Friday, September 28, 2012

Ryan's Buffet - Fredericksburg, Virginia

I wrote in the Spring about a Ryan's that we were at in Hagerstown, Maryland. That Ryan's had made a significant change since I had been there previously (before the takeover by Buffets Inc.) to become much more an Old Country Buffet with little left from its former Ryan's identity.

In August we returned to a Ryan's that we have been to probably more than any other Ryan's. This is the Ryan's Buffet in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This Ryan's also has become much more like Old Country Buffet, but it has retained many of the things that made the original Ryan's chain the best of the buffet chains. For those reading who are not aware, several years ago the parent company of Old Country Buffet bought out the Ryan's chain and quickly thereafter started to close Ryan's restaurants in mass - in the usual way that Buffets, Inc. does business - they arrive in the morning as the doors are opening for business for the day and announce to everyone, including the management - that this restaurant is closed and you do not have a job anymore - go home. The company then started to make those remaining Ryan's restaurants into clones of Old Country Buffet restaurants and, rather than taking the best of Ryan's and introducing that to OCBs, they took the worst of OCBs and introduced that into the Ryan's restaurants. Some Ryan's have managed to still maintain what made them good - and the Ryan's in Fredericksburg, VA is one of those.

One major difference from OCB, and what was always good at Ryan's, is the salad bar. In Fredericksburg they still have the large salad bar with its extensive selection that Ryan's was known for. Here there is a make-your-own Caesar salad with all everything there for you to put together and the salad dressing at the side for you to add to your liking. This is not the pre-made Caesar salad that is found at OCB, and the dressing here is much better. The seafood salad was very different from that at OCB as well. While it was not using real crab meat but what is called "Krab" meat, it was using large chunks of that made into a salad and not the shredded "seafood" and macaroni salad found at OCB. There were also three types of lettuce to choose from and (perhaps because of the location) there was nothing spilled from one serving tray to the next.

On the hot buffet server there were many more selections than you find at OCB. There were large pieces of smoked sausage that were not served in the sweet sauce that OCB puts smoked sausage in. There were whole sides of catfish - not the little chunks that are served at OCB. Many of the dishes that Ryan's was known for were still on the buffet. I recently wrote about the Mandarin Stir Fry that Buffets, Inc. introduced this year. This was here at the grill area and took up the griddle next to the char-flame grill. I actually did see one person walk up and have it, but as I have said this is not very popular at any OCB or Ryan's that I have been in that have it. This was the only time that I have seen anyone have it. (This opposed to Golden Corral where there are still lines after a year and a half for their seafood stir fry.)

Now, the steaks! The steaks here are made on a char-flame grill and they are made to order - if they already do not have a steak that is cooked to your request. And what is given to you is a significantly sized piece of steak and not a small two inch chunk as is often served to you at OCB. More than once, I have been to this particular Ryan's, where a rare steak was not there when I asked, and the grill chef put one on just for me and then came to my table with the steak or call me over to get it when it was ready. So different from any other buffet! And I must say, this is something particular to the very good employees at this particular Ryan's. They actually seem happy to be working. The steaks are being seasoned to Buffet's Inc.'s idea of steak seasoning which contains way too much pepper, but they are cooked on the grill properly and much of this seasoning can be scraped off. I smile when I eat the steak here. I can't say that often.

Now, over to the dessert section. You know the little squares of sheet cake that you find at Old Country Buffet. How would you like a large wedge of a round, double-layer, chocolate cake? Well, that is exactly what was being served here. It looked great and was so tempting!

Well, I have to say that this is the best Ryan's we have ever been to and my picky eater wife agrees. When coming to this area, I always check before to make sure that this Ryan's has not fallen victim to Buffets, Inc.'s axe, because they have no idea what a good thing is. If you are near Fredericksburg, Virginia - and there is a lot of history to be found there, as well as a huge shopping center which this Ryan's is located at - try this Ryan's.

