Friday, August 28, 2015

Epic Buffet, Hollywood Casino at Grantville, PA

The Epic Buffet is the casino buffet at the Hollywood Casino in Grantville, Pennsylvania. The casino is located at the Penn National Race Course. Grantville is located just outside of Hershey, PA where the chocolate comes from and where the Hershey amusement park is. The Hollywood Casino is a place for adults to go when the kids are asleep with a babysitter after a long day on the rides.

The buffet is located off the casino floor and no one under the age of 21 can walk through the entrance of the casino. Unlike casino buffets in many of the Atlantic City casinos and the casinos in Connecticut, you cannot get into the buffet without being inside the casino.

We went on a Friday night. Also unlike all of the other casino buffets that we have been to, this one closes early - 9:00 pm every night. THE ENTIRE BUFFET IS CLOSED ON MONDAYS AND TUESDAYS.  Dinner price Wednesday to Thursday and Sunday is $14.99. Dinner price Friday and Saturday is $24.99. Ten dollars is a big jump from the weekday price to the weekend price and I am not sure how much would have been left off other than the two features of the weekend buffet - Prime Rib and Shrimp. The meal price includes soft drinks. At the table you can order beer and wine at an additional cost.

The decor of the casino is Hollywood and the buffet is decorated in an Art Deco style as would fit the "golden age" of Hollywood. The room was very nice as was the decor. For a Friday night in the middle of the summer, there was no line. We paid before we went in - as we have always done at all of the casino buffets that we have been to and were seated right away.

There was a large selection and the buffet was set up with a large oval that went around the middle of the room and the rest of the buffet filling the rear wall of the room. On the oval were salads, soups, and desserts.

As we always do, we started with soup. We picked the chicken corn soup which I expected to be similar to the chicken corn soup in nearby Lancaster County. It was chicken broth with a lot of chicken meat and no corn. The soup was fresh made. Fresh made chicken soup has a good taste different from soups made from a mix or from a can. The soup was good and would have been even better had there actually been corn in it other than a kernel here and there.

There was a salad bar to create your own salad from a variety of fresh ingredients. My wife takes not of salad bars that make sure what is out is fresh, crisp, and as it is supposed to be. Here she said it was all fresh. There were a variety of prepared salads including a few with an ingredient that one might say stands off from just the ordinary. But here that ingredient was in the minority of what was in the prepared salad. For example - there was a dish of tomatoes and mozzarella balls. There were lots of tomatoes and very few mozzarella balls and the dish looked to have been recently put out and not picked through. There was also shrimp pasta (part of the weekend shrimp feature?) and it was very good BUT there were very few shrimp to be found in the dish. At $24.99 there should not be skimping like this. The tomatoes and mozzarella was tasty. So was the shrimp pasta - but essentially I was eating tomatoes in dressing and pasta salad.

There was a lot on the buffet and I am sure things will change from night to night but I will share all together what there was and then I will critique what we took sharing what was good and the not so good. OK - here is what was on the buffet:
Crab Tomato Bisque and Chicken Corn Soup, Sushi (a small selection of rolls sections), Peel and Eat Shrimp (for weekend shrimp feature?), Rolls, Rye mixed grain bread, Cheese Puffs, Pepperoni in Crescent Rolls, Roast Turkey carving, Turkey Legs, Prime Rib carving, Fried Garlic Jasmine Yellow Rice, Pot Stickers, Egg rolls, Mandarin Orange Chicken, Spiced Shrimp, Sesame Green Beans, Honey Ginger Carrots, Summer Squash, Stewed Tomatoes, Potato Wedges, French Fries, Chicken with Vegetables, Sauteed Onions and Peppers, Garlicky Broccoli, Fried Shrimp (must have been part of the shrimp feature as there was only one other shrimp entree), Creole shrimp and Noodles, a selection of pastas and sauces, Roasted Half Tomatoes, Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Baked Cod with Lemon Sauce and Arugula Salad, Pulled Pork Sliders with Jack Cheese. Roast Potatoes, Fried Chicken, Sweet Corn, Wax Beans and Carrots, Old Bay Salmon with Lemon Capers, Tilapia with Mushrooms and Spinach, Seafood Marinara, Corn on the Cob, Sweet Pea Pods with Red Peppers, Brussels Sprouts, and three Pizzas including one topped with BBQ Chicken.

