Friday, March 22, 2013

Mongolian Stir-Fry at Old Country Buffet and Ryans PART 1

This article has been in the works for almost a year. My first encounter with what has now become a widespread feature at Old Country Buffet and Ryans restaurants - and Hometown Buffet was in April 2012 in a Ryans in Hagerstown, Maryland. There the Mongolian Stir-Fry was being prepared at the steak grill with a sign in front showing what it was and how to order. As I noted in an article about that restaurant at that time, there was no one ordering it.

Just about the beginning of the summer, Buffets, Inc. (parent company of OCB, Hometown Buffets, and Ryans) sent out an email to their email list customers announcing the Mongolian Stir-Fry and that it was available at many of the buffets. 

This past summer I saw the Mongolian Stir-Fry being offered at an Old Country Buffet in Alexandria, Virginia. There, this was set up in a corner of the dessert counter with two hotplates set up next to a few trays of the ingredients. I watched to see who was ordering this - no one was. At this point the way the sign read about how the stir-fry would be prepared, the meat and vegetables would be cooked in a sweet sauce or a hot sauce. Neither appealed to me so I passed it by - along with everyone else, apparently.

The feature soon appeared in one of the two OCB's local to me, the Levittown, NY OCB. Just like in Alexandria, there were two hotplates, that here were conduction stove burners, with a few trays of ingredients stuck at the end of the dessert counter - taking away dessert items that once had been served there. When I first saw this here, again, no one was having it. I wondered why. Surely, it must appeal to someone. I went over on one visit to look at the ingredients - there was cooked, cold chicken - much like is served at the salad bar - and there was a brown, dried looking meat very unappetizing. Apparently, this was the beef. It may have been overly cooked roast beef but it barely resembled that.  (On a later visit, a customer asked the young man behind the counter who was the cook for the stir-fry, "What is that?" - pointing at the brown meat. The answer was "Meat.") Again, the sign talked about sweet or hot sauce and I passed it by - with everyone else.

There is another OCB not too far away in Bay Shore, NY and they did not have the Mongolian Stir-Fry. When we were there on Thanksgiving a section of the dining room opposite the buffet servers was under construction. They took out tables to do this and a serving station appeared to be what was being constructed. On a later visit we saw that this was going to be the Mongolian Stir-Fry station. As it developed two conductive cook burners were put into place along with set in trays for meats, vegetables, and sauces. Also around this point Buffets, Inc. was focusing their advertising on the Mongolian Stir-Fry feature - served every day at lunch and dinner at Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, and Ryans.

When the station finally opened in Bay Shore there was still little interest in the stir fry. Interest only started to pick up, at both Long Island OCBs, when the the television advertising became frequent. Then there was some interest in ordering. Just about the same time the sign changed which no longer said sweet or hot sauce but dropped the mention of sweet sauce and talked about adding hot sauce if you wished. The beef, however, still looked the same - crumbled and dark pieces of something - and still unappetizing. They did add small shrimp as another choice.

I decided that I would try it. Not in Levittown where the employees at the cook tops did not seem to know what they were doing - when there was someone even there to cook, but in Bay Shore - but still where was the cook? This was a couple of months ago and they had not put someone at this new station to just take care of the Mongolian Stir-Fry - which is essential. Eventually, they caught on and they started assigning someone there. Here is how my first attempt - yes, attempt - at having the Mongolian Stir Fry went - and this is not present, but as I say, a couple of months back. There was a young man behind the counter and he was not really interested in being there.  I first watched how the stir fry was being made. An amount of noodles or rice was added a fry pan and meat and vegetables were put on top. A measured amount of teriyaki sauce was added and the pan was put on the conductive burner and stirred while it cooked. It smelled good. I stepped up to the counter and asked for chicken the stir fry with chicken and noodles. The young man asked me if I wanted vegetables. I did not realize that this was an option but said yes, I would like vegetables. He looks at me and says, "There are no more vegetables.", and then he stared at me. I glanced down where the vegetable tray was and it was just about empty. The vegetables are a variety of mixed vegetables including broccoli, onion, peppers, snow peas, etc., and they are apparently also pre-cooked. OK, I looked at the cook and said, "Are you getting more vegetables?" This was not late in the dinner service. Unless he was planning on shutting down the stir fry, there would need to be more vegetables. Again, he stared at me. I tried again, "Will there be no more vegetables tonight?" With hesitation he finally said, "Well, I guess I could go and make some." And then there was more hesitation and some mumbling. I decided that this was not my night to try the stir fry feature and just said forget the whole thing and I walked away. That also pretty much ended the stir fry for about an hour when just as we were leaving a tray of vegetables came out.

All right. Was I ever going to get to try the stir-fry? A few more visits to the same OCB and again, no one was there cooking at the stir fry and when there was they were called away frequently to do other things. This was as it was all of the time at Levittown - and still is.  Then there was  a night that we were there in Bay Shore when the manager was with a young man behind the stir-fry counter training.

End of PART I

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