Friday, May 11, 2012

Ryan's Buffet - Hagerstown, Maryland

I have been to the Ryan's Buffet in Hagerstown, Maryland before but it has been at least three years since I have been back and this is the first time after the Buffets, Inc. takeover. This past December I was at a Ryan's in Virginia and that had been my first experience at a Ryans under Buffets, Inc. rule. I was curious to see how this one compared.

I have to say that I was not pleased with what this Ryans has become. While the Virginia Ryan's just six months or so ago had not been very much different from what that Ryan's had always been, this Ryan's was noticeably under the influence of Buffets, Inc./Old Country Buffet. Other than very few of Ryan's signature dishes, most of what was on the buffet servers were very much the same as what is on the Old Country Buffet servers.

There was a special feature at this Ryans that I am assuming may - or may not - show up at Old Country Buffets who have grills on the buffet serving floor. They very well may be there now. There was a grill saute feature. You choose chicken or fish, choose rice or noodles, and choose your sauce - spicy or mild - and the chef at the grill cooks this to your order. This is just like the disastrous seafood saute feature at Golden Corral. Here at this Ryans the same chef cooking steaks was also in charge of the saute grill. While at Golden Corral the problem with this is the massive backup of people waiting while each individual order is cooked, here at this Ryan's there was NO ONE getting this saute. I watched to see. I was minorly tempted to try it but I cannot eat rice, did not want sauteed noodles and did not want spicy sauce so I passed. So did everyone else. As I looked around the dining room no one had this on their plate.

Throughout the time we were there, the restaurant was having a dish washing problem. Every stack of plates that were put out had a good number of crusty and dirty dishes in the pile. It was quite evident from the stacks and stacks of dishes that were taken off the piles in an attempt to find a clean dish and placed on the side of the dish counter. I went down the stack through several dishes before I found one that was clean. Everyone else was doing the same. At some point about an hour and a half later some employee or manager noticed this and suddenly new stacks of dishes started coming out, steaming from the dish washer that were actually- for the most part - clean. This is not good. This is how you lose customers and with the current hunt by Buffets, Inc. to close more Ryan's and Old Country Buffets based upon sales, losing customers is not something that you want to do.

My wife likes Ryan's chicken pot pie and they did have that. It was just fair and not up to that just tasted at the Ryan's six months ago in Virginia. I have always liked Ryan's char-grilled steak. I went up to the grill and the grill chef had a rare steak both times that I went up. The first piece of steak that I had was good in taste but the steak was literally half fat and grizzle - not on the side, as one might expect, but on the bottom of the steak (or top depending on which side was up). There were spots that would not cut with a knife. I wound up eating what I could of it by cutting into the thickness of it as if filleting the meat, and peeling away what was edible. The second piece was like this and was edible meat throughout, but the taste was just bland and it was tough. I will say that as both of these pieces of steak were, they were better than most of the steak that I have had a Old Country Buffet in taste and cooking. There was no smoked sausage on the grill as has been usual at Ryan's. There were chicken hotdogs out on the buffet which is another sign of the OCB influence. Hot dogs at OCB are chicken hotdogs.

The chicken noodle soup with thick doughy noodles was 100% Ryan's and was not a disappointment. The salad bar was very much OCB and very little Ryan's. They did have the romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, shredded cheese and croutons separate and not per-mixed as at OCB, but the large selection of salad toppings and salads that Ryan's once had - and was there in Virginia - was not here.

Desserts were a combination of OCB and Ryan's with several of Ryan's full sized layer cakes out for serving. This Ryan's had a freezer case with hand-dipped ice cream in addition to one soft serve machine (Ryan's usually has two soft serve machines, one with yogurt), but in that case through the glass top I could see pre-scooped bowls of vanilla ice cream sitting on a tray with four tubs of hard ice cream below that must have been other flavors besides vanilla.

Service, on the other hand, was good and this server was quick to pick up plates from our table and also came by to offer refills of drinks.

I am in this area just once a year and if I am there again next year, I will go back to see if it is any better - or if it is there at all anymore. There is an alternative nearby in Golden Corral and there is another Ryan's about thirty miles north in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, also along Route 81. Should you go? I just gave you what I observed and experienced, I leave it up to you.

Ryan's Hagerstown is located at 17380 Garland Groh Blvd, Hagerstown, Maryland. The phone number is (301) 766-4440. This is a large outdoor shopping center and the Ryan's is near the Walmart end of the shopping center.

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