not everyone's concern but if you think eating a lot of talapia is heart-healthy - well, it isn't. I will not go into this in detail - Google talapia to see for yourself. This would not stop me from eating it - but do be aware of this.

I am hoping that I will get to a Golden Corral before this feature ends. How likely that is I am not sure as there are none near me and require travel of a couple of hundred miles. BUT - if you have one near by, try it and let us know how the Seafood Lover's Paradise is!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Unthinking, Stupid, or Just Rude?

We have the Rules of the Buffet on this site. All of the rules stem from common sense and just plain courtesy when dining out at a buffet. But - there are somethings that I have witnessed at buffet restaurants that just go beyond the rules - and to make a new rule would just make you wonder where did that come from.

Lately, I saw some really over the top things at buffets - all having to do with customers. The buffets are in no way at fault. These are the things that you say that make you wonder - is that person unthinking about what they are doing, is he/she just plain stupid, or is he/she just rude?

I was almost going to tell you about this first one in the article that I wrote about the buffet but I thought to myself that this has nothing to do with the buffet and no one should get the idea that the buffet was not good because of this. I am not going to identify the restaurant - but it could have been anywhere in any restaurant - even one that is not a buffet, though people seem to act differently in menu restaurants. I will start from when we were first brought to our table to be seated. The hostess is goes to the table that she is going to seat us at and I think that this table must be occupied. On the table there are personal belongings - a cigarette lighter and some other personal things. Across one of the seats (this was a booth) was a coat. The hostess looked down at these things knowing that the table was "supposed" to be available. She looked at the table across from this one that was filled with people. She asked at that table if these things belonged to anyone there. "Oh", said one woman, "those are mine." She made no move to retrieve them. The hostess had to ask - would you please take them so that we may use the table. The woman seemed put out and picked up her things off the table and the coat from the seat. Really? I had not seen anything quite like this before. It was not as if this buffet was empty and there were plenty of open tables. This restaurant was crowded.

Is this all that is bothering me? Need I tell you that this story continues? We went through the entire meal. It was just before we were about to leave. In fact, my wife had gone off to the restroom and I was at our table alone. That same table across from us still had the same people at it. This same woman had a toddler - about two years old. I see her pick up this child and lay him down on the bench seat of the booth behind us. Hmm. This booth had been occupied before and the people there had just left. The restaurant was still crowded so the table would certainly be needed again. Was she putting this child down to sleep on this seat? Much as she had left her coat on the seat of our booth? No worse. She proceeded to take down this child's pants and change the child's diaper! What a pleasant dining experience and odor! Not only did she change the diaper, but in doing so she took the dirty diaper and PUT IT ON TOP OF THE TABLE! After she finished with the child, pulled the pants back up and picked him up she picked up the dirty diaper off the table, balled it up in her hand and started talking to someone at her table while she stood in the aisle between our two tables waving this dirty diaper around in her hand. Eventually she took it and put it down on her chair.

When my wife got back she could see that I was perturbed by something and I told her that I would explain outside when we left. I told her and she told me that the ladies room had a very nice baby changing area. So there certainly was no reason why this woman could not have taken the child there to do this. This really was incredible. On our way out, people were brought to that table. The table had been wiped down before so there was no reason that the restaurant would wipe it down again. There was no one to tell in time and those people sat down to have their meal on a table that was just holding a poop filled diaper. This is really a disgusting thought - to me at least. In this case I think that all three of the words in the title of this article apply to this woman. I have seen a lot of nasty things in my times over the years at buffets - hamsters put on the table, dogs at a table, etc. This was the worst so far.

I wish that this was the only recent tale like this to tell. At another buffet, when it was time to leave a couple with another toddler, picked the child up and stood him on the table - in his dirty boots - so that they could put his coat on him. I am sure that all buffets are supposed to use a disinfectant in that spray bottle that they use to give the table a cursory wipe down between guests. Often I think and in some places I am sure that all that is used is plain water. It is intended to clear the remains of the meal away - not to wash off the remains of dirty boots. So the next person to sit down to eat and some food comes off the edge of the plate and unthinkingly that person lifts it back to the plate and eats it - yuck when there had been a child's boots on the table.