 I am very mixed about this dinner. There was a lot to choose from. I enjoyed it but there were several disappointments. Hot food was set out grouped in theme - appetizer type dishes, Asian dishes, fish, meats including carvings, Italian, and a pizza section. So, I took pot stickers that looked good but were hard and over cooked. It was tough to bite into them and chew them. The pulled pork sliders that should have been good. They were on the buffet each wrapped in tin foil - which they should not have been. The bottom of the roll had dried out and impossible to bite into while the top of the roll remained soft. The pulled pork inside was good but there was supposed to have been jack cheese in there also according to the sign and there was no cheese. This would have been something I would have gone back for more of if it had been good. I ate the pork out from the roll and that was it.

I started out with Prime Rib and the first slice of rib that I had was excellent. It was moist and juicy and on the edge of rare. The outside crust was very tasty as was the meat. The slice that was carved for me was the equivalent of what would be carved in a sit down restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed that first slice of Prime Rib and I should have stopped with that one piece and not gone back for another later in the meal. When I went up for the second slice there was a new Rib out being carved. When I took the slice back to the table and put the first piece into my mouth I found out quickly that this one was not hot - it bordered on cold to the point that the fat was congealing. What had been melting, soft,  translucent fat on the first piece was cold, hard, and white on this slice. As I say, had I stopped at that first slice I could rave about the Prime Rib here - but a solid hit and a solid miss a half hour later - not good.

There was carved turkey and next to the turkey breast on the carving board was a stack of turkey legs. My wife had the turkey breast and she says that it was very good. So the turkey was a hit. I should have taken one of the turkey legs instead of the second slice of Prime Rib.

I tried the Baked Cod with Lemon Sauce and Arugula Salad. This was pieces of cod sitting in the lemon sauce with Arugula salad next to it in the serving tray, also sitting in the lemon sauce. It took the cod and skipped the salad. I tried to spoon some of the lemon sauce up with the fish but the serving spoon was a slotted spoon so very little sauce came to my plate. A few more attempts at just the sauce added little. The fish was bland. Perhaps had it been possible to ladle the sauce up with the fish it might have been better.

There were two different shaped pastas and different sauces to put over them. I took some of the linguine pasta and put Alfredo sauce on top. This was very good. I also took a slice of the cheese pizza which were being made fresh there behind the counter. There was cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza, and bbq chicken pizza. The cheese pizza was good. It had a very thin crust with fresh cheese and a good tomato sauce.

I took a piece of the chicken with vegetables. This was charbroiled chicken breast rounds cooked served with vegetables around the chicken. Each piece of chicken was charred and there were grill marks showing that it did come off a char-grill. It tasted great, but it was overdone and the chicken was hard.

The roasted half tomatoes were good with a crust of breadcrumbs on the top. The stewed tomatoes were very good and they were not overly sweet as stewed tomatoes can sometimes be. Also good was the macaroni and cheese which was very thick and gooey.

Everyone always wants to hear about the desserts and the desserts here looked terrific. There was a wide assortment of cakes, pies, pastries, and cookies out. Walking around the dessert table it was hard to decide. And the cake that I choose was OK - but it looked much better than it was. There was also fresh fruits around the salad bar and and a sundae bar with ice cream.

Service was very good. Our server was quick to take away used plates and made sure our drink glasses did not become empty. She was attentive and did not disappear.  For a casino buffet, that is refreshing.

So - the meal was hit and miss. There were some really good things and some just so things. The big disappointment was that second piece of Prime Rib - which for anyone coming in at that point this was what they were getting. Other dishes as noted should have been better. The extra ten dollars was for Prime Rib and shrimp and there hardly was enough shrimp dishes that should have constituted a high price feature. This buffet is 30 miles from Lancaster County - home of some great buffets - most of which are less than the price of this meal. But of course, if you are in Hershey or at this casino for the evening you are not going to leave and drive 30 miles for dinner.

Do I recommend this buffet? Really tough question. Had my food choices been different I might be quick to say that I would, but with the number of dishes that I found lacking in one way or another, I am going to leave the decision to try it or not up to you.

Will we go back? Maybe. We are in this area once a year - generally on a Friday night so if we do go back it will be on the same night for the same $24.99 meal. I was not put off enough not to try this buffet for a second time and in a year we shall see if things are the same or better.

Keep in mind that if you are traveling with the kids - forget this one! There is no one allowed under 21.

