Sunday, August 19, 2007

All You Can Eat

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. buffet.jpgLast 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.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 19, 2007 4:35 PM to Gobstuff

Great story. I adore Old Country Buffet myself; I have a friend in Minneapolis who used to meet me at the OCB in Roseville, and we (especially I) would gorge.

Posted by: Clancy at August 19, 2007 7:37 PM

I remember liking it a whole lot more when I was younger and could put away three or four platefuls along with desert. But nowadays I can't (and don't need to) eat as much. Ph. likes it, and it's not bad for Is., either, because she can sample from a few different things and we can get a better feel for what she might like that we'd never make at home.

Posted by: Derek at August 19, 2007 8:30 PM