It’s very rare that we eat at buffets. The quality of buffet food, in
nearly all cases, is degraded by the bulk effect. Yet, with buffets come
choices, flexibility, a hot-n-ready preparedness that means no waiting.
Last night we were out and about gathering up new cleats and shin guards for
Ph.’s approaching soccer season (pre-season starts tomorrow). We stopped
off at Old Country Buffet for dinner. The food was exactly the same as it
is at every Old Country Buffet. It triggered a few memories.
I haven’t eaten at an Old Country Buffet or any buffet for that matter since
we moved to New York in 2004. I might be wrong about this; I can’t
remember if I had lunch with my aunt and uncle at a Ponderosa last summer.
Seems so. Seems like it was a buffet. Seems like I suffered mightily
for the entire drive home from Cooperstown to Syracuse. Might-ily, might-ily.
In Kansas City it was somewhat more common for us to go to an all-you-can eat
joint. One Chinese restaurant near where we lived had a nice set of
options, and the buffet there was affordable. Made as much sense, I mean,
to go with the buffet rather than ordering an entree. And the river boat
casinos in KC, like most casinos I’ve been in, go overboard with their buffets.
Even there, we ate at them occasionally–when family was visiting (usually
because nobody can agree on what would be a decent meal).
I remember that we went to buffets sometimes when I was a kid. I was
trained early on that the point of a buffet is to get one over on the unwitting
restaurant management by cramming your pie-hole with the most rare and valuable
foods. Do not eat the insta-mix mashed potatoes (valued at .003 dollars
per unit measure) but instead eat breaded shrimp (.179 per unit measure).
That’ll show them! We’ll get our money’s worth. Also, eat enough for
the next day. And the next day after that if you can stomach it.
Buffet-eating is a science; it must be executed flawlessly so that not one cent
of the $9.95 would be spent in vain. This also meant no pop (we called ‘soda’
pop in Mich.) and no starches. Even when it was the Arthur Treacher’s Friday
night all-you-can eat fish buffet, it was better if we munched whitefish fillet
after whitefish fillet rather than fries and hush puppies.
In college, conference schools were located on the east side of Missouri and
in southern Illinois. During any given basketball season, we’d drive the
I-70 corridor as many as six or seven times for our away games at Harris-Stowe,
Missouri Baptist, Lindenwood, or Columbia College. From Kansas City, St.
Louis is a four hour drive by bus. And because buffets offer choices,
flexibility, a hot-n-ready preparedness, we would stop, on most road trips, at
the same Old Country Buffet somewhere around O’Fallon or St. Charles. Same
spot, year after year. Same buffet spread–the same, in fact, as we saw
last night here in Syracuse.
When I was a freshman, I didn’t see consistent minutes, but neither could I
predict when one of the bigs ahead of me would get into foul trouble, so I had
to prepare as if. Well, in one of those first trips to St. Louis–a trip
to play at Mo. Baptist–we stopped at the Old Country buffet. I sat at a
table with "Oozy" a senior who got his nickname because he shot wildly and
unrestrainedly without a care for how many he’d taken. We were running a
bit late for the game, and I mentioned to Oozy that I would not be stuffing myself
in case I saw some court time later that night. He laughed at me, reminded
me how good MBC was that year, and told me I was foolish if I left the Old
Country anything short of full. Made sense.
So I had two or three plates of bread pudding.
Well, of course, the story would have it that our starting center picked up
three fouls in the first five minutes of action. I played that night, played
more than I had in any other game up to that point in the season. And I did it while feeling
so desperately full and nauseous that I couldn’t wait for it to end (the stomach
pain, not the game). Buffets would never be the same for me after that.
And now, nearly 15 years later, I can’t walk into a buffet without retelling the
story about Oozy and the wrongheaded advice he gave me at the Old Country Buffet
just outside of St. Louis.