Friday, December 19, 2014

New Golden Corral in Freehold, NJ

One of our readers who has let me know about a number of buffet restaurants in New Jersey over the years let me know this past year that a new Golden Corral was being built in Freehold, New Jersey. This may be the closest Golden Corral to where we are though it is still quite a distance and a great expense in tolls to get to. I heard from this good friend of this site when the restaurant opened and he gave me a mixed review - mostly mixed because of the crowds that were there during the opening week. I have been looking for an opportunity to go to New Jersey and try this new Golden Corral and recently that opportunity presented itself.

We went on a Saturday night. I had expected that the "newness" had worn off and there would not be an overwhelming crowd when we arrived at about 7 pm that night, but I was wrong. The line was out the door and outside the restaurant. We got on the line and waited. Some who were behind us left. It was just a few minutes before we were inside the door and the line inside twisted around before getting to the two cash registers to pay at to go in. There was a large sign on the front door and also inside that said that no $50 or $100 bills are accepted. This sign could not be missed. The couple in front of us saw the sign and decided that they had to use a credit card. The people behind us noticed the sign but when we all got to the registers the people behind us pulled out a fifty and tried to pay and when stopped protested to the point of having to complain to two managers. It was explained that there have been problems with counterfeit bills but these people were not going to accept that and insisted on paying with their big bills. This is in no way a problem with this Golden Corral but if you go there be prepared with twenties if you are going to pay cash. No, this was not a problem, but what was a problem was that despite the advertising that has been recently put out on television, the website, and emails by Golden Corral that they now have an expanded buffet with a new price of $11.99 - an increase of a dollar since my last visit to a Golden Corral several months ago, this Golden Corral had a sign that on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights (all day Saturday and Sunday) there is a "Premium Dinner Buffet" at a price of $12.99. This is not an option - you pay $12.99 on these days - plus $2.19 for a drink. OK. I was there. I was not going any place else. I was very annoyed that they advertise one price - $11.99 and suddenly it is a dollar more on certain nights. Had they said this in the advertising it would have been fine, but they didn't. With this new price they are actually $0.18 more for dinner on the weekends than OCB's new price of $13.99 which includes the beverage. Though Monday to Thursday, this Golden Corral is still less. I do not know if the $12.99 is only at this location, or just some locations, or at all locations.

We paid and waited a few minutes to be taken to a table. The inside of this restaurant on this night was a madhouse. There were children running everywhere. There were tables for six with eight people squeezing into them. This resulted in blocked aisles. There were also several birthday parties going on - in the middle of all of the other tables of diners - with people who brought there own cakes, and had kids sitting on the floor opening presents. There was a mob around the food counters - and for some reason at Golden Corrals people have to walk around in a line along the counters as if they are in a cafeteria even if the one thing that they want is at the opposite end of the counters - and it was just like that here. People were upset if you walked up to the tray you wanted and helped yourself. Too bad, this is exactly what I do. It is a buffet and not a cafeteria! Anyway, to say it was crowded is an understatement.

We went up for soup. I love the chicken noodle soup with its thick, doughy noodles that Golden Corral serves. They had the soup and we both took it. I found that the noodles in the soup were undercooked. They were tough - and what would be considered in pasta "al dente". I did not care for the noodles this way, though my wife liked them better this way. It was not really how soup noodles should be - and if they were undercooked what else would be.

Next was the salad bar and it was well stocked and what was out was fresh. This can be a problem at some Golden Corrals but here the salad bar was properly maintained. My wife wants me to make a point of saying that this was one of the best maintained salad bars she has seen at a Golden Corral. She says that everything was fresh and kept refilled. Since as the meal went along she wound up mostly eating the cold chicken from the salad bar, that was very important.

Now came the advertised, new, and expanded food selections on the buffet. I would still like to know what those new and expanded selections are supposed to be because I saw nothing different from before. In fact, I found less than I have found before at Golden Corrals. The buffet is arranged in sections with signs overhead identifying the section. There was a sign over the Asian section and there was Asian food there. There was a sign over a small section of seafood that was identified as Seafood on the sign overhead - "seafood" being their usual (and good) fried fish, broiled fish, and fried shrimp. I went right to the grill. I wanted a cooked to order steak - the usual at Golden Corral but now the steak is supposed to be "Founder's Select", a five ounce cut of steak that is "supposed to be better than before - at least according to the sign near the cash register. I asked for my usual "steak - rare" and was given a steak off the grill. It was more medium rare than rare but that was OK. It was moist and pink in the middle with a slight grill on the outside. It lacked fat for flavor. It was not tough - big plus over OCB steak, and it was not over seasoned - another big plus over OCB steak. This particular steak was good. I wanted to put some mashed potatoes on my plate to have with the steak and I walked all around the buffet looking for them and did not see any. There were baked potatoes and no other potatoes. I went back around and saw a crowd around an empty tray of what should have been the mashed potatoes. I waited a short while for them to come out. they didn't and I gave up the wait, took two hush puppies, added some green beans and went back to our table to eat the steak. I could see the counter where the mashed potatoes were supposed to be and watched to see when they came out. It took a long time for them to come out and when they did the crowd descended on the tray emptying almost as soon as it was put down.

