Smith Says

  • Tuesday, May 1, 2012

All-you-can-eat buffets
The late actress Rosalind Russell was famous for this line: Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.
Obviously, she never saw me tackle an all-you-can-eat buffet. I like to eat. I especially like to eat vegetables. At a country buffet in North Carolina recently, I gorged on beans, slaw and olive salad. (I know, olives dont scream down home to me either, but it was good.)
There seem to be two types of people: Those who eat buffets, and those who dont. Ive known folks whod go hungry if the only option was a buffet. The father of my oldest friend is in the no buffet camp. Hed eat his own belt before cruising steam tables with a plastic plate. On a cross-country trip, he drove his family through three states before finding a non-buffet restaurant somewhere in Central Florida. By that point the clan was screaming and flinging Fritos at his head.
(This is the same man who almost fainted when I made a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in his kitchen and used the same knife to spread both PB & J. His exact words were, Good God, Julia! Dont do that! before he swooned into a chair. My friend explained that Pop had a few food issues. He also never learned my name.)
Years ago I found myself famished in Twin Falls, Idaho. I asked a woman in a hardware store (I needed a screwdriver--long story) to recommend a good restaurant within a mile. (I was also out of gas.) Without looking up, she said, Arent any. Just buffets.
I try to avoid chain restaurants when possible, but beggars cant be choosers: I ate at a Golden Corral, and it was fine. (It did seem like a safer bet than the Mexican free-for-all down the street.)
Buffets seem to be most popular in the Southeast, and we have it all: Barbecue pork, fried fish, Brunswick stew, fried chicken, baked chicken, collards, corn, lima beans, baked beans, cornbread and, of course, banana pudding and bottomless sweet tea. We Southerners cant bear the idea that someone might leave hungry.
Ive been to Amish buffets in Pennsylvania and seafood buffets in Monterey, but never found one buffet in all of Montana. Oddly, every restaurant I entered in that landlocked state offered fried salmon, which tasted a lot like South Carolina catfish. In Wyoming I ate at a steak buffet, back when I ate steak. In Minnesota theyre called smorgasbords, but Ive never been to Minnesota so I dont know whats on them.
Usually I prefer ordering from a menu and having my meal served, if only because it keeps me from eating until I black out. I dont go to breakfast buffets any more, though. On my last foray, at a national chain, scrambled eggs were scattered from the sausage links to the stewed apples. The grits had chunks of French toast in them. Then a little boy grabbed two fistfuls of bacon from the pan and screamed (appropriately), HAWG!! I had toast and coffee, and that was the end of breakfast buffets for me.
The only time Im truly uncomfortable is at a Japanese hibachi steakhouse, and its not because of flying knives. Its because I can never eat all my chicken, rice and veggies, and have to ask for a doggie bag. Then I have to sit there with my stuffed tummy, smelling fresh food sizzling all around me. It makes me a little dizzy.
Almost like a swoon.
Julie R. Smith, who really likes K&W Cafeteria on a Sunday afternoon, can be reached at


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