This Ryan's Buffet is located in the Central Park Shopping Center/Complex off of I-95 in Fredericksburg, VA. Its address is 1780 Carl D Silver Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA 22401 and the phone number is (540) 548-0051. There is a link at the side of this page to Ryan's chain webpage.Link

Friday, September 21, 2012

Old Country Buffet, Alexandria, Virginia

I have not been to an Old Country Buffet in another state for quite some time. We were in Virginia and decided to try the OCB there outside of the city of Alexandria on a Sunday night. We frequently eat at OCB locally on Sunday night so I knew I would have a good night for comparison.

Locally, the OCB is generally crowded on a Sunday evening - around 6:30 pm. In fact, we tend to arrive later after 7:00 pm to avoid the crowds. This was not so in this Old Country Buffet. There were people inside having dinner but it was relatively empty. The menu offerings at Old Country Buffet are set from night to night. On Sundays there will be carvings of turkey, ham, and roast beef. With the recent addition of steak every night, there is also steak. I will not go into the side dishes but everything that is at our local OCB on a Sunday was there in Alexandria.

This Old Country Buffet did have the "skillet" special, that OCB sent an email to its email list customers about several months back saying that it would be at many OCBs. The two OCBs near me do not have it. The skillet feature is a copy of the skillet seafood special at Golden Corral. I have seen it before at two Ryans and the interesting thing is that no one dining there was having it. No one here was having either. The Ryan's are set up for it as they have a permanent grill area. In this OCB there were two hot plates at the end of a counter. You can select beef or chicken, add noodles or rice, and add a sauce. The way it was set up, the skillet chef did all this for you, and then cooks it in front of you. The sauce selections were sweet or spicy.

So, how did this Old Country Buffet compare to the local Old Country Buffet that I eat at in New York. For one thing there was a very different employee attitude in Virginia. It was far more positive and friendly. There is generally a more positive employee attitude in many places outside of New York. The people working did not come across as if you are intruding upon their time. Another difference was that the seasoning of the food in the Virginia OCB was less salty and less over peppered with black pepper.

A number of years ago, when char-grilled items were introduced on the menu at OCB, I was told that some OCB's would have grills in the dining area at the buffet section and cooked steak to order as Ryan's and Golden Corral do. I was also told when I inquired where, that this Alexandria OCB was one. It is not. They were bringing the steak out from the kitchen already cooked as they do here. But here is a difference. I went up for a piece of steak. There was one piece out on the cutting board and when I asked for steak the carver said to me, "Let me go into the kitchen and get more steak. This piece is all fat and grizzle." He went into the kitchen and came out with several steaks, discarded the piece that has been on the board and I asked him for steak on the rare side. "Of course", was the reply and he carved one of the less well done steaks. He also cut off for me a piece that was almost half the steak - not the two inches that I get at the OCB at home. At home this would have gone down with me or whoever had gone up at that moment being given that inedible piece of steak.

I also saw that the salad bar was much larger in the Alexandria OCB with more things on it and also the taco bar had much more on it, including fajita chicken which has not been at the OCB near me in a few years.

This all may be what you are used to when you go to OCB. It is not for me in New York where there are two OCBs and they both are not at all like this OCB in Virginia. The dinner price was less, as well. Dinner was $10.99.

I do have to note that the men's room was in exactly the same condition as the one's at home. Why is it that when you step up to a urinal at an OCB men's room you are standing in a puddle of piss? The rest rooms have a sign on them that they are checked regularly. Is the puddle acceptable in the inspection?

If you are looking for an Old Country Buffet and you are near Alexandria, Virginia - perhaps having just visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington which is near by- then try this OCB. It is nice - as OCB's go.

This Old Country Buffet is located at 7820 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22306. The phone number is (703) 619-9557. The general Old Country Buffet chain website is listed at the side of this page.

Friday, September 14, 2012

KFC Buffet, Williamsburg, VA

Yes - KFC - Kentucky Fried Chicken - Buffet. This is something that KFC does not make well known. There is nothing on their website that some of the KFC locations have a buffet in addition to their usual take out or take from the counter and sit down menu. I have only seen a few of these and the ones that I have seen have all been in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. I have seen comments through various searches from people who have gone to a KFC buffet, but there is little to no information out there. Right away, you should know that this is an All You Care to Eat Buffet.

