Friday, December 18, 2015

What is Going On at Old Country Buffet?

I have to wonder what has been going on at Old Country Buffet. We have been going fairly regularly to a local Old Country Buffet, one I recommended as improving not very long ago in Levittown, New York. Things there have been going down hill - again. The management has not changed. What is being served has changed. How the food is being maintained and put out on the buffet has changed drastically. I rarely get ill after eating at any of the many buffets that we have been to over the year. In the span of several weeks after a meal here, that is exactly what happened - and too soon after the meal for it to have been anything else. This I blame on how the food is being maintained once out on the buffet - and goes from soup to soft serve ice cream.

What I can attribute to this particular location is how the food is being put out and maintained on the buffet and I will get to that shortly> What I am not sure about is who is deciding on the choices of the entrees being served on the buffet - which now change very little from night to night and are greatly lacking. This I believe is coming from the new corporate entity that bought out Ovation Brands and has taken over ownership and stewardship of the Old Country Buffet restaurants. I know from discrete conversations with OCB restaurant managers that they are told by the company what items to serve on any one particular night - and it was implied that these are consistent throughout the chain. I have to wonder if  "new corporate" is going out of their way to make the restaurants fail.

What is happening with the food items chosen? For months now there has been no turkey carving at OCB. This has been a standard carving since the restaurants opened. I understand that there is a turkey "shortage" in the US due to bird flu - but this has not seemed to have effected any other buffet chain or buffet restaurant that we have been to for many months right to today. There is turkey at Golden Corral. There has been turkey at all of the Lancaster buffets. There has been turkey at casino buffets. The only place that seems to have had a need to remove turkey from their offerings is Old Country Buffet. Thanksgiving dinner at OCB was not advertised until a few days before Thanksgiving - no posters in the restaurants at all up to the night before - just a single email saying that there would be Thanksgiving dinner served and there would be turkey. They found turkeys to server for Thanksgiving - but that was it - just Thanksgiving. On some nights the turkey carving has been replaced with pork roast but on some of those same nights the main meat served at the buffet in all of the entrees except the roast beef and some chicken has been pork. I like pork, but how many pork dishes need to be on a buffet in the same night. The idea of eating at a buffet is having a variety. There is little variety now. Rarely do we find meatloaf. Certainly there is no shortage of meatloaf.

So what is there? Roast beef, baked chicken, fried chicken, some type of ribs - either baby back ribs (which had been an advertised feature for a time) or sweet sauce soaked riblets, ham, fried fish sticks or baked fish, sometimes spaghetti and then one or two things that are supposed to vary but often don't such as small burgers in mushroom sauce, pot roast, unlabeled chunks of possibly chicken in a mystery sauce, pulled pork without bbq sauce, sausage patties in a thick and sweet orange sauce, and chicken pot pies cooked and served in small ramekin dishes. And often if you come in more than once in a week you will find exactly the same thing that was there the night that you had been there just before.

Before the corporate buyout. in an anonymous conversation that I had with a then corporate representative of Ovation Brands, the move was to return the items to the menu that many had loved over the years at OCB in an effort to bring back customers who had stopped coming because what was good on OCB's buffet was no longer being served. Well, that never seemed to happen - and it has just gotten worse now that they are "under new ownership". 

Now, lets look at what is going on at the local restaurant. Regardless of the night now, from busy weekend dinner to slow but not empty weeknight, food is coming out way overcooked and allowed to sit and dry out. Tonight's meal was the ultimate. There is not much that can be done wrong with macaroni and cheese, tonight and other nights, the mac and cheese has been completely dried out on top. Get any of the top layer in what you spoon onto your plate and that is hard, rubbery, and not possible to chew. The sting beans were dried out. The ham was overdone and its meat darkened where it should have been pink. The tray of spaghetti was a tray of hard, dried out, crinkled spaghetti sitting in oil. The small tomatoes on the salad bar were mushy and their peels wrinkling and dry. The small burgers in what was once mushroom sauce were little pucks of meat with dried gravy over the surface. The tray of baked fish was dried out. The pizza had come out over done and burnt and only dried out more under the heat lamp. The topper was the piece of chocolate cake that I took for dessert was stale. There was no sign of a manager and no one working came around to stir a tray or remove a tray of food that just should not have been kept out to be served.

On other nights we have found pulled pork sitting in a tray deep with grease, pot roast that had been served that was either seasoned oddly or was just not right, fried chicken that was so overcooked that the outer crust was too hard to bite through to the point of risking breaking a tooth. The chicken noodle soup has been so salty on some nights that it was inedible. There have been nights that the soft serve ice cream has tasted sour - of course with one taste it was not eaten.

