Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Country Cooking

During the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sample three different country buffets around Waco.. Historically he country buffet is usually a family owned operation that includes a salad bar, an assortment of vegetables, multiple meat options, breads, beverages, and desserts. They are almost always an all-you-can-eat format although many now offer options for lighter appetites.

Today chains such as Golden Corral, Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, Country Buffet, Ryan's, and K-Bob’s replicate this experience throughout the U.S.
Locally, we have lost our Ryan’s but we still have a couple of choices in this area.

I reviewed Parks Family Buffet a few months ago. A recent visit found very few changes in the menu or the service. I still enjoyed the crisp pork chops, the fresh squash, and the green pea salad. Don’t miss the catfish (Fridays) and bread pudding for dessert. Parks is a classic country buffet owned by two brothers.

Just south of Waco in Lorena, a new buffet Raymond’s Southern Kitchen operates using a similar formula. Raymond’s salad offerings are a bit slim and the dressing choices limited. The lettuce is a good mix of iceberg, leaf and romaine accompanied by a few additional add-ons.

Some of the more interesting entrees included a tasty stuffed bell pepper, a hearty chopped sirloin in brown gravy and crunchy fried catfish. They were all well prepared and presented. The vegetables were also well prepared. Flavorful mashed potatoes and a excellent sautéed squash mix were standouts. Ordinary rolls and cornbread didn’t excite me but the peach cobbler was a nice finish to the meal.

A weekend visit to Gatesville included a stop at Andy’s Restaurant. This is a very popular place with lots of cars in the parking lot. Their salad bar was the highlight of this adventure. A freezer stocked with chilled plates stood at the beginning of a well-stocked assortment of lettuces and veggies. Additional pre-made salads included a tasty krab salad and an interesting southwestern salad that had hominy. The lack of any blue cheese dressing was the only real omission.

Unfortunately, things went downhill after the salad. All of the vegetable choices looked canned or frozen and the meat selections I sampled were below average. The lemon pepper grilled fish should have been good but too much spice and to much heat made it tasty salty and dry. Chicken fried steak had a nice crust but the thin slice of steak was dry and chewy. Brisket and sausage were below par and served with a too sweet commercial sauce. Andy’s also offers a breakfast buffet that is rumored to be their best offering.

Of these three choices, Parks is still the best value. Raymond’s has some good options and I did like the atmosphere. I can’t recommend a trip to Andy’s.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Patty Meltdown

Backyard Burgers has closed their second location in Central Texas Marketplace. The original location in the little wedge of land where Valley Mills and Bosque meet closed quite a few months ago. That was probably a better location that TCM but there was very little competition in the Marketplace.

Backyard Burgers never cracked my top five burger list and failed in spite of numerous ads and coupons over the last several months. While this was not a big loss, it does demonstrate that many marginal restaurants are on the edge of survival.

The news that Chuy's will locate across Highway 6 in Legend's Crossing is exciting news for the Waco foodscene. Chuy's is an Austin legend with outposts in Dallas and Roundrock. They will be crowded from day one and will give Don Carlos some competition as the best Mexican food in Waco. They are known for their annual Green Chile Festival.

As a follow up to my January Post, a second location of Zeb's will open on Hewitt Dr. in the next few days. This is a great addition to my neighborhood and probably a shorter drive for many customers.

I continue to be amazed at the popularity of Waco's Red Lobster franchise. It is poorly managed and offers average seafood. In a recent experience there, we were told a 30 minute wait at 9:00 PM. with 4 empty prepared tables in view and 4 more tables empty but not bused. I glanced at the list and saw only 4 names ahead our ours. This is typical of this location.

It seems unlikey (in this economy) that we will ever get the competition (Joe's, Rockfish, Pappadeaux's) needed to force them to improve. Why worry about service and quality when you are packed?