Monday, July 28, 2014

Drinks Now Back to Being Included at Old Country Buffet

This article is timely and I am putting it in right now in the middle of the two week span of articles. We received an email yesterday that soft drinks were back to being included in the meal price at OCB. The claim is that We listened to you and you want this! in so many words. We went tonight to see if my suspicions were correct about this. We walked in and yes, there is a sign that drinks are now included - and then I looked at the dinner price on the board at the register and the price was increased by more than two dollars and the senior price was increased even more as it is less of a discount now that it was two weeks ago when we were there last. Dinner at OCB for the two of us - with DRINKS INCLUDED - was $30! That does not include the tip I left for the server. She is good and there is no reason to take this out on her. It does include sales tax. Price here now for dinner at OCB is $13.99! Senior price is $13.49. And if you don't want the beverage - many did not spend the two plus dollars on the soda before because it made the price too high - too bad! There is no option any longer.

Right before the soda stopped being included in the price at OCB they raised the dinner price. Then they dropped the soda out - and, of course, did not lower the price. Now, the soda is back in the price and the price went up a little more than the price of the soda that one paid a week ago. It was not surprising that on a summer Sunday evening when this OCB is usually packed with a line to the door, there was no line and the dining room was noticeably empty. For many, $13.99 is just too much to pay at OCB - especially for a family with kids (the kid's price went up too). This increase is going to hurt this OCB location even more as there are three big chain restaurants about to open in the parking lot of this shopping mall - and compared to OCB for the same money people will be going to those restaurants instead.

I recently got an email survey from OCB that was focused on OCB seeing their competition as chain restaurants such as Applebees, Olive Garden, Fridays, etc. It surprised me to see that OCB was focusing on these and not Golden Corral and other buffet chains. And then in this survey they wanted to know if OCB would be more attractive to coming to IF they offered some special pay extra additions to the buffet! I could not believe this - and even more so now with this price increase! The survey went on to say that a new promotion WILL BE coming soon that offers a "Special Premium Steak" for an extra charge - one steak - not unlimited "special premium steak"! "Would you be more likely to go to OCB for this feature?" they asked - NO! I answered. They have got to be kidding! First they are all but admitting that the current steak is inedible which in the way it is cooked and allowed to sit in a steam pan until served more than well done it is, and then in expecting us to believe that this special premium steak is going to be prepared properly - which here in the two local OCBs and most of the others that I have been to - it won't be. So is the new over priced dinner at OCB another step toward self-belief by Ovation Brands that they are just like Applebees, Olive Garden, etc.?

I also have to comment about another change at the OCB that we go to that we discovered tonight. Part of the carving buffet server has been tiled over where food serving trays once went. On this tile under heat lamps were small tin pans. One was "Steak Tips over Loaded Mashed Potatoes" and the other was "Pulled Pork BBQ over Cowboy Potatoes". You don't take what you want of what you want like the rest of the food at OCB, you take the pan. I had heard about this on discussions - negative discussions - on the OCB Facebook page. Our OCB has never served Pulled Pork BBQ before in any way, nor has it served steak tips. It seems that other OCBs in other parts of the country had served the pork - and served it like everything else. Now you get the potatoes and less than a spoonful of pork with too much spiced BBQ sauce covering it. I tried both pans. The steak was crunchy and charred, the loaded mashed potatoes had some bacon bits and shredded orange cheese sprinkled on top along with scallions- both pans were covered with scallions. I did not want the potatoes in either pan - I tasted them. They were OK but I did not want these potatoes. The potatoes in both pans had one taste and were taken away by the server to the trash. Really a terrible waste. I wanted Pork BBQ - not potatoes. Any other buffet, I would have taken the pork and decided on my own what potatoes to have - if any.  The only acceptable thing about all of this was that the items that should have been where these are now were put in half trays and scattered around the buffet, resulting in some usual foods going missing. What is even more ridiculous is that the man who is carving is responsible - at least here - for going into the kitchen (leaving the carving to no one) to make more pans which were being taken and were gone no more than ten minutes after being put out.

