Tag Archives: Old Country Buffet

This Title Will Not Make a Pun About the OK Corral

This is the second time we’ve danced this dance: Heading to a giant buffet that harbors no hope for excellence, and only a 50/50 shot at solid mediocrity. Perhaps the most lucid assessment of Golden Corral comes from Benji Madden (of Good Charlotte fame, aka Mr. Cameron Diaz), who worked at one back in the day and reportedly said that it was “literally a golden corral for fat people.” To take it in a different direction, the list that inspired this journey ranked Golden Corral at the very bottom of their list, below “getting hit by a car.” So there’s that.

Overall, the concept of Golden Corral is like that of any modern-day buffet chain in that there is the appearance of quality, but that’s about it. The presentation, variety, and layout of the restaurant and the food all promise an abundance of deliciousness and soul-warmth (a thing we just made up, but you get it). But, like Cher Horowitz once bravely opined, up close you just get a big ol’ mess.

Food:

Golden Corral relies on your memories of eating food at other restaurants to get you to eat its food. “Gee, as a general policy, I like prime rib/apple crisp/fried okra,” you think, so you pile on the prime rib/apple crisp/fried okra. Then that memory, the one that guided you towards the food in the first place, comes back to haunt you as you dig in. “Well, I guess I don’t like this prime rib/apple crisp/fried okra…” you say as you trail off and think of happier times.

Rachel says: I approached this with trepidation, because we’d all been burned at OCB, and because I was trying a diet thing with my husband where were avoiding meat and dairy. [Ed. note: *Rolls eyes*] That cuts down on a lot of choices at a place like this. I was able to pile my plate high with salad  and about a jamillion deviled eggs. John even heard me exclaim as I happened upon the deviled eggs, but only to myself, like a crazy person. I’m not proud, but I’m also not sorry. That was the highlight. The rest of the food, even the stuff that should have been hard to ruin (like sweet potato casserole) was lackluster.

Eat the rainbow.

John says: Ah, the lowest ranked restaurant on our list. We had to travel all the way to Maple Grove for this casual encounter. And that sucks. Fine, whatever. Food wasn’t shockingly bad, just mostly bad. There were a couple of highlights. The french fries were good as well as the sliced turkey. There were low lights as well. The salad bar was pretty weak and the hash brown casserole thing was pretty terrible.

[Ed. note: As an aside, John asked us to include this with his review:

Minnesota Maple cities, ranked:
1. Maplewood
2. Mapleton
3. Maple Lake
4. Maple Plain
5. Mapleview
6. Maple Grove ]
Aaron’s brisket review.

Jenna says: John and I were the first to arrive and we decided to have a fruit course to start our meal. John’s description of the pineapple was “it wasn’t the worst but it was pretty bad”. This basically sums up my experience getting hit by a car/eating at Golden Corral. I had little tastes of lots of things, and they ranged from truly terrible (hashbrowns, green bean casserole) to cold (bourbon street chicken) to dry and nearly inedible (brisket). The nachos were the best thing I ate – once you got over the electric orange color of the cheese, they were okay. But overall, nothing pleasantly surprised me.

Food rating: 

Beverages:

Like OCB, GC forces you to pay extra if you want a soft drink or coffee with your meal. No booze, much to Jenna’s chagrin.

Rachel says: I think it’s bogus that they charge extra for a soda. But I had the forethought to sign up for GC’s official mailing list, the incentive of which was a free soda with buffet purchase. It’s called beating them at their own game, kids. Anyway, I had a diet cola, I can’t even remember if it was Coke or Pepsi.

John says: Not as exciting as the options at Old Country Buffet [Ed. note: Hellooooo Icee machine!] but fine nonetheless. I had to pay extra to have a non-water drink. Meh. I had several glasses of chocolate milk and it was tasty!

Jenna says: There was no booze, so I didn’t drink anything, obviously.

Beverages rating:

Casualosity:

We saw someone pile their plate high with just slices of tomato.  Any place that allows for that much control over your plate is going to tip the scales in favor of casual.