The Epic Buffet at the Hollywood Casino is located at the Penn National Race Course at 777 Hollywood Blvd, Grantville, PA 17028. There is plenty of free parking. The phone number is 717-469-2211. There is a website for the casino and buffet and that is linked at the side of this page. The casino is open 24/7 but the buffet closes at 9:00 pm and is only open five days a week. REMEMBER THE BUFFET IS CLOSED EVERY MONDAY AND TUESDAY. There is a lunch buffet every day and also a Champagne Brunch on Sundays ($19.99) from 11 am to 3 pm.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Breakfast for Lunch and Dinner at Golden Corral

The newest feature at Golden Corral is breakfast and lunch for dinner. We have tried this twice - at two different Golden Corrals and I have enjoyed it on both visits. We tried it at the new Lancaster, PA location and also the Whitehall, PA location.

Old Country Buffet had tried this on Thursday nights about one or two years ago and it appeared that it would be a regular thing but soon was gone. Like all special features at Golden Corral this one is time limited. It is also much better than the one time we got to try breakfast for dinner at OCB.

The first time we went was at Lancaster. To make room for the breakfast items on the buffet some of the Asian dishes that are found on the buffet were replaced with the breakfast items. There was also an omelet station with a burner to prepare egg and omelet dishes of your design with several ingredients there for you to direct a chef to make your omelet with. This omelet station was next to the breakfast items and not at the grill - good location as it did not interfere with the regular grill operation for steak, etc. The breakfast items on this first visit included squares of French Toast covered in powdered sugar, small pancakes, bacon, breakfast sausage patties, biscuits, and country sausage gravy. There were also several types of syrups to top your French Toast or pancakes with.

The second time we had Golden Corral's breakfast for dinner (it is also available on the buffet at lunch) was at the Whitehall, PA Golden Corral and here there were two new items added (the two meals were about a month apart and Golden Corral in the interim did introduce these two new items to this feature) which were Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast and Sausage and Egg Breakfast Burritos. At Whitehall the French Toast and Pancakes were different. Here they were serving full pieces of French Toast (not quartered squares) which was not covered in powdered sugar and large full size pancakes. The Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast was served with a scoop of cream cheese on top of each slice and covered in strawberry sauce with pieces of strawberries. The burritos were being made at the egg station which again was not at the grill station, but with the breakfast foods.

There were two things that I found at both - the bacon was over cooked and appeared to have been fried in a deep fryer rather than cooked on a grill as it was hard and difficult to bite into and the sausage patties were also overcooked and were also hard and burned. Had either the bacon or sausage patties been cooked correctly I would have had more of both, but as it was I took one piece of each - both visits - to try and did not go back for more.

What I liked about the rest was that it was tasty, well prepared, and exactly what I expected it to be - which is a good thing. You could properly taste the egg in the French Toast and it was soft and moist. The pancakes were fluffy. It was much better than the same that I had that one time at breakfast for dinner at OCB. I enjoyed it - which for me is a bad thing as I indulged during both visits in too many carbs eating French Toast, pancakes, and biscuits, but I could not resist. I like breakfast foods but do not eat breakfast. (I can't face a meal like this in the morning.) We don't go to breakfast buffets because of this as well. But at dinner, a good rare steak cooked just right, hot off the grill and a side of French Toast. Oh my! Had the bacon been moister and not burned, it would have been even better - and I took the bacon to put over the steak both times. Crisp bacon is fine. Bacon that breaks into little hard pieces if you bend it is not. I have seen other places cooked bacon in the deep fry and it comes out like this - and while this may be a quick shortcut to making bacon, it does not result in good eating bacon.

In addition to the breakfast foods most of the regular Golden Corral items were served. Just a few of the Asian items were missing. Whitehall, which we go to when we are up in that area of Pennsylvania (where there are few other buffets), was the better of the two breakfast for dinner (and lunch) meals and the price was the advertised $11.99, a dollar less than the Lancaster Golden Corral for dinner. (Of course, Golden Corral in Lancaster is the new "go to on Sunday" buffet when 98% of the other buffets in Lancaster are closed on Sundays.

I would love to see this feature become a regular offering at Golden Corral - though it will be too tempting for me - fine, I am sure for so many others. If you are fortunate enough to be near a Golden Corral go in and give it a try. As I say, both of the locations we visited served the same items slightly differently - so another Golden Corral may be different again - though it would have to be between the two that I experienced. We did not try the egg dishes. I would rather go for the dinner entrees than an omelet though I am sure the omelets were good - they looked good. I know many who wish that Golden Corral would come back to this area - but they were here years ago and the Golden Corral here was terrible and they went out of business as a result. This is an indication more of this area as it happens with other chain restaurants and national retailers. There is the rest of the country's good locations and then there is here. I won't go into that further. A transport device like on Star Trek could resolve it all - we could just beam ourselves from here to where the good locations are... ha, ha!