There is a KFC Buffet in Williamsburg, Virginia. We were recently in the area and we had a number of nights to try buffets and we decided that we would see what the KFC buffet is all about and how it is. We went for dinner, and in this location it was only available at dinner hours and not all night. The sign here said 4 to 8 pm for the buffet. The restaurant was open much later.

We walked into a usual looking KFC. There was a counter in the front with people behind taking orders and a line of people waiting to give their food orders. One end of the front counter were two small buffet servers. One had hot foods and one had cold foods. You go up to the counter with everyone else and order the buffet. It includes your drink, which is unlimited from the soda machine that is there in the dining room. There is no special area to sit for the buffet. You are sitting in the regular KFC dining area. The price for the buffet is $7.99. And as I just said this includes your beverage. The price is the same for children.

When we got to the counter we ordered two buffets and were each handed one foam, divided plate, a small foam bowl, and a soda cup. Plasticware is out on the condiments counter with napkins and straws. You are given ONE plate. You are to go back up to the counter and ask for additional plates when you are going back up to the buffet for more. The only drawback to this is if there is a line of customers, you are waiting on that line - if you are going to be civil and polite - to ask the person behind the counter for another plate. There was no problem getting as many plates as we needed.

The food in the two buffet servers is a selection from the KFC menu. IF YOU DON'T LIKE KFC FOOD THEN YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE THE KFC BUFFET. No need to comment here that you don't like it. It is just not for you - your choice. The food is KFC food - nothing more and nothing less.

As I understand it from comments that I found through internet search, what is being put out from the KFC menu varies. I will tell you about what there was on this night. I do not know if it changes from night to night.

On the hot server there was Original Recipe fried chicken, Extra Crispy fried chicken, chicken with biscuits which was a variation of chicken pot pie with biscuits on the side instead of a pie crust, mashed potatoes, gravy, kernel corn, green beans, black eyed peas, cooked carrots, and stewed tomatoes. That was all there was on the hot server. On the warm/cold server there was a mixture of prepared salad and dessert items. These were pickles, coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, peppers, pea salad, cottage cheese, jello, fruit crisp, pudding, frosted buns, canned peaches, and banana whipped chiffon. The fried chicken was a variety of all of the different parts - breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. All on the bone.

I have heard that people have had the KFC grilled chicken on the buffet, and I have also read that a make a salad was at one location. I don't think that there are any more items at any other location but there certainly could be different selections from the menu than what I have listed.

I have not had KFC in a very long time. In fact, the last time I had it, it was still called Kentucky Fried Chicken on the sign outside and not "KFC". I have always liked it and after this meal, I found that I still do. Now, my picky eater wife - you all know about her - she does not really like fried chicken. She does like chicken and grilled chicken and she came in with the intention of just pealing the fried coating off the chicken meat. She was happy to see the chicken and biscuits and she mostly ate that and was fine with it.

The food was as I remembered KFC and good. I tried the two different types of chicken and the chicken with biscuits (but I did not take any biscuits). The chicken with biscuits was good size pieces of chicken meat in a light gravy with peas, carrots, and potatoes. It was a good chicken stew. I did find the Extra Crispy better than the Original Recipe chicken. The Original Recipe Chicken seemed to me to be a bit over cooked - at least the color was darker than the light tan that I remembered it to be - but this was so long ago. I tried the vegetables and the mashed potatoes and gravy. It was all as I anticipated it would be and I enjoyed it. Again - if you don't like KFC, this is no different than what they are serving over the counter or in the bucket to take home.

There is no service at your table - obviously. When you finish a plate, you throw it away yourself in the trash bins all around the restaurant. As, I said, new plates are at the counter for the asking. You fill your own soda cup at the machine. When you are done, you throw away everything that is on your table.

