Friday, October 19, 2012

A Tale Of Two Golden Corrals - Virginia PART I

We were in Williamsburg, Virginia and we decided to go back to a Golden Corral that we know has problems. Why were we going back? Because we were in this area for ten days and wanted to eat in buffets - as we usually prefer to do. 

The Golden Corral in Williamsburg, Virginia has a problem in design. The hot serving section of the buffet forms a closed U and this U is surrounded on all sides. On one side there is a half wall just a few feet from the buffet counter that separates the cashier and entrance from the buffet. On the end of the U, where the grill is, there is the salad bar island just a few feet away. On the other side of the buffet is another half wall about six feet away from the buffet counter that separates the buffet from part of the dining room. What should be the open end of the U is accessed by kitchen and cooking staff and the inside of the U is for employees to refill serving trays and access the grill at the end. Get the picture? This is not the standard "new" Golden Corral layout. In most Golden Corral's the serving counters make one long and almost continuous line with plenty of room surrounding them to walk up. Here because the serving counters are boxed in, people form lines and these lines complicate the problem because you could wait a very long time just to go up and get some more mashed potatoes, or whatever.

If you go here on a Saturday night or you go here during the week during tourist season, the restaurant may not seem crowded, but there is a mob of people at the hot buffet counters. And with some waiting for steaks to be cooked to order and some waiting on another line for the seafood saute - yes, this is still around - it is just ridiculous to get anything onto your plate.

I have to admit that we went twice - and I will explain the second time as we go along in this tale. The first night was mid-week. It seemed to me that it should not be too bad. It was. Not the food, but managing the crowds at the counters of the hot buffet. I found myself waiting on a line just to see what was on the buffet on one side. After more than ten minutes and no where near to the food, I got off the line and just walked along the people on line - just to look. There was nothing there that I was interested in taking. I headed around the the other side. Because the dining room side is not as close to the dividing wall, I was able to walk around close enough to see what was there - and despite some people's need to have to create a cafeteria-like line, I just walked up to the trays that I wanted something from. (Buffets are not cafeterias - there are no lines - walk up to a tray, take what you want, and walk away to another spot.)  One poor teen was so confused by the lines, that when I was just passing this area and he asked my permission to go over to the end and get something off a tray that no one was near. I looked at him and just said. "Of course!" I guess he figured he could blame me if the crowd attacked him. :)  He was fine...

With all of the confusion here, the seafood saute station and the steak grill cause even more problems because here there are legitimately two lines - one going in one direction toward the seafood saute and the other going toward the steak. All of this with the salad bar right against it. And the two lines converge into one as you get further to the back - and no one really knows what line is which.  Well, I got on the end of the line that finally separated toward the steak grill. Twenty minutes later I saw what the problem was. The steak chef would ask the three people at his end of the line what they wanted. They would say for instance "well done", "medium well", and "well done". OK, but he only had steaks that were rare and medium rare, and medium. Instead of calling over to the next several in line to see who would like steaks cooked that way, he would just wait until he had steaks cooked to those three at the front. Now. when you get up to him and want rare, medium rare, or medium, he is putting raw steaks on and cooking those to the doneness of those three. Do you see the problem? I have seen at other Golden Corrals that the chef will tell the people who want a more done steak than what is there at the moment to just step aside and he will take the next few to give the steaks he has - and cuts pieces of steak for those who are waiting to keep cooking. Here, there really is no place to wait to do this - the people waiting would be backed into the line coming around the cashier side of the hot buffet. But he could have taken some people that were right there looking for less done steaks. When I got up finally and asked for rare, he had to start a new raw steak on the grill. I had come that far, but my wife who was back at the table waiting for me, was not happy.

The sad thing is that the food is good. It is pretty much the same as any other Golden Corral. The salad bar has less on it than other Golden Corrals.

We were there in August when the current feature was Tropical Island Grill which I had an article about in August, but had not tried it yet. I believe it is past now, and you did not miss much. Everything was either too spicy or overly sweet. I tried a few of things from this - the teriyaki steak, the key west chicken, and the talapia and I have to say they were terrible. I only took a very small taste of each and did not finish any of it - even the less than a forkfull that I took.

They also had the new Cotton Candy feature and this was served off the dessert bar and unlike the chocolate fountain, which is still there, it is not a do it yourself item. There is someone behind the counter making up the paper cones of cotton candy and either handing them to you directly or placing them in a serving tray.  Cotton candy is a sticky thing and if a small child rubs against you with it - which happens, you will get full of sugar. It was a big hit with the kids - and considering all of the pitfalls of the chocolate fountain, cotton candy was a much better addition.

We left very unhappy and determined to find another Golden Corral that is not too far from Williamsburg. The closest one is in Newport News which is about twenty miles further east on the peninsula and if it was better than this one, the distance was OK with us. I will tell you more about that Golden Corral in Part II of this article which will appear next week.

Oh yes, we did go back to the Williamsburg Golden Corral before we left the area. There was a major storm that came through and Newport News was flooded with cars up to their windshields in water. We decided not to chance going there for dinner so we went back to the Williamsburg Golden Corral. (We had been to the various other buffets - primarily Asian buffets just too often that week.) Well, on that second visit there were the same problems. There were less people but the lines, the problems, were all still there.

End of Part I.

Part II next week.

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