Friday, June 03, 2016

BBQ Featured At Old Country Buffet

Yes, there are still Old Country Buffets, Ryan's and Hometown Buffets out there somewhere. You may have to travel far to get to one or you may be one of the lucky ones to have one of these restaurants nearby. It has been a long time since OCB and the rest have had a special feature and they are currently having one now, though if you go to their website you would never know it. They call it "Backyard BBQ". As all features, it is for a limited time. They do not say how long it will be available.

We had an opportunity to try it. It is served on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday at the dinner buffet with some items also at lunch.  When one hears BBQ in most of the US they think smoked meats in sauce while in some places - for example the Northeast, BBQ is what you cook on the backyard grill. This is neither. What you will find on the buffet with this feature is meats in sauce - not smoked meats - meats. OCB, many years past did BBQ well in summer month features. Like most of the restaurant chain now, those days are gone.

What we found - and what is noted on the poster at the cashier about "Backyard BBQ" - was "BBQ" Brisket, "BBQ" chicken" (available all day), Boneless pork ribs, Pulled Pork, and Smoked sausage (available all day). The poster shows corn on the cob cooked on a grill - complete with charred kernels - there was none of that to be found. It would be better to describe this feature as "BBQ-style" if one is going to be honest in advertising. Nothing here has been cooked for hours and hours in a smoker. You will find no smoke ring around the edge of the brisket. Nothing is fall off the bone tender. The brisket was baked in an oven and then the outside was covered in BBQ sauce after it was cooked. The chicken was baked with BBQ sauce over the skin. The Boneless Pork Ribs were baked in a pan with BBQ sauce. The Pulled Pork is made without sauce. The smoked sausage is the usual OCB smoked sausage cut up and baked in a pan with onions and green peppers in a overly sweet sauce (not really BBQ sauce) which they have been serving on and off for years.  While they are not mentioned anywhere on the poster, they threw in the honey riblets that they have also been serving for a long time.

I love BBQ. When I saw the poster, I was anxious to get to OCB to try this. I have eaten real BBQ in a  number of restaurants in the South and have always enjoyed it. I have also had some of OCB's BBQ in the past including their Baby Back Ribs which at one time were excellent - though the last time around - about a year ago that they came back onto the buffet - they were not good at all. We had a chance to go and we went - me, with great anticipation, and my picky eater wife who does not eat BBQ at all hoping that some of the regular buffet items that she eats would be there.  We were both disappointed.

Let's start with the "BBQ" Brisket. I know that corned beef and brisket are the same cut of meat prepared differently. The brisket that was served to me at OCB looked more like a cut of corned beef than any BBQ brisket that I have ever had. It was baked to a hard crust on the outside - it seemed that within that crust were the spices and herbs used when cooking a corned beef. It was 75% fat and 25% meat. When I cut a piece and put it in my mouth I could not chew it. It was like rubber. I chewed as long as I could and it went down eventually, perhaps whole. I decided later to go back for another try just in case the next brisket that was brought out might be a better piece of meat and cooked better than the first one that I sampled. There was less fat, and it chewed a little better. I added more BBQ sauce from the squeeze bottle that was at the taco bar, to give it more "BBQ" flavor. Both times, despite the fat, the meat was dry. The second try was a minor improvement over the first. At least it was slightly easier to chew.

The Boneless pork ribs - these have been at OCB in the past. They are not really pork ribs. They are a pork roast cut up into strips, put in a pan with BBQ like sweet sauce and baked. There is no resemblance in any way to a BBQ pork rib - not in taste, texture, or appearance. I cut a piece of the "rib" and put it in my mouth. The meat was hard, dry, and again difficult to chew. It was not tasty.

The pulled pork - oh boy!  It looks like pulled pork - it is baked pork pulled apart and it is close in appearance to what to expect pulled pork is without the sauce. It sits in a pan of grease - deep grease - likely the fat that has melted off the pork as it was re-heated after it was shred. There are burned, hard pieces mixed in with shreds of pork meat accompanied by pieces of pure fat. All of this is swimming in clear, yellow grease. I carefully picked pieces from the top that were just above the grease. It was not easy and despite great effort came up with shreds dripping in grease that also went on my plate.  I went to the same BBQ sauce squeeze bottle and covered the pulled pork so that it would become as close as possible to BBQ pulled pork. If this was not full of fat and swimming in grease it would be OK, but the grease and fat make this unappetizing in the serving tray as well as while eating it, and I was hesitant to eat it. I did pick through what I took to avoid the pieces of fat and the charred outside meat that was mixed in.