Ovation Brands, someone in your offices is very miss-directed in what OCB - and I am sure Ryans, Hometown, and Fire Mountain - needs and you need to get people out into the restaurants and see (unknown to those working) what goes on day to day and how your "ideas" make things worse than better. Right here - three strikes for OCB!  And no, I am not down on OCB. If you follow all of my articles you know that we go to OCB more than any other buffet - though at this change in price that may be changing. I am hoping for more coupons to start being emailed now to all to make up for this. We shall see...

And now back our every other week schedule and the next article will be this coming Friday...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Father's Day Brunch at IKEA

For several months we have been seeing signs for holiday brunches at Ikea's store restaurant. The first we saw - just a few days before its date - was not a brunch but a Valentine's Day dinner presented much as the brunches are described. Unfortunately, Valentine's Day was a large snow storm so any idea of attending - even if there were tickets available was snowed out. We then saw a sign for an Easter brunch and then for a Mother's Day brunch and and then one for Father's Day. While we were at the Midsummer Smorgasbord I asked the manager about what happens at brunch. He told me that it is served at the regular restaurant counter and is served to you. It does require an advance ticket but they were undersold and coming on Father's Day - two days later - we could buy tickets when we got there for the brunch. I asked what the hours were and he told me 9:30 am to 3 or 4 pm. He told us that with a ticket you can go back to the serving counter as many times as you liked. These meals are served in every Ikea store at the same times on the same day no matter where the Ikea store (at least in the US - I don't know about international stores) is located.

We usually don't go for brunch. This one was intriguing because many of the good regular items served at the Ikea restaurant were included on the brunch. While we don't eat breakfast, the hours of this one were set so that we would really be eating lunch. I considered if I wanted to eat such a heavy meal for lunch but we decided that we would reverse lunch and dinner - especially since the local Asian buffets and Old Country Buffet were increasing their prices to $13.99 because it is Father's Day. What the heck! We decided to go.

I am going to list the items that were on the table card describing what is included in the brunch -

Salad Bar
Seasonal Fruit Display
Mini Bagels with cream cheese
Gravad Lax
Scrambled Eggs
Swedish Pancakes
Turkey Sausage or Bacon
Swedish Meatballs with cream sauce and lingonberries
Barbecue Baby Back Ribs
Penne Pasta with Marinara Sauce
Chicken Fingers
Mashed Potatoes
Macaroni and Cheese
Grilled Cheese
Seaonal steamed vegetables
Assorted Swedish Deserts and cookies
Fountain beverage, coffee, and tea

The price for any and all of this is $12.99 OR $9.99 with the free store discount "family" card. Children pay $4.99 OR $2.49 with the discount card. Wow! I have had these barbecue baby back ribs before and they are good. I have often thought,"wouldn't it be great if the ribs were served at one of the special Smorgasbord dinners at Ikea!" They never are but they are served at these brunches.

We arrived a few minutes after Noon. The dining room was not crowded and there was a short line at the serving counter. We went up to the cashier and purchased two tickets - first, confirming all that we had heard was included. Yes, just get what you want from anything - EXCEPT - the prepared salad plates and wraps as those are not included and then come through the cashier line and show your ticket.

Everything on the list was there to have with one small exception. There were no grilled cheese sandwiches so if one had come for grilled cheese one would have been disappointed but everything else was there plus soup - chicken soup with orzo and also chunk home fried potatoes. Not everyone was having the brunch and a number of people were just ordering off the menu boards as they went along the counter - and paying for each item. Some realized as they were going along that buying a ticket would save them money and some did that when they got to the cash register. Most of the items included on the brunch were also on the menu boards as platters and with the brunch you could have the platter as it is usually served or pick and choose what you wanted the servers to put on a plate for you.

I decided to go with the breakfast items first and I asked for Swedish Pancakes and sausages. I was going to start slow and easy. I have never had Ikea's Swedish Pancakes before but they have always looked good on the signs. I was given three folded pancakes and two breakfast sausages. There was no bacon - apparently it was sausage or bacon - whichever was being served at that restaurant. These special meals happen at all Ikea stores at the same time. There was a basket out of bagels - they were far from mini - these were big bagels. I decided to pass just not to fill up on bread. As I came past a display of desserts, there were mini Ikea cinnamon rolls - these as full size pastries are sold in their cafe and are wonderful. These did not have the white icing on top.

