We Go to Old Country Buffet…Not Because It Is Easy….

…But because it is hahd*.

*JFK voice

Easily the least-anticipated of all the potential casual dining experiences (save for “getting hit by a car”), our excursion to OCB (ranked #26 on our list) was taken on with the grim determination that only middle-class hipsters can muster when faced with this vestige of suburbia.

A few years ago, OCB went through something of a rebranding process. They added some fancier dishes in hopes of capturing the public’s disdain for sh***y food. A few years after that, they’ve closed many of their locations. As it turns out, when you’re known for sh***y food, it doesn’t matter how many times you say “we’ve added non-sh***ty stuff to the lineup!” Every 22-year-old social media twerp will tell you, and they’re right: Branding is everything.

With only one OCB remaining in the Twin Cities metro, our choice of location was somewhat limited. This was our last shot before this casual dining experience is gone.

Our rankings:

Food: Overall, the food surpassed our expectations. Which is to say it was pretty bad, but not shockingly bad. Each of us found a couple of things that were downright edible. The orange chicken (aka chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce) was the clear winner.

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If brown or white foods are your thing, you’re in the right place. 

John says: My highlights were the orange chicken and the surprisingly good potato salad. My lowlight was a slice of roast beef so chewy they could have sold it as roast beef flavored gum and I wouldn’t have batted an eye.

Aaron says: A few standouts: baked ham (I managed to line up for the hand-carved ham right when they brought a fresh one out, so it was fresh and tasty), dinner rolls (buttery and fluffy!), chicken pot pie. A few poor choices: rib tips (I couldn’t discern if there was any meat on the bone, or if it was all just bone), the Montreal veggies (might have been good if they were fresh, but by the time I got them they were pretty soggy).

Jenna says: Standouts: fried chicken (better than KFC, on par with Hornbachers which I totally enjoy). Orange chicken was very good. However many items looked less appetizing than school cafeteria food, notably the refried beans (looked like they’d been sitting their for days. The same cheese sauce was used for the nachos and the macaroni and cheese, and I use the term cheese sauce loosely.

Sarah says: the fact that it was a buffet meant you could dig through all the crap to find the few things that were palatable. I am pretty sure the macaroni & cheese included cheese whiz as the #1 ingredient. The meatloaf was surprisingly delicious – it had just the right texture, and came with a yummy sauce. Sadly, I only had one piece before they switched that section of the buffet to some type of disgusting looking mystery meat. The dinner rolls tasted fresh out of the oven and were buttery and tasty. I liked the jello whip, but combining cool whip and cubes of jello in a bowl is not really a culinary accomplishment to brag about.

Rachel says: I skipped so many things based on looks alone, so I can’t say too much. You eat with your eyes first, and my eyes were all “blech.” That being said, the chicken-based things were all decent. The mini chicken pot pie was a standout and made me feel dainty (no easy feat).

Rating: cheesecakecheesecake

Ambience: OCB gives each of its buffet sections totes adorbs nicknames, like Maple Street Bakery and Fire Mountain Roasters Coffee. Other than that, it was a run-of-the-mill buffet setting with dusty pastel colors and fluorescent lighting.

Sarah says: I expected noise, long lines, rowdy kids, spontaneous “Make America Great Again” chants, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter none of these. It was pretty quiet and orderly. But it was still an OCB.

Rating: cheesecakecheesecake

Casualosity: Casual, and how! Our group saw a wide range of Casualosity levels, from flip-flops and sweats to peoples’ Sunday church outfits. Everyone can feel comfortable here.

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OCB’s casualosity packs ’em in on a Sunday. 

John says: This is probably the most casual place to eat. No server bothering you. Eat as much as you want. They even had a mini arcade. It was kind of a lame arcade but noteworthy nonetheless.

Jenna says: Suppppppeeerrrr casual. So casual I was able to walk in without paying. Although let the record show I went back and after I realized you were supposed to do that first. (Editor’s note: This incident was hilarious, and Jenna is a more honest person than any of us by going back and paying. Frankly, with the way things are going for OCB, it felt more like a donation than payment.)

Sarah says:  It doesn’t get much more casual than this without being fast food.

Rating: cheesecakecheesecakecheesecakecheesecake

Service: Not much to say initially, since it’s a buffet. But the staff we did interact with were friendly and efficient. Our dirty plates never sat on the table for more than a couple of minutes before being scooped up by someone. OCB could really do with stocking their bathrooms with free tampons. Just a suggestion.

Jenna says: They were speedy in collecting dirty plates, which I appreciated. Other than that we didn’t see a whole lot of people. However the woman in charge of filling the soda fountain of the future was constantly doing that.

