Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet

1950 E. Kearney St.
Springfield, Mo.

We rushed down to Springfield on Saturday to celebrate an early Christmas with Angel’s parents and kids and of course, the babies. We stayed at her parent’s house where the festivities were to take place. In attendance was Angel’s daughter and her three kids, Angel’s son Tyler, his wife Tonya and their new baby. (Tyler designed the Eat and Critique logo used on this page.)
Also, Angel’s brother, along with his two daughters and the six kids they have between them. Yeah, me amongst a herd of sticky, screaming kids. It was a hoot. But I put my inner Grinch aside for the time, it was after all, mostly about them.
I hadn’t seen most of them in three or more years since Angel and I, because of the dog population can rarely go out of town together, or at the same time. This short weekend run  though was possible in large part by Diana, Angel’s part-time trainer, friend and up and coming photographer. We gave her a house key and a schedule.
Angel drove, she knew the way better than me.
The drive was pretty uneventful, traffic on I-44 was thick, but not too bad.
The town hadn’t changed that much, then again it had been so long since I was last there that it might have changed a lot and I just couldn’t recall what it used to look like. There were many parts of it though that looked completely familiar. It should, I lived there as long, nearly eighteen years, as I did in my original hometown in Kentucky.
The old houses and streets brought back many memories, some good, some sad. We didn’t have much time to sight-see though. We arrived at the folks’ house about an hour before everyone else started showing up.
Ham, baked beans, corn, chips. A pretty simple but delicious layout. I made a ham sandwich and was quite pleased with it. The kids ran around and yelled and played, the young parents were tired but in constant control. Tyler and Tonya’s baby stared at me through her little round, sticky and slobbery face and smiled.
Once the paper tearing and hollering ended, everyone went their separate ways and we sat with Angel’s folks until bedtime.
Sunday, noon, Angel’s kids and their gaggle of babies would meet up for a traditional lunch.
Traditional for a visit to Springfield that is, not for any particular holiday. Springfield Mo. Is home to some of the best (Americanized) Chinese food on this planet. You may not agree, but your argument is invalid.
The Place:
On Kearney Street across from the enormous Walmart complex. Back when I lived in town that complex was called the North Town Mall, or as the kids called it, the  'non-mall' due to its near constant and complete vacancies. I can’t recall more than a couple of stores open at a time. Then Walmart moved in anchoring it, and at some point grew like a vigorous cancer to consume the entire mall.
We parked and found the kids waiting in their cars. We rallied them together and invaded the restaurant. There were seven adults and four rug rats. The babies were all dressed up and cute as buttons.
I’d demanded a buffet. Apparently my favorite buffet in Springfield was no longer in business. We tasked the kids for picking a spot, with me adding how very disappointed I would be if they chose poorly.  No pressure.
     The eleven of us trod in and were greeted immediately. Overhead, Asian zither music played pleasingly twangy Asian music. The mostly Asian staff were wearing Santa hats, the dining area was about half full. They pushed three tables together and arranged the chairs quickly. We found seats, grouped by family, and gave our drink orders. Moms stayed behind as dads went through the line first, once they returned the moms got their turn. I sat across from the youngest grandbaby, the sweet, quiet, always smiling little girl I’ll call K. She’d been sick recently and still looked a little woozy.  The smile shined through though. I made the requisite faces and she cooed her approval. This visit was my first opportunity to see her in person though there was nothing unfamiliar about her, her doting and proud parents post a picture or three nearly every day it seems.
The Food:
The buffet area was enormous. There was a hibachi line where you could pick out ingredients, put them in a bowl and they would cook it for you. I considered it, but decided to go traditional buffet. The selection was huge.
They not only offered nearly every known (Americanized) Chinese dish, but also a wide variety of American food, pizza, chicken, macaroni, beef, etc. There would not be a person I have ever known that could not find plenty to eat.
I stuck with the usual, various chickens, rice, noodles, rangoons, stir-fry stuff. Angel’s plate wasn’t much different, but she added an egg roll. I don’t usually get egg rolls at a buffet since they are big and filling. I like a buffet so I can have a dozen or more different things in small portions.
Angel also tried some sushi and black bean clams,. Clams, very good, sushi, not so much. My own plate was quite pleasing, with no real disappointments. There were a few less than favorable comments, mostly about the octopus, too spicy, the pepper chicken too peppery, and the cashew chicken chunks and the chicken on a stick  was overcooked and dry.
The pot stickers received wide approval, the rice I had was good, it was just too yellow. There’s no need for it to be yellow in my mind, just not necessary. Whatever it is that makes it that color doesn’t really add anything to the taste.
K wore a lot of her food, small bits of chicken broken up for her along with some rice. She had a healthy appetite and ate nearly everything put in front of her. From the far end of the table the family, Angel’s daughter’s three kids were busy trashing the place. They ate and seemed to enjoy, but man they were messy. No messier than any other kids, but more than I am used to.
Angel’s granddaughter, a precocious eight year old, said the pudding tasted like an overcooked brownie, though she ate it all. Maybe she likes overcooked brownies. Later she added that she liked the crawdads. I did too. I had two plates, making sure to try the bananas and red sauce.
This Hibachi Grill is very much like the one we went to in St. Louis, the theme, the colors the layout, the size and offerings. Even the quality of food/service was very similar. I researched this and every indication is that this is not a franchise operation, each store is independently owned and operated.
It was certainly no the best Chinese buffet I’ve been to, but since it is a buffet and most of the food was well made and plenty in availability, it’s hard to complain too much. I asked a few folks near me if there was anything there that would bring them back, a thing that this place did better than other places. No. Tyler indicated that he loved the frog legs (blech) but other than that no, there was nothing special.
Springfield has scores of Asian restaurants, some of them are quite good, some of them are little better than fast food. It’s a ferocious market in that city, places open and close regularly. The places I recall as being quite good are all gone now, so I really can’t say which place I like better. I’m at the mercy of those that point us toward a joint. Still almost every place in Springfield is superior to just about any other place I’ve ever been. As absurd as it may seem, Springfield Mo. Is the Queen City of (Americanized) Chinese food.
The bill came to a jaw dropping $93, I relaxed a bit when I did the rudimentary math and realized we’d fed seven adults and four children, all they could eat, for that sum. Not bad at all really.
All in all its pretty good, a safe choice. Not the best in my mind, nor is it quaint like some of the re-purposed gas stations that often host these restaurants. Most of the food was pretty good, there was plenty of seating and it was clean and professionally and efficiently operated.
You’ll find something you like, and it will probably be good.

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