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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.