Friday, January 06, 2012

Ryan's Buffet

I have not been to a Ryan's Buffet since Buffets, Inc. took them over a few years ago. Buffets, Inc. is the parent corporation and owners of Old Country Buffet. Ryan's are not anywhere near my area and I only get to go to them when I am traveling - and traveling at a distance. While traveling in early December I had an opportunity to have dinner at a Ryan's in Virginia, and on the return trip, stopped there again one week later. I have written about this particular Ryan's in the past. This Ryan's is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. During my two visits I was very much able to see how this restaurant and I am certain, the whole chain, has changed since the takeover.

There has been a lot of controversy around the takeover and I have written about that in detail on this site - and there have been a large number of comments posted to this site from employees, managers, former employees, former managers - all of Ryan's - who were very effected by the takeover including a number who lost their employment when Buffets, Inc. closed a large number of Ryan's locations. I am not going to go into all of that again, but it is important to understand that Ryan's under new ownership was not an invisible changeover.

First, the physical layout of this restaurant has not changed. It is exactly as it was when I was last here. All Ryan's have a large flame grill and that grill is still there with a chef. You would not really know that anything is different until you see what is being served on the buffet. The price was lower at Ryan's than OCB - $9.99 for dinner. Beverages were always extra at Ryan's and these were slightly more expensive than at OCB - $2.10. Coupons good at one chain are good at the other.

What is on the buffet is very much what you will find at an Old Country Buffet. As was suspected when the takeover occurred the object was to take what was the top buffet chain at the time and bring it down to what was the third of the buffet chains - OCB. Some of the food items that you would find at Ryan's in the past are still there but many items have been changed over to Old Country Buffet's menu and items that were the same at both - for example, fried chicken, now are prepared using OCB's recipes - which is a shame, because in the past, Ryan's fried chicken was so much better than OCB's.

We went first on a Thursday night and then on a Tuesday night. One of Ryan's dishes that is one of my wife's favorites is their chicken pot pie. (Keep in mind, if you read this site regularly, that this is my picky eater wife that I am talking about.) When we discussed stopping at Ryan's she wondered if they would still have the chicken pot pie - and on that Thursday night they did. It was the same as it always has been. It was once and still is very tasty and it was nice to see that this was something untouched by OCB influence. It is, as you would suspect, chicken, carrots, potatoes, etc. cooked in a white sauce under a pie crust. Ryan's chicken pot pie also contains pasta which makes this very tasty dish a carb-counters nightmare, but we won't, for the moment, be so concerned about that. Bottom line is that it is still good. When we went back the next week on Tuesday, there was no chicken pot pie, but there was chicken and dumplings - not the OCB chicken and dumplings, but REAL chicken and dumplings - nice pieces of chicken with thick, drop dough dumplings and vegetables in a light, but slightly thick sauce. My wife was disappointed that there was no chicken pot pie, but I thought that this was at least something good to replace it.

The chargrill was grilling steaks as they always have. The steak now, however, is not the same, and is now the same steak that is served at OCB and it was highly over-seasoned. What is missing from the grill are the various other grilled meats that Ryan's would have. There generally, in the past, would be smoked sausage on the grill. There was smoked sausage but it was on the buffet server and served in barbecue sauce on Thursday and then on Tuesday, it was served with peppers and onions with a semi-sweet sauce, the same as it is served at Old Country Buffet. Interesting side note, here it was called "rope sausage" that is perhaps a regional name for it. To my taste, it was better when it was cooked on the grill along side the steaks. I went up for a steak and asked for one rare. The woman who was cooking told me that she did not have anything rare, but would put a steak on for me and cook it that way. I thanked her and told her that I would be back later. I went around the buffet and took other things to eat and returned to our table, intending to go for the steak when we got up for our next plate. At the point that we were almost done, the woman from the grill came over to our table with a plate of steak. She asked if I had asked for a rare steak, I told her I had, and she smiled and handed me the plate. I have to note that this happened once before a number of years ago at this same Ryan's. This would never happen at Old Country Buffet. I only wish the steak was as good as the service. The steak was so full of seasoning and pepper that it burned my lips and I had to scrape the top and bottom off to be able to finish it. When we returned the next Tuesday, the steak was not as peppery, but still over-seasoned. The one thing that is important is that there is steak at Ryan's every night, unlike OCB where steak is only served on Friday and Saturday nights. Also, the steak is still served to order and not put out, after grilling, on a steam table under cover where it cooks to well done in a matter of minutes and that is how it is served.