Another tale is not so extreme but goes directly into the rude category. I was at still another buffet, and went up to the salad bar to get some Caesar salad. In front of the bowl of salad is a large man, his wife and two daughters. They are standing there having a conversation. Ok - ordinary and no big deal. But he has one filled plate down on the counter of the salad bar and another plate in his hand. While he is talking with his family he is eating from that plate in his hand. The daughters are eating like this too. They have a table but evidently they thought that this was a good place to have their meal. I came up next to him and he did not budge. I tried to say excuse me and he paid no attention. I had to reach over the plate that he had on the counter to get to the tongs for the salad and started taking salad. His reaction was one of indignation and the look he gave me was as if to say how dare you lean over my plate and interrupt my meal. I returned the look and proceeded to take my salad. He finally got the idea to move - a little further down. What is going on with people?!? All too often I see people at the buffet servers eating. It is like a cocktail party as they carry their plates from one serving tray to the other and eat what is on the plate at the same time. Are they so hungry that they cannot wait?

Or are they unthinking, stupid or just rude?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Southern Smokehouse - Second Try - Weeknight

It has not happened before that I have returned to a new to me buffet so soon after my first visit, but five days after I went to Southern Smokehouse in Linden New Jersey, I went back. After a long two part article about that first visit you may be tired of hearing about this buffet, but often a weeknight experience is very different than a weekend night at the restaurant and it is worth sticking around to hear a little more about his buffet.

We had business in New Jersey again shortly after our trip on the past Saturday. We decided we would go on a Thursday and started looking for another buffet to try. I had a couple of recommendations from readers but while they were in New Jersey they were fifty to seventy miles in the wrong direction. It would mean adding a hundred to a hundred and forty miles to the trip and that did not make sense to me. I did a few searches to see what I could find that might be closer but came up with a few Chinese buffets that when I looked at patron reviews were not appearing too promising. In the past when we have come to this area we have gone to Buffet Europa - which is now gone - and Makkoli, a very good Japanese sushi and seafood buffet. Makkoli on a weeknight is $20 a person and now that I am unable to eat rice and can eat very little of noodles, this was just not really going to be worth it for us. I enjoy that buffet but felt that I was only going to be frustrated now if I could not partake in what I enjoy so much there. My good wife and I discussed what to do. I jokingly said that we could go back to Southern Smokehouse. She said fine. I said, really after just five days. She pointed out that this would be a chance to try it on a weeknight and we rarely go down to that area other than on a Friday or Saturday. This would be an opportunity. I actually had been thinking about when we would go back because remembering the meal there kept enticing me. So that was the plan.

We arrived at Southern Smokehouse at 7:00 pm and as I said it was a Thursday night. The parking lot was not very full though there were a good number of cars. There was no line inside and we were told to sit where ever we wanted. Walking into the restaurant there were a number of tables full and while it was not crowded it was doing good business for a Thursday night - and the temperatures were dropping again toward freezing so people often stay home rather than go out into the cold for dinner (on a weeknight especially during a work week). The price on a weeknight is one dollar per person less - $11.95. (Cheaper than at Old Country Buffet considering that the drink in included in the price here.)

As you recall on my first visit my first impressions were almost spoiled by the location of the table that we were seated at. On this night we had the pick of two dining rooms. We took a table that was in the open and comfortable.

The server came over right away as we were getting settled at the table and asked for our soft drink orders. We told her and she was off to get them. We went up to the buffet to start the meal.

Last time there were two soups - one labeled chicken noodle soup and that turned out to really be chicken rice soup - and the other labeled New England clam chowder. On this night one soup was labeled cream of mushroom and the other had no label at all - it could have been either chicken noodle or chicken rice. With a swirl of the ladle as my wife took her soup she told me that is was chicken rice. I filled my bowl with the cream of mushroom. The cream soup had a skin formed on top - which can happen with cream soups. I mixed it well with the ladle and took the soup. The cream of mushroom soup was tasty. It was not very thick but it seemed just right. There were some lumps that settled to the bottom of the bowl that would come up with the spoon every so often. These seemed to be small lumps of the flour used to thicken the soup. The were not bad but should not have been there - actually this is another indication that this restaurant is making most of what they are serving from scratch and not from a mix or from a can. There were large pieces of mushroom in the soup and small bits of onion. Good taste was there and that is what is important.

