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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Old Country Buffet
6059 S.E. 14th St., 285-4663
Mon. - Thurs. 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sat 8 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.

Old Country Buffet

Expensive grease traps have been clogging the best laid plans of restaurant entrepreneurs since Polk County made them a prerequisite for selling food or beverages about three years ago. At least a handful of grass roots restaurateurs have given up on café dreams because of the added cost of these underground interceptors. Estimates almost always run into the five-figure range, and sometimes, six. Amici Espresso was told it would cost more than $100,000 to add a required grease trap in its downtown coffee shop, even though they prepare no food there. When Schaffer’s Bridal & Formal Shop decided to add a 30-seat café to their new store in West Glen, estimates ran more than $100,000 to install a single grease trap.

So when I heard recently that a plumbing company had installed three underground grease traps in one restaurant, I had to see for myself what kind of business that place was doing. Even with the wind chill at 20 below zero, I entered Old Country Buffet (OCB) and counted 43 people in front me in line. My wait was only 10 minutes, so the math confirmed a rumor I had heard that the restaurant accommodates more than 200 people an hour. That’s a lot of happy campers, and OCB delivers a lot of calories for their dollars. Breakfast buffet cost $7, lunch $8, and dinner $11. Seniors (age 60 and over) are eligible for various discounts, the best being $2 off between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Unlike many other buffets in town, OCB operates without a huge labor force, and everyone I spoke to could speak English and answer questions about the food. That’s more than I expect at a buffet. So how does the place make money? The best items were among the cheapest to prepare. Dinner rolls and cornbread were outstanding, and cornbread dressing was state-of-the-art. German cabbage, pinto beans and yams were superb southern-style preparations. I counted 38 different desserts available at one single time, not including the soft serve ice cream and its many toppings. I sampled carrot cake, two cobblers and a pumpkin pie — all rated with the kind that cost $4-$7 at many chain restaurants.

Cheap starches were even prevalent on the salad bar, where tortillas, taco shells, beans and nachos were prominent. That reminded me that the OCB Web site proclaims: “There’s no better place to put good nutrition knowledge into practice than at our buffets.” To be fair, the salad bar also included some healthy things I didn’t expect to find — a good spring mix of greens, four kinds of vinegar and two kinds of oil, plus the usual array of salad bar regulars.

Entrees were the least impressive. First, some “daily features” promised on the company Web site were not being served at the restaurant. Burgers, served in pan drippings, were nicely seared and attractive compared to fast food burgers. Mini pork steaks had a decent brown, but the strange texture and flavor of adulterated pork. One time, fried chicken was severely overcooked, too dry to eat. Another time it was golden brown and juicy. Country fried steaks were the best fried food. Salmon was way too dry to appreciate. Soups disappointed, lacking the good stocks I found at the buffet at Prairie Meadows and not tasting like what they were supposed to be — clam chowder had no clam flavor. One item seemed to have the OCB signature — chocolate chip pizza. It was so popular that people lurked at the serving line awaiting delivery of the next batch.

Bottom line: while OCB might not have as creative a kitchen as Ryan’s or Prairie Meadows buffets, it is a good bargain with a legion of loyal customers.

Side dishes
Steve Easterbrook, the CEO of McDonald’s in the United Kingdom, has discovered the cause of obesity. He announced that video games are to blame, not the nutritionally challenged, corn-sweetened, processed fast food that his company markets to children. That’s settled, then. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2008 2007 Reviews
Splash Raw Oyster Bar (1-3-08) Flavors of India(1-10-08)
Uncle Wendell's (1-17-08) Jesse's Embers (1-24-08)
Taste of Elegance (1-31-08)  

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