The salad bar at Ryan's is still more extensive than OCB. They still put out the Caesar Salad so that you assemble it yourself and you add the dressing to it. This is so much better than the prepared Caesar Salad that OCB puts out and that varies from location to location. There is still pepperoni slices on the salad bar, tuna salad, and a variety of prepared salads, some of which are now the exact same prepared salads found at OCB.

The chicken noodle soup at Ryan's still has the thick, doughy noodles that has always made this chicken noodle soup so much better than that served at OCB. There were three soups served.

There is still a baked potato bar. There is still a taco bar but it offered much less than what it did in the past, and, actually, less than what is on the taco bar at OCB.

On the buffet on both nights was catfish, but not the catfish nuggets that are served at Old Country Buffet, but whole catfish, battered and fried with the fin and tail still on. The catfish was delicious but there are many tiny bones in catfish and for someone like me who does not eat whole catfish often, this is something to take great care with and is certainly not for children - at least not for children who are not being raised where this is common. Even after pulling the whole spine with bones out, there still were bones. Perhaps this is why the catfish at OCB is served as boned, fried nuggets of catfish - but I have tried those nuggets and they are not very good.

The dessert bar is still pretty much as it always has been. It is a "real" bakery bar, meaning that you can see the preparation of the cakes, etc. and they go right into the oven and come out warm. They had full sized layer cakes - not the little squares. They all looked very tempting. Gone were the gummy bears on the sundae bar, and the sundae bar was abbreviated from what it had been.

I came away from Ryan's on both visits thinking that if you could take some of the things at Old Country Buffet and do them right - do them as they should be done - that is what I found at Ryan's. There was the grill cooking steaks - as you like them. There was the good chicken noodle soup. There was the mix it yourself Caesar Salad. There were "real" layer cakes. If the steaks were the Old Ryan's steaks it would have been much better, but it was nice to see that while some of the old Ryan's menu and recipes are gone, there still are a lot of things remaining.

At your table, you are going to see the same table advertising cards as you see in OCB - but with the Ryan's name more prominent followed by OCB and the other related names of Buffets Inc. restaurants - but they are exactly the same. So the corporate office is making sure that you know of their presence. One would hope in such an acquisition that the best of both would be blended - at both locations - or that the acquired chain would remain as close to the same as possible, and not a "knock-off" of the other chain. No, here nothing of Ryan's was brought to OCB, but a lot of the not as good of OCB was brought to Ryan's.

I hope to be able to visit another Ryan's location (perhaps two) in the Spring. I will let you know if what I find is similar. Since my visit to Ryan's, I have been to OCB on a Tuesday and a Thursday - and the so-called features of those nights at OCB were there on those nights at Ryan's - some prepared better at Ryan's.

For now, if my assumption of what is happening here is happening at all of the Ryan's, then I would suggest you try one if you come across one - they are fewer and further between these days. If your experience at a Ryan's since the take-over is different, please leave a comment.


Scott said...

Two Ryans in Springfield, Missouri.

Gave the eatin' joint several tries over time but found them lacking when compared to a local Golden Corral (GC).

Several criteria affect my obviously subjective rating/opinion.

GC has more numerous offerings and a larger salad bar with more choices.

I am not much of a steak aficionado and tend to opt for luch anyway due to the lower cost and when GC doesn't offer steaks but that is fine with me.

I view the vittles quality, on the whole, better at GC and am sated with the food-types offered.

I haven't been to Ryans for around 6 months due to my opting for GC for the reasons listed above.

I have no reason to return to Ryans since GC fills my mass-quantity victual consuming needs.

RemixedCat said...

I've noticed some improvements in the remaining location in my area. the ham got better, the ice cream was much sweeter, and the service was much better. the atmosphere was better as well. ;-)