The "BBQ" chicken is the same baked chicken regularly served at OCB but with BBQ sauce put on the outside of the skin and baked. It is red on the outside. To be fair, we did not try it.

The smoked sausage - smoked only because that is how you buy this type of sausage - as I said earlier is the same as OCB has served for years. When I eat this I usually wipe the sauce off of it because it is not BBQ sauce and it is overly sweet. I am a smoked sausage fan, but not of this one. I would have much rather have this sausage grilled on OCB's chargrill and served dry. Even when it is boiled and served over sauerkraut it is better than this.

What can I say about Honey Riblets? I have said this before - in fact I even said this to the OCB regional rep who contacted our site a year ago for feedback on OCB and its menu. The Honey Riblets are short sections of flat pork bone (ribs, I suppose) connected by grizzle and a tiny bit of hard, overcooked meat. They are burned, overly sweet, not tasty, and not worth the effort of trying to scrape out the bit of meat with your teeth. For some reason, these ribs live on at OCB - too often served week after week for a very long time now.

There was one side dish on the buffet that I have not seen before. It had no label and it looked like baked corn bread - which it could have been, though there was another tray of baked corn bread out and this one was baked in a deep tray. I noticed a corn kernel in the pan so I took a small amount to try. I suppose it was supposed to be corn pudding. It was an underdone corn bread with a few corn kernels in the mix.

Along with all of this there were a few of the usual OCB menu entree items - popcorn shrimp, baked fish, orange chicken, fried chicken, and meatloaf. At the carving station aside from the brisket and the boneless ribs, there was the usual ham and dry roast beef. None of this really made my picky eater wife happy. She took some of the popcorn shrimp. She later took a slice of ham. And she also made a vegetable plate, for lack of anything else to take that she eats.  I too a variety of the "BBQ" items once, had meatloaf next (I like OCB meatloaf) and then took the second try of the brisket and nothing else.  As has happened on other occasions in which I bring my wife to a buffet where it turns out there is little for her to choose from of things she will eat, I felt bad for her. She pushes on, however, and goes along - even when she knows before that she will find little that she will eat.

It is hard to understand the current owners. They seem to be setting the rest of the locations to fail so that they will have an excuse to close them all down. They certainly could have done a BBQ feature much better. They certainly could provide better cuts of meat and better recipes to cook it. Wouldn't it have been nice if part of this feature was their famous, and much sought after Beef Ribs made with the original recipe! Those come up in so many discussions about what is missed at OCB! They could have provided better brisket, trimmed off the fat, and come up with a way to cook it slow and moist. I don't expect them to have a smoker, but there are ways to cook meat to be real close to smoked BBQ. This was not it. And don't let the photos in the poster fool you - what you get is not what it looks like on the poster.

Now despite all of this, my wife likes OCB - and I do also, depending on what is being served. I will continue to go to OCBs, Ryans, and even try a Hometown Buffet (if I ever come across one) but we won't be going on "Backyard BBQ" nights. "Backyard BBQ" gets an A for idea, C for effort, and D for execution.


Anonymous said...

When I think to the high quality of food and very large variety found at OCB in the 1990s and early 2000s compared to now, I am convinced that they are now setting these places up to fail to have an excuse to close them. Two amazing chains, OCB and Ryan's, that were once the top of the buffet chains, are shadows of their former selves. I want to continue to support the remaining restaurants, but the closest one is 4 hours away, and even if it was close, I just don't see good reviews anymore. How I long for a 1999 era OCB meal...

songbird's crazy world said...

Sorry it was such a disappointing experience. Guess I'll stick with a menu restaurant for BBQ. Smokin' Al's is expensive but worth it.

Anonymous said...

I would have told the manager I wanted a refund as the buffet items on the ads differed grossly from the offerings.