Rachel says: The guy who carved the ham was so nice, I bet he would have hand-fed me if I’d asked. 

Rating: cheesecakecheesecakehalf cheesecake

 

Cheesecake: The cheesecake, which came in both plain and strawberry-topped varieties, was clearly an industrial-scale version of that no-bake Jello cheesecake mix you made in your dorm room that one time. Better than the abomination at the Hard Rock Cafe, but still. Other desserts fared better, including a fairly decent single-serve peach cobbler. Not to mention la grande dame of buffet experiences, the make-your-own-sundae station.

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Peach cobbler, bread pudding, chocolate cake, cheesecake. Not pictured: A sundae that is 3:1 hot fudge to ice cream. 

Aaron says: Better than HRC, but that’s not saying much. Other desert options fared better, rice crispy bars were decent and whipped Jello was a flashback to childhood.

Jenna says: Better than Hard Rock, that’s for damn sure! Bonus for a decent ice cream bar.

Rating: cheesecakecheesecakehalf cheesecake

Beverages: Now, here is where OCB decided to throw off the mantel of mediocrity and really shine. If the OCB were the movie “Rudy,” the beverage selection would be that scene where they all lift Rudy on their shoulders in jubilation for kicking a goal or whatever. (Ed. note: The editor has never seen the movie “Rudy.”) Not only did OCB feature two Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, they also had Icee machines! Our crew took full advantage of the situation, mixing the blue flavor and the red flavor for maximum fun. However, points were docked for the lack of alcohol, because SOME people in the group can’t handle the realness of a depressing buffet in the suburbs without a drink. Go figure.

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Part red, part blue, all joy.

Aaron says: Icee machine! This made the trip for me. I mixed the red and blue flavors, but the coke flavor was out of order. At some point, someone had the idea to put coke in with the icee to make a flavor vaguely reminiscent of cherry coke.

Rachel says: Even though I only ever get regular-ass Diet Coke, I still love the potential represented by a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. I like to be bathed in the glow of possibilities, right before I select the same thing I’d get anywhere else. 

John says: Icee machine. Chocolate Milk. No booze though.

Sarah says: Couldn’t have been better from the standpoint of a non drinker.

Rating: cheesecakecheesecakecheesecake

Return potential: No surprise here, no one in our group was the least bit enthusiastic about coming back.

Aaron says: It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but it was 30 min away and I’m not huge on buffets. Now if there was still a OCB in Highland Park or Roseville (arguably one of the top few suburbs), I could see going back if I really HAD to.

Rating: cheesecake

The best part:

John says: Getting to eat as much as I want.

Aaron says: Icee!

Rachel says: Putting peas on my salad like I was 6 years old again. And that pot pie. And Jenna not realizing she had to pay in advance.

Sarah says: Halfway through the meal when Jenna asked how much the buffet cost, and we all realized she hadn’t paid.

Jenna says: Going to the Home Depot afterwards.

The worst part:

John says: Having to drive to Burnsville.

Aaron says: Having a stomachache all afternoon.

Jenna says: That “cheese” sauce.

Sarah says: The guilt I felt from only eating one bite of my
chicken breast. (At least, I think it was a chicken breast).

Our pro-tips for buffet success:

John says: Always eat salad second. Expand your stomach with some meat, potatoes, etc. first. Then dial it back down with salad. Then ramp back up with whatever you want.

Rachel says: To paraphrase Cher Horowitz, do a lap before you commit to a location. Always scope things out and have a strategy in mind before you start plating.

Jenna says: Skip the salad bar, it will never live up to the Fryn Pan.

Sarah says: OH from the man sitting behind me. “I have diabetes, so my doctor says I shouldn’t come to places like this. But I figure oh, what the hell. We all have to die from something.” OCB should use that for marketing purposes. “Old Country Buffet: Because we all have to die from something.”

Weird combos we saw on other peoples’ plates:

I saw a little girl with broccoli cheese soup and and a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream on top.

A half a plate of raisins.

I saw a six year old with an entire plate heaping with the disgusting macaroni and “cheese.” Where are the parents? When I was little and wanted to fill my entire buffet plate with bacon, my Mom put the kibosh on that and limited me to a still-satisfying four pieces. Thank you, Mom.

Overall rating: 2.5

Next encounter: Outback Steakhouse!

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John’s digestif: A giant gumball. 

2 thoughts on “We Go to Old Country Buffet…Not Because It Is Easy….”

  1. Highlights of this post: editor admitting she never saw Rudy after using the movie in a deep simile. Everyone laughing at Jenna not paying. New branding of OCB by Sarah
    Lowlights: thinking about food at OCB

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