The pancakes were great. Swedish pancakes are very thin and roll or fold. There was lingonberry jam to put on them. There was also hot maple syrup and packets of butter. The sausages could have been hotter and for turkey sausages were not bad. There is a reason that these were turkey sausages as there were people asking who could not eat pork for religious reasons. This plate was an excellent start and I was soon ready to go back for more. The cinnamon rolls despite their size were as good as the large ones that they sell in the cafe. Since the restaurant was not closed off for the brunch and people were continually coming in, we decided to each go back one at a time - where at a buffet we never hesitate unless there is some reason to be concerned - about going back together each time.

This next plate was for barbecue baby back ribs and another pancake. I could not resist the chunk home fried potatoes and the lady put a large helping of that on the plate also.  Then I asked for Macaroni and Cheese and I received two large scoops in a bowl - the usual side serving (which would normally cost $2.29). As I got to the salad bar I took two large rolled up sliced of Gravad lax and put them on a dessert plate. At the salad bar there was also cups of coleslaw, cucumber salad, a large tray of cut fresh fruit, rolls, butter, creme cheese packets, the maple syrup, and the soup. The one disadvantage of being served this way is portion size control. I would normally take much less than I was being given and you don't know how much you will get until you get it - and it was always more than less.Each time we went up to the counter, wall we had to do was go past the cashier and wave the ticket and receive a "thank you!" and a "go right through".

The baby back ribs served here - and included on the brunch - are what would be considered a half rack of ribs - six to eight meaty ribs. These ribs are cooked to fall off the bone. They are moist and tasty. For me - and likely just for me - I would prefer less barbecue sauce because it is increasing the sugar that I am eating and with this meal I was above maximum carbs (I took an increase in medication in anticipation of this.) I like these ribs when I have them just at their restaurant and I very much enjoyed them at this brunch - perhaps more so knowing that the $7.99 ribs were included in an all you care to eat of them meal for $9.99 total. These ribs are good! And these are not Swedish barbecue ribs - these are American barbecue ribs. The macaroni and cheese is Wonderful with a capital W. This is among the best mac and cheese I have had. These are close and even surpass some of the PA Dutch buffet mac and cheese served. It is thick and full of cheese. It is not runny at all. This is the way mac and cheese should be. The potatoes were good! The Gravad Lax was the same I have had at their smorgasbords. And all of this with another pancake - this time with butter spread on.

Now, my picky eater wife was doing fine. She was enjoying pancakes, sausage, soup, some of my mac and cheese, meatballs and more. She was trying to save the carbs for dessert.

Less you think two plates was it - there was a third trip back - before dessert. At about 1:00 pm the restaurant and the line at the serving counter started to get crowded. We each wound up waiting near the end of the barricades the line snakes through after 1 pm - and this continued this way until about 2:00 pm when things got empty again. As I say, there are regular diners and brunch diners mixed together in the restaurant - some are coming for lunch while shopping and some are coming to the Father's Day Brunch. The third plate was a mix of what I liked the best - more ribs, more sausage, more Gravad Lax this time with a packet of cream cheese for each roll of salmon that I took, and I still had unfinished mac and cheese waiting for me at table - and I could not resist another mini cinnamon roll. Now, we eat leisurely. We don't gulp down a plate in minutes. We eat, talk, and take our time - there will be more when and if we are ready to go and get some more. This third plate was it for me. I have to note a little more about the value of this - in this area a bagel and lox sandwich with cream cheese - usually a single to a single and a half layer of lox (here Gravad Lax - locally just called Lox) will cost you in a diner or bagel bakery/restaurant somewhere from $10 to $12. This entire brunch was $9.99!