When I wrote about this restaurant and what I "thought" the differences were between the weeknight menu and the weekend menu on the buffet I was going by the menus listed on their website. There were some differences that made the weekend menu "enhanced". I have to tell you right now that going back on a weeknight I could only find one difference on what was out being served and that difference is very, very small - and just about insignificant. The difference is on the salad bar.

We went up for salad and where the tray of romaine lettuce to make Caesar salad on the Saturday night, there was a tray of mixed lettuce. There may have been some romaine mixed in but it was mixed with iceberg lettuce. Next to that tray was a tray of mixed dark greens. The website menu says "Caesar Salad" on the weekend - and that was correct in a "technical" way. Except that the Caesar dressing was out in the same place as was the Parmesan cheese to put on top. So I made myself a "pseudo-Caesar" salad and really could not tell the difference. Romaine lettuce tends to be more expensive than iceberg - but those mixed greens tend to more expensive than both - so I have no idea why this difference other than the technicality that it is really Caesar with romaine on the weekend. Anyway, the salad was just as good.

It was time to go up for the start of the "main" course and I went right over to the grill and carving area. The flame grill was empty and that seemed to make sense as I was under the impression that the steaks were a weekend buffet item. There was a large tray of spare ribs, a whole roast turkey, and a tray of salmon that had a crust of what looked like cheese and breadcrumbs on top. This was exactly as it had been on Saturday night- so the number of carvings did not change.

As you may recall, I was somewhat disappointed in the ribs on the first visit. I looked carefully at the stacked tray. These ribs looked meaty and moist. They did not appear as those ribs on Saturday night had been - and at that meal none but one of six ribs was moist and meaty. I asked the server behind the counter for ribs and he placed two meaty ribs on my plate. I went over to the hot buffet servers and took some meatloaf. There was a tray of very nice looking onion rings near by and I could not resist and took one of those also. Just because - I took a few sweet potato fries - just a taste.

The ribs were as they should have been Saturday night. They were full of meat and they were moist. The meat still did not fall off the bone but it was not a struggle getting a good amount of it off. They were tasty. At the grill next to the tray of ribs this time there was a serving dish of barbecue sauce to add on top. I did not add any. The ribs have sauce cooked on which is fine for me. If you like a lot of sauce, it is there for the taking. I will tell you now that I went back later for more ribs - the tray had been refilled and piled high again. I asked for two more and, again, got nice meaty ribs.

The meatloaf was good too! The meatloaf is served sitting in a tray filled deep with tomato sauce. The meatloaf is under it. The meatloaf soaks up the tomato sauce and it comes onto your plate with the serving spoon covered in tomato sauce. The meatloaf was very good - different from some - not like the OCB meatloaf (which can be good too). It was not over seasoned. My wife describes it as tasting like "home-style" meatloaf. This is a good thing. (Growing up in my Italian American household, my mother made meatloaf with raisins and pine nuts mixed inside along with cheese. I never really liked meatloaf very much until I found out what meatloaf is like outside of my mother's kitchen - she was a good cook - I just did not like Italian meatloaf. So this is not like my "home-style" meatloaf and to me that is a very good thing!)

The onion rings tasted as good as they looked. They were crisp and the onion inside was moist.

