Phoenix, AZ Restaurant Reviews- Buffets
Groaning Board- Hometown Buffet
Long before I heard the slang Scandinavian term for smorgasbord; I discovered the now defunct King’s Table Buffet in Scottsdale, AZ. This was in the mid-1970’s and I was poor; okay, poorer. My friends and I would dine there sometimes twice a week.
There was all-you-could-drink soda and the beautifully roasted pink roast beef, au jus, in addition to standard fare mashed potatoes, corn, carrots, or that gourmet blend of- that- decade mixed vegetables. Chicken, fish, meatloaf and salads and of course that jiggly specialty of every good garde-manger Jell-O molds.
Thursday last, found me lounging on the couch after a grueling day of writing, on a rare but wonderful, cool, rainy October evening. At 54 degrees it was downright icicle-ville.
As I lay there, partially comatose; thoughts of dinner crossed my mind. Shall I brave the storm and pick up a steak at the supermarket or risk yet another Pizza meal? I checked the fridge and nothing seemed appetizing or thawed. I was in a mood for salad. I was imagining a salad of mixed greens, bathed in bleu-cheese dressing, and topped with garbanzos, parmesan, peas, red onion, a twist or two of black pepper and a crouton or two. It didn’t make much sense to me to run to the store for a seven or eight item shopping trip.
I mentally ran through all of the places that I could get just a good salad, built to my specifications. Many of the grocery stores have salad bars but most of these are priced by the pound. I like the heavy-weight salad goodies, so being miserly, I shifted gears. Soup would go well on a chilly rainy night, but I just could not get that bleu cheese salad out of my head.
Where is a Sizzler when you need one?
Just soup, salad and possibly bread had to be cheap, but alas, all of those I could recall were miles away, and I did not want to be upsold to the fake-steak and shrimp- tail platter by an overzealous cashier trying to make lieutenant.
As usual, I simply drove aimlessly around the neighborhood. I saw a Super-China Buffet at 7th Street and Missouri, but my last visit there two months ago was deplorable. This only served to fixate soup in my brain. I continued on my journey of discovery, taking random turns, when appropriate. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do!
As I pulled onto Camelback Rd., I came upon the Uptown Mall, prior home of the French Corner, now the Eggery. In the distance I saw the Applebee’s where the old Lunt Avenue Marble Club had once stood. That damnable Chili’s Baby Back Rib song popped into my head and in my famished stupor, I equated Applebee’s with Chili’s same restaurant different name.
I then spied A.J.’s Fine (expensive) Foods and thought about getting a take-out salad from their bar, but I missed the Powerball by six numbers last week and I had no firearm. Confused and agitated, I slammed her into reverse and did a modified J-turn donut, in the wet parking lot; a move that would make even the most finicky CIA wheelman proud.
As I popped the clutch and came to an abrupt stop, I noticed that I was right next to Sweet Tomatoes, the soup and salad bar restaurant or some such marketing rot. Eureka! As luck would have it, I could get a salad and soup. I parked and walked toward the double-doors.
A young lady in a green apron opened the doors for me and I looked around; there was signage everywhere but none that clearly stated the routine. I saw a sign that read: $8:99. I asked the woman how this worked. She explained that the buffet was $8.99 and was all-you-could-eat. I asked if the beverage was included. “No.” okay, even with my poor math skills, this added up to a $12.00 salad with tip.
I grabbed a plastic cafeteria-style tray and set it on the stainless steel runners on the counter surrounding the salad fixin’s. I saw two vats of what looked like gravy, but saw nothing that it might go with. I walked past the now prevalent pre-mixed wilty Caesar salad positioned next to a large bowl of iceberg lettuce and an ice pan filled with tiny plastic containers of grilled chicken that were an extra charge.
As I shuffled along, I realized that this could have been my high school cafeteria at The Holy Cross Abbey; some of this stuff looked like it was that old. I turned on my heels and left my tray on the counter and apologized to the young woman, telling her, “Thank you, but this is not what I was expecting.”
I walked to the buggy and pulled out onto Camelback, into the rain-soaked night, when the urge for comfort-food overtook me, it was a clawing need.
I flashed on the Hometown Buffet on Bethany Home road by the Spectrum mall; previously Christown. I had overheard a trusted co-worker elaborating that she had recently lunched there and was quite pleased. I pressed forth, imagining a dining experience from the past. I had planned to have a leisurely meal, just me, the food, the paper and reading glasses.
I walked to the entrance with the paper under my arm. As I approached the cashier, I saw a sign that read: Please pre-pay. I stopped and was greeted by a friendly woman who asked how I was doing.
I asked her, “How does this work?” She said, you pay $8.99 and stay as long as you like.” Yes, finally simplicity. As I reached for my wallet, she asked, “Is that a New Times under your arm?"
“Yes”, I replied, as she made frantic hand gestures that relayed, “Give it up!”