OK - dessert. In the cold case along the serving counter there was chocolate sheet cake, banana sheet cake, and carrot sheet cake - each frosted accordingly. At the end of the salad counter there were Elderflower cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls, and red and green whole apples. We each were attracted to the cupcakes. I took a chocolate one and she took an Elderflower one. The Elderflower tasted like a sweet flower - both the cake and the frosting. It was very good. The chocolate cupcake was also very good - a well made chocolate cupcake. At that point we quit.

It is perhaps a good thing that these brunches are only served for special holidays. And I wish they would do this in the evening for dinner but I can understand why they don't. I am looking way forward to seeing if they do this again for Valentine's Day dinner. And maybe we will try another brunch at some point for one of the holidays they do this for. These are not usually as well advertised in the store or the website as the Smorgasbord special dinners, but if it is a holiday approaching look and see if they are having one. Get your free IKEA Family discount card in the store at a computer kiosk  - it is one of the few store discount cards we have actually gotten something back with  - free coffee or tea in the restaurant or cafe, special meal prices in the restaurant, and a discount on these special all you care to eat meals!

If you don't like Ikea food - and for some reason some people get wild about this, don't go. (I don't understand why but I get more general complaints about the store with nothing to do with the food or the restaurant whenever I write about special buffet meals at Ikea. 

If you want a great and abundant meal - all you care to eat - for ten bucks go!

Friday, July 11, 2014

This Alternating Weeks Schedule

As you know if you have been reading along for the past several weeks, I am posting articles to this site on alternating weeks. Travel is difficult and there are few buffets locally other than Asian buffets. When I can travel, I do and look for new places or places that I have been to long past or places that I try to get to when I am in an area that are old favorites that can be updated since last visits. It would be nice if there were buffet restaurants everywhere - again other than Asian buffets, I find that there are not - and I find more an more that there are even fewer new buffets - at least within my range of travel.

I have been feeling uncomfortable about this alternating weeks schedule. I have new articles coming but I find I am writing articles today that will not appear until September. For the most part the articles are not time critical and this new schedule will keep articles appearing through the non-travel season. I guess I need to just say all of this and keep on going.

I can assure you that there will be new articles every other week and these will keep on coming. We are just back from one trip and have more coming. Each trip brings more buffet experiences. For the time being we shall keep with this schedule. There will be a new article next week to continue the schedule. This little piece that you are reading now is not taking the place of a regular article and has been fit in between article weeks.

If you know of buffets, email me through the contact link at the side and tell me where they are and what you thought of it when you went there. If it is someplace that I can get to, I will try to go there. If I can research it and have enough to share that way, I will do that too. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

IKEA Midsummer Smorgasbord

We attended another of Ikea's special one night only smorgasbord all you care to eat dinners. This one, the Midsummer Smorgasbord. Each of the special smorgasbord dinners that Ikea holds in their stores' restaurant is a celebration dinner much as would be served in Sweden for seasonal occasions and this one celebrates the summer solstice. These dinners are becoming more and more like parties with all of the activities that go on.

I have written about the music that has been added to these dinners. This dinner - we attended the dinner at Ikea's Long Island, New York store in Hicksville - had music, dancing, and a balloon man who was just incredible. I have seen many balloon men - they create animals out of long, thin balloons. This guy was the best I have ever seen. He was way beyond the bunny rabbits and puppies that you usually get. He was creating monkeys and an octopus that were actually lifelike.

These dinners used to sell out months in advance. This dinner and the dinner for Easter did not sell out and they were selling tickets at the door. The room eventually did fill but it started out rather sparse which for these dinners is unusual. You see many of the same people attending these dinners and many are of Swedish or Scandinavian descendent.

There was more served at this dinner than there has been at recent previous dinners and one big entree item had not been on the menu that had been distributed before the dinner. A very nicely cooked and very flavorful Roast Beef was added and carved at a table at the end of the two long buffet tables. There was also a great thin onion gravy served alongside the Roast Beef.