I mentioned the steaks. I went up to the grill on my second entree trip up to the buffet and there was a man cooking steaks. I went over to the grill and stood there with my plate waiting for him to look up. He was picking each steak up off the grill and putting them on one plate. There must have been ten or fifteen steaks. I asked him for a steak and he said something that I could not understand and he took his plate full of steaks and headed off into the buffet area and then into a service area. Hmm? Were they just cooking steak for the staff? No one came over to me at the grill and I thought that perhaps he had said that the steaks were out on one of the hot tables. I left the grill to look. Did not find any steak and got tempted by something else. On my third trip up there were more steaks cooking on the grill. I went over to the server behind the counter and asked for one. He went over and took two steaks and put them on my plate. I really only wanted one but they are good and I sometimes have eyes for food that are too big for my stomach. The skirt steaks were just as tasty as Saturday night - AND they do serve grilled steak during the weeknight dinners.

I tried a few things on this visit that I had not tried on the first. I took some fried fish. It was good and clearly battered and fried in the kitchen. I took some fried okra which was very good. I also took some collard greens. I have had collards a few times in the past but I have not cared very much for them. They were always bitter in taste. These were different - they were made differently. They were large leaves not chopped up but cut into medium size bites - some were larger and folded. They were also in an sauce that was either butter or oil or both. They were not bitter at all. They were very tasty. I would describe the pleasant taste as a mix of salt and pepper and would not say that they were either too salty or two peppery. The texture was different from what I have had also. They were not cooked very soft but had a bit of a chew to them. My wife asked what I meant when I told her this during the meal and I said "stiffer". That is not a very foodie way to describe them but it fits. And that was OK. I enjoyed them and while I would not take them in some other places again, I would definitely have them here again.

Just about all of the rest on the buffet is as I described before. Every tray was full. As this night was not crowded as Saturday night had been packed, some dishes out on the hot buffet were there longer than they had been Saturday night. There was not anything wrong with them. I tried the great macaroni and cheese again, and it tasted just the same. It was a bit thicker and not as light as it had been because the tray of it had been out longer in the heat of the steam table.

The service on this weeknight was OK. The server could have been around our table more considering that there were not that many tables that she was taking care of. She tended to be in the corner of beverage service station which is at the far corner of the dining room. The plates remained on the table a little longer than they should, and once we had to get her attention to bring her over to the table - this is why ->

On our first visit there had been a problem with my wife's soft drink order. She ordered "Diet Coke" and what was brought to her was a regular sugar soda. It was corrected once we could get the server over which then took some time - and I told you all about. This time it happened again - only to me. I ordered an unsweetened ice tea and I was brought exactly that when it first came. No problem. During the meal on one of her trips around to dining room the server asked if I would like more. I said yes, I will have another ice tea. Maybe it was my fault for saying "unsweetened" iced tea but I have never had to say that in other restaurants once the first iced tea had been ordered. Sometimes they ask on the refill - she did not. I got my refill - another glass of iced tea. There was no lemon on the glass and I should have been suspicious as the first glass had one. I noticed that but took it as having been forgotten to be added and to me that is no big deal - lemon or no lemon, I don't really care. It had been a bit of time to get that second iced tea and I took a small drink and then another and realized that I was drinking sweetened iced tea. I can't do that. I am a diabetic. I had not drank much but enough to make me wonder what my blood sugar reading would be in two hours. This was when we had to find her to get her over to bring the correct drink. She took the sweetened tea away and came back with an unsweetened tea - this time with a lemon on the glass (this must be the clue, Watson!). So - two visits, two different servers - and the same problem. Not good. Dangerous in fact. I know better not to keep drinking. A diabetic child would just keep drinking the sugar filled drink (delighted in this new found sweetness) and then possibly be in big physical trouble. So when you order soft drinks here and you need diet or unsweetened - sip small first and make sure that what you get is what you want.

Was I happy on this second visit? Oh yes! The food is very good here. I ate too much and I knew it as I was leaving. I had that too stuffed at the buffet feeling. It is a good feeling but not one that you really want to have. You want to be satisfied and full but not STUFFED. I felt stuffed. I broke my own rule about that - and that is because it was too good not to go back for just one more try of something. Will I go back? Yes, I will. I am not in this part of New Jersey often - it tends to be twice a year at the same time of the year - one or two weeks apart. So it may be another year before I go back. But I will go back eagerly!

I still recommend it! Go and 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.