This meal costs $14.00 at local OCBs. In this area the only other buffets are Asian buffets but compared in price to the popular ones here, OCB is higher or the same price but those Asian buffets are giving a far better meal that is prepared and maintained correctly. If I compare what is being served with any of the Lancaster buffets - some of which are lower in price - there is no comparison to the quality food that is being served and well maintained on the buffet at those other buffets. Compare OCB to Golden Corral - oh how I wish there was a Golden Corral that did not involve a lot of money in tolls and gasoline to get to - Golden Corral is the far better buffet. There is something wrong here and it needs attention. Is there supervision from the new corporation? I have to wonder.  As I say, the problem is on two both ends -the local restaurant that has to cook and maintain what they put on the buffet properly, and the new owners who are directing the choices of the foods being served. Both are lacking terribly right now. Perhaps it is just here locally - perhaps it is chain wide. I don't know. I do know that this is no way to continue to stay in business - but perhaps that is exactly what the new owners want.

This troubled us so much tonight that I pushed another article scheduled for publication tonight to a future date and I have delayed writing the article I had intended to write next. I had so much hope for this particular OCB as the manager had been turning things around. As the downward turn has coincided with the corporate change I have to conclude that the two are connected. And I thought I was finished writing poor reviews of Old Country Buffets. Ah well. I am better off eating home that going to OCB - and despite good cooking at home - I really like going out to a buffet for dinner.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Two VIsits to a Favorite Golden Corral

We were in Virginia in the Williamsburg area and as the number of buffets there are decreasing we went to one of our favorite Golden Corrals twice in the 9 nights that were were there. I am not talking about the Golden Corral in Williamsburg - that one is one has been terrible when we have been there in the past. I am talking about the Golden Corral in Newport News, Virginia.

This Golden Corral seems to be fairly new (though it has been there for at least four years as we first went there about four years ago. It is located in a large shopping center complex with plenty of parking and right off a main road (Route 143) which is off of Route 64, a limited access highway.

So why do we like this Golden Corral. It is clean. The food is well presented and properly cooked. The employees are attentive. The price is the Golden Corral advertised price of $11.99. There is plenty of room inside the restaurant.   These are things that should be a given at any Golden Corral - or any restaurant or buffet, for that matter, but that is not always the case. Both meals here was relaxed and without drama. This is exactly how you want to spend any meal.

So - when we went they were still featuring the breakfast for dinner promotion and even this was done better than the other Golden Corrals that we had been too during this feature. The breakfast items featured were all there - which they were not at any of the others. Nothing was dried out -nothing was over done.

What can make or break a Golden Corral is your server - as at many Golden Corral's the server sitll must bring your drink refills. A poor server results in stacks of dirty plates and no refills on your drinks. Not so, on both recent nights here. One night the server even was beyond expectations - paying close attention to our table and there with a refill before we had finished the drink that we had - and there at dessert to ask if we wished to switch to coffee.

When I go to Golden Corral I am going for the steak primarily - and what can make or break a Golden Corral in this department is a grill chef that does not know rare from well done and at the same time rare from raw. Each night I had steaks cooked exactly as I like them - char-crunchy on the outside and red, but cooked on the inside. The steak is mildly seasoned and tasty. You are given a steak and not a piece of a steak cut off. This grill chef knew what he was doing - and I hope that he is an example of what is always found here - it was on these two visits that were a number of days apart.

Golden Corral's generally offer the same basic things at all of their buffets, but there are some variations - and these variations seem to be things that all should have all of the time, but some omit or change for other items. One thing that this Golden Corral has is a whole roasted turkey that is carved off for you when you go up for a piece. This is so much better than turkey breast - and the turkey was moist and did not disappoint a turkey lover. We have seen whole roasted turkeys at other Golden Corrals but we have also been to several without it.

We have been to some other really good Golden Corrals as well but these were found by chance when we were on the road and needed to find someplace to stop for dinner. Unfortunately, we can only guess now where they were and it is unlikely, even if we knew which they were - that we would be in that location again. Funny, as looking back at my Golden Corral articles none of these are specifically written about. Possibly because back when we would have gone to these, I was writing articles right after the meal - and after driving all day and getting into a hotel late at night, I would not have been in much of a condition to start sitting down to write. We both can recall two - have a general notion of where they might have been. Ah, well. Anyway -

This one is good. If you are in this area, try it. We told a friend about this one and they liked it too. If you are in Williamsburg, VA - skip the Golden Corral there and make the twenty or so minute drive to this one.  It is located at 305 Chatham Dr, Newport News, VA 23602. There is a general link to all Golden Corrals at the side of this page.