We always arrive early to get a particular table that gives a good view of the entertainment and is out of the way of the movement of the crowd. We were a little later than we usually are and when we arrived at about 6:30 pm - the dinner starts officially at 7:00 - the entrance to the restaurant had already been opened and we walked right in and went to "our" table. The way these dinners work is that when the buffet tables are open to come up to, an announcement is made and a single line is formed that leads to the two buffet serving tables filled with platters of food. At 6:45 people took it upon themselves to start forming a line. People who have been in here before were commenting on what was happening. The line started to get long and we, too, along with everyone else decided that we better get on the line. As we were on the line, the restaurant manager came past us and asked what was happening. He could not believe that people had done this either. He just shook his head. And rightly so. The line was not allowed to go up to the buffet tables until 7:00.

The first thing that I caught my eye as I got up to the food were large pieces of thick Prinskov sausages. These are usually small, thin sausages. The ones there on this night seemed to have been a rope sausage cut into pieces. I got up to the platter and took two pieces. It was a good thing that I did as the sausage was gone by the time we went up for our second plate. Remembering the Easter dinner and how the herring was gone by the time we went up for our second plate, I took more herring than I usually would. There were three types of herring at this dinner - for a long time there has only been two. I took some of each - herring in mustard sauce, marinated herring, and herring in wine sauce. I also took Gravad lax and Smoked Salmon. I took some shrimp salad - another dish I have not seen before - and some poached salmon. I decided that my next plate would be the meat dishes. Had I anticipated that there would be no more sausage then, I would have taken more of that - it is one of my favorites. All is excellent. This is an incredible value if you like salmon and herring. A single slice of smoked salmon on their restaurant menu served on a platter with salad usually costs $5.99. Here it was for all you care to eat! The herring sold in their store food department is no bargain. Here , again, is all you care to eat. And that is just the fish.

As I said, we went up for our second plate and this was going to be my meat course. The sausages were gone. The ham - shaved thin on a platter was almost gone - and I took the small amount that were remaining. At that point I had no idea that it would not be refilled. There is an earlier seating and it seems that at that seating what was on hand of these items went. There was still the marvelous Roast Beef and I took two large slices of that. I added some boiled dill potatoes to my plate and took some more of the poached salmon. As this is the summer dinner there is fresh fruit salad and tossed green salad. My wife had gotten to the ham before I did and she had ham and salad. As regular readers know, she is a picky eater and does not eat fish. There was cold shrimp in the shell but they are served here with their heads on and she will not eat shrimp that way.

By the third plate I was just picking and everything that was there for the second plate was still there except the ham - all of the herrings and all of the fish were out in abundance. I took some more herring and some more smoked salmon. I really should not have because I was stuffed as I finished this plate. I usually don't go that far. This is one of those buffets that, at least for me and others that I observed, is hard to resist taking more.

As people were nearing dessert, one of the employees was carrying a tray of ice cream cups - chocolate and vanilla around the dining room, stopping at each table and offering it.When he came by we were still on our second plate and did not take any. He did come around again, but there were some nice looking cakes out and we both decided to pass on the ice cream. There there three single layer frosted cakes out - chocolate, carrot, and banana. There was plain cake out to cover in whipped cream and fresh cut fruit that had an abundance of fresh strawberries. There was also small squared of chocolate truffle cake which was more like fudge than cake. The banana cake looked to me to be vanilla cake and I should have been suspicious that the frosting was yellow. I took a piece of that thinking it was vanilla - my mistake because I do not like the taste of bananas in any form. My good wife took it from my plate. I had a half piece of chocolate cake and a small piece of the plain cake. I also took one of the truffles that was interesting and good.

All of this costs $12.99 - OR $9.99 if you purchase your tickets and show an Ikea store discount card which are free at computer kiosks all over the store. Children are $4.99 - OR $2.49 with the same card. All is included - soda, etc. You eat and you go to a party with Swedish music, group dancing, singing, and balloon animals! I do not really know if the music is at all of the Ikea's for these dinners or just this one. The same goes for the balloon man. Talking with this manager, he goes out of his way to create a great time.

The next dinner like this is on August 15 and that dinner is all about Crayfish. Everything at that dinner has crayfish in it except the meatballs.