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.
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
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
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.
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.
on this story | Return