I obediently handed it over unsure of what was next. She thumbed through five or six pages and withdrew scissors and began clipping at my paper! She must have noticed my incredulous look and slapped the square of clipped paper on the counter, “ There! "You now have a 20% off coupon!”
“Great”. I paid and took my receipt for $7.77. The woman continued, “Help yourself, please place this ticket face-up on your table while dining,” she said, handing me a yellow chit of paper with a 1 circled and the time, 7:46 and the date 10/21. She further explained, “If you would be good enough to turn it face down when you are finished dining we would appreciate it” This to let them know it was okay to take the plates. Great, no need to guard my food from crazed Guatemalan busboys!
I noticed a sign at the entrance showing a smiling cartoon character in front of a plate of fully-gnawed rib bones, advertising that BBQ Beef Ribs were on the bill of fare, this night.
I entered and saw many families and a few elderly couples and a number of single male diners, like me; only they looked to be college age. The friendly cashier further explained that there were plates, silverware and napkins handily situated by each food station. I then asked, “ Are the beverages included?” “Yes”
I made my way to the salad bar first. Here again the pre-tossed Caesar next to a bowl of iceberg. I took a little of each and carefully built the salad I had searched for. Still wandering, I saw two hot soups, ( Hearty Vegetable Beef) and (Chicken Noodle) dinner rolls, a roast beef carving station, fresh vegetables, corn cobbettes, fried and baked fish, Smoked sausage and sauerkraut and the barbecued beef ribs.
I found a table and drew an iced tea, (no lemon in sight) and settled into my salad while reading the paper. There was a costumed character pacing the room on the other side of the dining area. It was a large Chipmunk or some-such rat-like creature there to amuse the many children. I wondered if he was moonlighting from Chuck E. Cheese. There were two young men making balloon animals.
Labor was very tight here, which was fine, I enjoyed the lack of interruption. Three employees made the rounds of the room bussing dishes and doing general clean-up and buffet restocking. It was cozy inside and the warm lighting reminded me of a diner in Window Rock that I had come across at 3:00 a.m. on a cold Northern Arizona trip from Colorado.
After finishing my salad, I walked to the carving station and the chef set two lovely pieces of Roast beef on my plate. Next to the carving stations were the barbecued beef ribs. I placed one on my plate and also snagged a piece of fried chicken. With little room left on my nine or so inch plate, I opted for a small pile of whipped potatoes and even napped them with a bit of the brown gravy that was next to white gravy.
There were pans of fried and baked fish and barbecued chicken in addition to pans of fried stuff the size of very large olives. I did not try these. There were pans of macaroni-cheese, pasta and tomato sauce, which I also did not sample.
I retook my table and began using the knife and fork on the BBQ rib, it was estimable, meaty and fall-off-the-bone tender; I was surprised, I had encountered these at the Chinese buffet and they were dry, parched, tough and rather horrid. The roast beef was tender and very tasty, bathed in the slightly salty flavorful brown gravy we all grew up on, during the last millennium. I enjoyed another serving of roast beef, potatoes and gravy this my comfort-food fix.
During another stroll, I noticed foil-wrapped baked potatoes and chili with cheese, butter and sour cream for toppings. I noticed that during my brief forty-five minute visit, new entrees appeared ex nihilo.
Now, experiencing first-hand the reason for the phrase groaning board, I sat back and watched families dining together at long tables and noticed that the noise level was remarkably low for the size and age of the crowd. This must be a great deal for the family with four or five kids. I did not notice the price for children but they did offer a senior discount.
I sauntered past the dessert bar which offered chocolate and vanilla soft-serve with bowls or cones and cookies, brownies, cakes and assorted cobblers. I saw a pan of bread pudding and took a small sample still basking in comfort-food glow. A piping hot cup of coffee went perfectly with the sweet,warm bread and raisin mixture, cloaked in a cinnamon infused white sauce.
It was now 8:30p.m.. Suddenly I heard, “Good evening this is the manager, I am closing now, so please enjoy the buffet for fifteen more minutes.” The few employees were already picking up rubber mats and stacking up salad bar items. I relaxed and sipped my coffee, watching patrons approach the buffet for their last few bites.
It was still raining lightly outside when I left. All in all this was a relaxing effortless, quiet dining experience, reminiscent of my past. I was expecting to see a lot of fat people but did not. There was one memorable gent in a T-shirt with “Big Dog” emblazoned across the back. It could have doubled as a car cover but the young football player- type looked quite content.
Actually with coupon, the $7.77 price is quite a good deal. Obviously it is not a place to take a first date or business associate but for good old fashioned comfort-food, it is tasty, economical and effortless.
On the back of a small fold-up take-along menu; Hometown lists locations in Arizona (8),Colorado (2), New Mexico (2), Utah (3) and Wyoming (3). Signs posted inside also advertise private rooms for parties or business or church meetings. This might be a low-cost alternative for groups whose budget will not weather a hotel’s menu pricing and room charges.