My picky eater wife who does not enjoy eating at Golden Corral as I usually do, was having a hard time finding other than vegetables. When we came in there had been a ham being carved. That was gone. She went to the salad bar and took cold chicken pieces to eat with the vegetables. She has not had this much trouble at a Golden Corral before. Usually there is turkey - not here on this night. (So much for the "premium buffet" and expanded offerings as advertised.)

I next decided to try the ribs that were at the grill. There was a rack of ribs out for the person at the grill to carve and next to that there were riblets for him to serve to you. I asked for ribs and he cut ONE rib off the rack and put it on my plate. I asked for one more and he said NO. I asked again and he said there were too many people - one rib! And rude. He had an entire rack out and more in a tray next to him. I asked then for some riblets and he put one small section of those on my plate.  I should not have bothered with either. THE rib was tough, dry, and the meat did not come close to coming off the bone. The riblets were better - moist, at least, but overly sweet. I also tried the meat loaf which turned out to crumble even as I took it from the tray. It was mealy and tasteless. I also tried the beef pot pie which was lacking in beef and had a too thin gravy with the top pie crust, chunks of carrots, celery, and potatoes.

By this point the ham was back out to be carved. At first look I thought that they brought out a turkey breast as the ham looked white. It was ham and my wife got a slice finally.

For my final trip up to the hot buffet I went back for another steak as this had been the best so far that night of what I had eaten (aside from the hush puppies). Again, I asked for a rare steak - figuring that if I asked for medium rare, given what the first rare steak was to start with - it would be well done. What I was given was a raw steak with the outside cooked.  Talk about punch it bloody and put it on a plate! I ate it. I have eaten steaks like this before. It all depends on whether the grill chef knows how to cook and this one knew how to only cook well done and when it came to anything else he was guessing.

Now. The sign with the announcement of the new expanded buffet also said - new, expanded desserts. In fact. it said Las Vegas style desserts! I never figured that this meant sparse like a desert. Half of what was out was sugar free. The other half were small pieces of carrot cake, small pieces of chocolate cake, what looked like small pieces of white cake (but then I saw the sign on that said sugar free), cookies - the chocolate chip were gone leaving only the oatmeal, pre-measured puddings in cups (mostly sugar free), apple cobbler, and bread pudding. There was a sign for pumpkin pie but there was none. There were brownies but those were gone and did not come out until we were leaving, and there were chunks of fudge. Of course, there is the chocolate fountain (only chocolate here), cotton candy, and the soft serve sundae section. I watched the ice cream come from the machine and it looked icy. There was also scooped hard ice cream. This was certainly not a selection of lavish Las Vegas desserts. I did try a table spoon size piece of the bread pudding and it was good.

On the buffet throughout the night if something went empty it was a long time before it ever came back out again - and some things never came back out and the trays remained empty - or scraped out. I have been to many Golden Corrals and things have tasted better and have been prepared better elsewhere. The place was full of people who have never been to a buffet before. They walk around with dazed eyes, form lines where there should not be lines, or just stand around.

The service was pretty good and the server did get our plates away regularly, and though I had to ask her to bring refills for our drinks as she stood looking at empty glasses she did get them. In fact, my wife thought that she was one of the better servers that we have had at a Golden Corral.

Was it the night? Was it the crowd? Is it the newness of the place? (Well it is not so new that the lights on the sign out front have not burned out already "Golden") I don't know. It was a disappointment on this night. Will I go back? When we are in New Jersey again we may go back just to see. That will be some time. I did submit a survey to corporate about this experience and asked to be contacted back but so far no call.  Should you go? Go or not. Be forewarned - there will be crowds. The experience may or may not be better than I have described.

This Golden Corral is located at 3520 US Highway 9 in Freehold, New Jersey 07728. The phone number is 732-400-8600.


Anonymous said...

I favor Golden Corral over OCB & had yet to visit the Freehold branch. Its proximity to the massive Freehold mall just before the holidays may have led to the large crowds and less than satisfactory meal.

Writer said...

Articles are running about two months behind the visits to the restaurants so this visit was not mid-holiday rush. I am afraid, it is this particular, new Golden Corral. I visited another since and there was quite the opposite and positive experience - with lower prices as well. That article will appear soon.

Anonymous said...

I have been to this Golden Corral a few times now, and I make sure that I go during a middle-of-the-week day. I left a comment a few months back about this location and my impressions of it when it opened in May, and it has improved since it opened. However on weekends the crowds it draws are on par with the opening week and from the sounds of your article it seems like this place just can't keep up when it gets busy. By the way, there are two other decent buffets in the Freehold area: Freehold Grand Buffet (a Chinese buffet) and Tokyo (a sushi/Asian buffet). Tokyo is a little pricy but I feel it is definitely worth it.