The service at the counter was very good and the people that were filling the buffet from behind them - accessing directly into the food prep and kitchen area - were doing a very good job at keeping the trays full and fresh. There was nothing that looked dried out or that needed attention.

The restaurant itself was clean and we were there for dinner in August in a tourist area where it had to have been a busy day. There were several tables other than ours having the buffet.

I do not think that there would be any problem ordering the buffet for one or some and not for everyone that you are with. BUT - I am sure that they will spot you handing food over to anyone who has not purchased the buffet, so don't try it! These are very open dining areas and are in full view of the employees who are behind the counter and around the dining area keeping it clean.

Do I recommend the KFC Buffet? If you like KFC food and can eat more than a couple of pieces of fried chicken, then yes. I plan to go back the next time I am South in this area. If you are a small eater, then just order from the menu - but I suspect it will not be quiet as economical as the buffet. There was a good meal here for a total of $7.99 and tax.

This KFC Buffet is located at 1545 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185. Their phone number is(757) 229 - 7212. There is no mention of the buffets on the KFC website so I will not post a link to that on the side. And the locations are NOT identified as having buffets when they do.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, NJ Buffet Closes

In June 2012, the Virginia City Buffet located in Bally's Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey was closed permanently. There is no intention to have another buffet in this casino and Bally's is looking at redeveloping the space toward entertainment. If you are a regular reader of this site you know that this was my buffet of preference among the casino buffets in Atlantic City and I have been dining at it since it opened years ago.

It was quite a surprise to me to learn that it closed. I have not been there in a year - but usually, I don't travel to Atlantic City more than once a year - and that is primarily to walk on the Boardwalk, take in the atmosphere, and have dinner at a buffet. When I was there last August (2011) there was a line to get into the buffet and when we finally got into the restaurant there were a good number of people having dinner there. From what I have been able to learn about the reasons behind the buffet's closing was that it was financial - that those who frequent buffets are not coming to Atlantic City - which I find hard to believe. I have also read related articles that the focus of the Atlantic City casinos is to no longer cater to the "day trip gambler" but to go after the high rollers - who don't eat in buffets. (Why would they when half the menu can be comped (given to them free) and brought to their table in any restaurant in the casino?)

A new casino opened this year in Atlantic City that did not open with a buffet and likely will not add one. This casino has several restaurants with name chefs. Will this be the trend in Atlantic City?

There are articles in New Jersey publications that say the "day trippers" are going to casinos in Pennsylvania instead of coming to Atlantic City. When other states started allowing casino gambling along with the Native American-run casinos opening there had to be a drop in visitors to what was the only East Coast place to gamble - Atlantic City. But doing things like closing the casino buffets in Atlantic City is not going to attract those gamblers back - and while they will not put thousands down on the tables, they lose a considerable amount that goes into the casino's coffers by the time they leave at the end of the day.

I, myself, admit that I have gone to Connecticut rather than Atlantic City. Would I have gone to AC instead if the two Connecticut casino buffets were not there? Maybe, maybe not. Will I be heading back to AC anytime soon? I will have to think about that and decide what buffet I would be going for. A few years ago we went to several of the other buffets in Atlantic City - just to see if there was one that I would like more or just as well as the Virginia City Buffet at Wild, Wild, West. I was disappointed with each one. The articles are here for each one we tried. I did not like the buffet at Caesars which is also owned by Bally's and those employees from the Virginia City Buffet were reassigned there now. Several suggested the buffet at Showboat and I was very disappointed there. That one fell down on keeping what was put out to eat fresh, among other things.

I like Atlantic City. I liked it before there were casinos there. Long ago there was a great restaurant outside of the city called Zaberras. It was not a buffet but it was very unique and the food was good. It was an experience just sitting in one of the several dining rooms and just walking through the restaurant. It is long gone. It closed not long after the casinos and the buffets opened. It was fun. Before I was told the news - in a comment on this site - that the Virginia City Buffet was closed, and then researched what was happening, I had been thinking that I really would like to go down to Atlantic City. Well, when I got this news that did not happen. Sometimes change is good. This change was not.