Friday, March 21, 2014

Back to the Southern Smokehouse, Linden, New Jersey

We recently were back at the Southern Smokehouse in Linden, New Jersey and this was one of our best visits there yet. The Southern Smokehouse is a buffet that is a combination of Chinese buffet and Southern Barbecue. This is an odd combination but here it seems to work.

About a year ago Southern Smokehouse added a smoker and while they always served barbecue ribs, now those ribs are being made in a smoker on the premises. The Southern Smokehouse has been a go back to buffet for us since we first were tipped off about it a few years ago. We only get to go when we have a reason to be in New Jersey. The buffet is not far from the Goethels Bridge from New Jersey into Staten Island, New York but for us this is an expensive trip in tolls crossing two bridges. Tolls and gas can cost us more than dinner. So we don't get to Southern Smokehouse as much as we would like to.

My reviews of this buffet restaurant have been mixed in the past and the biggest problem that we have encountered here has been the service. I have been contacted by others who have come to this buffet who have said the same thing. I am happy to say that on this last trip the service was much, much better and we had two servers who seemed to share the tables on one side of the dining and were making sure that dishes were cleared regularly from the tables and that drinks were refilled. This visit was a great improvement over past visits in this regard. The food has always been good and remains so.

We went this time on a Friday night. We have been here on Friday nights before. The buffet was busy but not crowded. We were told to find out own table. We selected a table in the dining area to the right side of the door. The restaurant is set up with a dining room on each side of the buffet servers which are in the center. For some reason, this side seems to get the better service.

There are not many buffets that regularly serve real barbecue ribs and here, as I say, you are getting ribs from a smoker. The ribs are served at the carving counter and grill and are served to your plate by one of the cooks behind the counter. You will be offered one rib or two ribs - ask for more if you want more each trip up. The ribs are meaty and moist. The rib meat falls off the bone as you eat it and you can see the red smoke ring on the rib meat. These are full size ribs and not baby backs. They are cooked with barbecue sauce but you may want to add more when you get your ribs from the small serving tray of sauce that has a large brush in it along with barbecue sauce. The sauce is neither overly sweet or spicy. It really adds a nice flavor to the already good ribs. While I make most of my meal here ribs, there are many other good things here as well.

The flame grill is cooking steaks. The steaks that they are cooking are called in some areas Romanian steaks. These are also called diaphragm steaks. This cut of steak tends to be a little fatty but very tasty. They cook two small steaks joined together and you get both when you go up to the grill.  It would be nicer if these steaks were cooked to order. They are not. Mostly you will get a well done steak. In spite of that, the steak is tasty.

They are also carving a large whole roast turkey at the grill. This is so much nicer than the turkey breast that so many buffets (and menu restaurants) serve. The turkey is good. We enjoy "real" turkey and this is a treat.

Also at the side of the grill is pizza - which looks a lot better than most buffet pizzas. The slices are larger than most found at buffets. I did not try the pizza though I was tempted, but I was too full from the rest of everything good.

Along the buffet there is fried chicken, barbecue chicken, meatloaf, fried fish, various Chinese meat dishes, and many side dishes including one of the best home-style Southern macaroni and cheese at any buffet. The mac and cheese is thick with cheese and gooey when you spoon it from the tray onto your plate. The taste is as good as it looks. There are also french fries, sweet potato tots, mashed potatoes, home skillet fried potatoes with onions, and baked potatoes. There was corn on the cob and kernel corn, string beans, carrots, collards, and other vegetables. One thing that we both noted on this trip was that there was an excess of garlic used in all of the side dishes (except the mac and cheese). This put us both off a bit - while tasty, it was too much.

I tried the fried chicken and while it was good, it was too similar to OCB. It looked better than that. My wife told me to try the meatloaf. She said it was one of the best buffet meatloaf that she has had. She does not like meatloaf that is cooked covered in catsup. This meatloaf is cooked in a vegetable tomato sauce. It is a very light, reddish sauce. It is not sweet and it makes the meatloaf very moist. It was good. (I prefer the catsup type but this was different and good.)

There are two soups on the buffet. This night there was turkey soup which has been on the buffet each time that we have been there. There was also cream of mushroom soup that was excellent. I was surprised that this usually bland soup could be so good. There was a hint of cheese mixed into the soup.

There is a large salad bar that also has cold desserts on one side. When we went up for salad, the green lettuce tray was empty and the mixed greens tray was almost empty. A gentleman who had taken the last of it and seemed to be waiting for more told us that it was on its way out. We waited a short while and when it did not arrive we both made salads from the vegetable toppings and tomatoes that were on the salad bar. I also took some of their pasta salad - which looked to be a cross between the usual macaroni salad and pasta salad. About two minutes after we returned to our table the salad trays came out and they were full again. One consistent thing about Southern Smokehouse has been that trays are filled as quickly as possible. Other than on the salad bar for a short period, I have yet to see an empty tray here that was not quickly refilled - and with the same item. I do have to comment about the pasta salad. It did not taste very good and the pasta was dry and hard. I ate no more than the first bite.

Desserts are few but good. They bake on the premises. There were three sheet cakes - two chocolate (one with sprinkles on a hard frosting and one with a lighter frosting0 and one cherry topped cake. There are cookies and there is hard - scoop yourself - ice cream and toppings for a sundae. Over at the salad bar there are fresh and canned fruits, puddings, and jello. On the hot buffet there was a tray of hot bread pudding. Over where the Chinese foods were there were fried Chinese buffet-style donuts with sugar.

It was a very satisfying and great tasting meal. The restaurant is clean and well taken care of. If they remain consistent now in quality of service this already good buffet will become a great buffet. It seems to be well known in the area. If you are going through or are near Linden, New Jersey try it.

Southern Smokehouse is located at Aviation Plaza Shopping Center which is at 611 West Edgar Road (Route 1 and 9) in Linden, New Jersey 07036. This restaurant is in the very far corner of the shopping center, off in a parking lot cut off from the main part of the shopping plaza. With Home Depot on one end of the plaza and Target on the other end, go past Target to where it looks like you are exiting the shopping center and you will see another parking lot to the side and this restaurant brightly lit on the far end.  This shopping plaza is adjacent to an airport. The phone number is 908-862-1883. The hours on Friday and Saturday are until 10 pm. Weeknights and Sunday nights they are open until 9 pm. They open each day at 11 am for lunch. There is also a breakfast buffet. There was a website and it is still listed at the side of this page but when you go there the URL has been "parked" with a message that the site will return. In the interim, there is a Facebook page for this buffet.


ML said...

We visited upon your recommendation a few years back and were greatly disappointed in that they called it a bbq smokehouse, but we didn't get the impression it was any better than OCB, especially with tolls and gas to make this trip.

But after reading your latest review I guess they changed for the better, so we probably will visit in the future

BTW, I think we went on a Saturday afternoon, would the buffet have been that much different than dinner?

Writer said...

Lunch Monday to Saturday at many buffets is greatly abbreviated from the dinner menu. It is usually priced lower and leaves out featured items such as the barbecued ribs, steaks, and carvings here. I would not recommend going at lunch - I know that they change the features from night to night. I have been here on a Thursday night, a Friday night, and a Saturday night over the years that we have been going and on those nights it was fairly consistent with Thursday night not having some items as Friday and Saturday. I believe that Sunday lunch is priced the same as Sunday dinner and it may be that on Sunday at lunch the weekend dinner menu is being served - but I am uncertain. They do have a Facebook page and you may be able to ask them there plus there is a phone number to call in the article above.