Rachel says: Less casual than expected. Still very casual though! No one in sweatpants that I could see, although it’s possible I just missed it.

John says: This was all over the map. People were dressed up and in shorts. Jeez Louise. However, it doesn’t beat OCB in terms of absolute casualosity.

Jenna says: HIGH levels of casualosity. Could definitely get by with wearing PJs there. Although it still cost $14, which seems a bit high. You can totally get dinner + soup/salad bar at the Fryn’ Pan for $11. Just sayin’. 

Casualosity rating:

Ambience:

Rachel says: There were two notable things about the ambience. 1) The folksy names for the different food stations. The salad bar was called “The Greenhouse” and a random assortment of hot foods (tacos, pizza, bread rolls) was dubbed “The Sizzlin’ Skillet.” I seem to recall the exact same concept rolled out at OCB. Maybe there’s one buffet decoration consulting firm and they just show everyone the same PowerPoint. I dunno. 2) GC had recipes on the walls for food they were serving at the restaurant. It was as if they were daring you to make it better (which you probably could). I neither liked or disliked either of these things; they were just weird.

Not so much Flavortown as Flavor Cul-de-Sac.

John says: Fairly standard and boring. There was nothing that stood out. At least have some cool shit on the walls, GC.

Jenna says: If you really loved the Bourbon Street chicken (Aaron Smith), you are in luck! The recipe, along with a few other GC favorites, is used to decorate the walls! Also, the bathroom was in super rough shape.

Ambience rating:

Service:

Not much in the way of service here, being that it’s a buffet, duh.

Rachel says: The cashier at the front was efficient and polite but not friendly. The people coming around to clear plates did so with just the right frequency.

John says: The cashier looked like she would rather be in a prison in North Korea [Ed. note: Yeesh!] than working at Golden Corral. But our busboy who cleared our dishes was very nice.

Jenna says: Quick to clear plates, and they absolutely made sure you paid, unlike our buffet experience at OCB. There was NO way I was getting in without paying this time.

Service rating:

Dessert:

The crew had our pick of dessert options, most notably the Chocolate Wonderfall, a chocolate fountain where you and dozens of fellow diners are invited to drench different smaller sweet things in a cascade of chocolate-esque liquid. If it sounds like a public health nightmare, that’s because it is. But it’s a fountain!

Rachel says: I tried a few of the desserts. They were all portioned pretty small, which is both clever and fortunate because most of them weren’t worth it. I had a little brownie, a cinnamon roll (because why not) and some cake I think? I also did have several strawberries and Rice Krispie treats dipped in the chocolate fountain. I know what’s in that chocolate, and I know why it’s a health hazard, and I did it anyway. YOLO, right? [Ed. note: No one says that anymore, FYI.] They were good. And I didn’t get sick.

John says: GC actually kind of shines here. They have many different options for the discerning palate. Included is a chocolate fountain that you can dip fruit into. I didn’t do that. I am not getting sick just to satisfy our rabid readers. [Ed. note: Unlike Rachel. Gross.] I went ahead and had a piece of New York style cheesecake and a piece of angel food cake. The cheesecake was fine but nowhere near the standards of an OCB cheesecake.

Jenna says: The carrot cake was decent. I was super excited about the chocolate fountain situation, until my friends ruined it for me by calling it an e. coli fountain. THANKS FOR RUINING EVERY CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN FOR ME. [Ed. note: Sorry not sorry.] I waited forever for a fresh piece of cheesecake, but it never happened.

Dessert rating: 

Favorite part:

John says: The chocolate milk, I guess?

Rachel says: John catching me getting excited about deviled eggs.

Jenna says: ??????

Least favorite part:

John says: Paying nearly $19 to eat there. That’s insane…

Rachel says: Driving almost 40 minutes each way for blah food.

Jenna says: The brisket, looked so good, but I nearly broke a tooth. 

Overall rating: 

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.