Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Golden Corral

6110 S Lindbergh Blvd
Saint Louis, MO 63123

 We had to head up to Webster Groves to pick up some dogs. Since we were going to be in the burbs anyhow we thought we'd compare One American style buffet to another. A few weeks ago we ate at Ryan's in Festus and had very little nice to say about it. Well, someone at Ryan's corporate office must have read that review, or maybe there were business reasons that have nothing to do at all with my lackluster remarks, but last week They closed the Ryan's in Festus as well as the one further south in Farmington. No reason was actually given in the newspaper account we saw.
So off we headed to the outer rim of St. Louis, on South Lindbergh near the big mall. This area is a big deal for shoppers. All the big box stores are there alongside the mall and that is surrounded by dozens of car lots. There are many restaurants nearby as well. This particular Golden Corral is enormous. It is also always busy. We've passed it up in the past due to the line of people waiting to get in. Angel said we had plenty of time to wait. I almost doubted her though as right ahead of us a school bus was spitting out teenagers by the dozens. I noticed the bus was from Madison County Kentucky.
Cool, I thought, I'm from Kentucky too! Of course Kentucky has one hundred and twenty counties, many of them I have no idea where are without a map. This was one of those.
Kentucky is diverse, there are in my mind at least three completely distinct and identifiable regions, as different from each other as can be in a single state. There's the Appalachian region in the east, this is where Kentucky's hillbillies and feuding families are and where everyone seems to think of when I tell them I'm from the commonwealth. I'm not from there. Then there's the Lexington/Louisville/Frankfort/Covington (South Cincinnati) region which is also where all of the horse activity is, the bluegrass area in the northern and central part of the hump. I'm not from there either.
Then there's the unheard-of nether regions, well south and west of the mountains and coal mines, way southwest of the urban areas and pristine horse ranches. The skinnier western part of Kentucky is famous for pretty much nothing. That is where I'm from, Trigg County. Madison County is up near Lexington. This means I actually know very little about it. Growing up where I did, Louisville/Lexington were several hours away, whereas Nashville was a little over an hour to the south. Most of our big city needs were managed down there rather than to the distant northeast. I only recall going to Louisville a couple of times, and Lexington once or twice in  my whole childhood. Our TV was from Nashville, the big hospitals were there as well.
Madison County, as it turns out is the county where Daniel Boone built his famous fort/town. I'd never been there. In southern Madison county, near Berea, is a community called Farristown. This is where the busload of kids was from, here for an an archery competition. (I asked one of the weary chaperones). They'd not heard of Trigg County either.
The Place:
We were in line behind them. All of them. They were easy to pick out, all wearing gray event tee shirts. None of them looked anything like Katniss Everdeen, but they weren't toothless, banjo-pickin' hillbillies either.
We indeed waited but not for as long as I feared we might. Golden Corral operates like a bustling, well oiled assembly line. The front staff carried two-way radios and were constantly checking and clearing the tables as people left.
You order your drinks and pay at the front. Then soon thereafter a floor person ushers you to a table about a quarter mile away. No need to sit first, just  set the drinks down and start the carnage.
The Food:
My first round.
The variety at the Corral is spectacular.  Pizza, pasta, steak, a dozen varieties of chicken and beef, fried roasted, spicy, southern-style. There is a soup bar, a salad bar, a Chinese section, and Italian section, a 'bakery' and a dessert bar that includes a chocolate fountain.
I was timid at first, taking very small portions of just a few things since I was looking forward to what might pop up around the corner. The first plate at this place should be a scouting mission as much as a main course.
Angel's protein plate
I sampled some sesame chicken, meatloaf, green bean casserole, mac and cheese, black eyed peas and a fist sized roll. If you look at it the roll looks enormous, it was, but it was very light and fluffy, mostly air. It probably contained no more actual bread than a regular slice of bread. I added a couple of tablespoons of mashed potatoes and a little gravy. Angel and Adam had beaten me to the table. Angel had about thirty kinds of chicken, mostly wings. She was in the mood for meat, that happens occasionally. Adam had chicken, of course and a huge pile of mashed potatoes. He also got one of the warm, fluffy rolls.
Adam's chicken and taters.
 I was quite impressed, everything was pretty good. It all seemed fresh and well prepared. There were no actual disappointments on my plate. I'm not a huge green bean casserole guy, but this stuff was actually pretty good. The taters were fluffy and not over-salted. The meat loaf was cooked perfectly, with just enough caramelized red sauce (ketchup) to taste pretty authentic. The mac and cheese tasted like name-brand mac and cheese, the sauce thick and creamy.
 I was taking longer so the other two got up after a while, uttering nothing but good things about their meals. Angel noted that she liked the casserole as well.
Angel's seafood round.
Her second round was seafood themed. Fried fish and chowder and something called 'okra' which looked and smelled like a slimy mollusk or mussel of some kind, though she insisted it was a vegetable. Sure, whatever.
Adam came back with more chicken, something he was quite happy with. 'Bourbon Chicken' he called it. Angel said she'd liked it as well.
My second round included chili. They had a big steaming, meaty pot of it at the soup bar. I found a bowl and spoon and ladled in just a little bit. I was almost full and didn't want to waste a lot, I just wanted to taste it. I spotted some cheesy garlic biscuits, the bourbon chicken, a small fried chicken leg and apple pie. Just a little of each.
The chili was quite good, a little sweeter than Wendy's but otherwise quite similar. I like Wendy's chili a lot.
My eclectic second (last) round.
The pie was pretty good, but not awesome. The bourbon chicken was smoky and lightly sweet. I agreed with Adam and Angel, pretty darn good. The roll was similar to Red Lobster's but maybe a little heavier. All of the food was quite satisfying. The only disappointment around the table was that the lady guarding the chocolate fountain would not let Angel dunk her gummy bears. We don't know why, it's apparently just some sort of arbitrary fascist policy.
I started this week's review by saying it would be a comparison of the now-closed Ryan's to this place. Though they offered similar fare, there was hardly a comparison other than that. The Corral had more variety and all of the food was prepared just a little better. Often at Ryan's there were throw-always, things that looked good but didn't quite measure up. I had essentially the same food at the Corral that I'd recently had at Ryan's. The winner was clear, it wasn't even close. We paid almost exactly the same, just under forty five dollars, but the quality difference was night and day. Adam spoke highly of the quality and variety as well, that says a lot. I won't miss Ryan's much, the Corral is a slightly longer drive, but not prohibitively so. The archers of Farristown seemed pleased as well, they were still lining up for seconds and thirds as we left.

 Golden Corral Restaurant and Buffet on Urbanspoon

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