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Buffets: Walk In, Waddle Out

Feb 11 2014

by kim holloway

Buffet restaurants in the South are like Starbucks here in Seattle: you can’t throw a fork without hitting one. Don’t go throwing your fork though, you’ll be needing it. In the interest of health codes and common decency, one uses a clean plate for each trip to the food troughs. But you’re sometimes expected to carry on eating with the same silverware. I’m of the opinion that dessert ALWAYS calls for a new utensil. So I’d recommend holding out for one. Unless you enjoy gravy-flavored bread pudding or whatever.

What sort of Southern restaurants have buffets? That depends. What kind you got? Chinese, Italian, Mexican, BBQ, seafood, landfood…Or stop by your nearest casino for all of the above. Unless you’re the sort who prefers quality AND quantity.

While you’ll find most any cuisine presented buffet style, most Southerners are partial to one particular variety. Can you guess? It starts with an S, ends with an N, and has OTHER in between.

Imagine showing up at your grandmother’s house and finding the dining table covered with everybody’s favorites: Fried chicken for Uncle Joe, pork chops for your dad, baby back ribs for you, maybe some fried catfish for Bubba. Mashed potatoes swimming in butter, peas or lima beans seasoned with pig, a mess of fried okra. Rolls or cornbread, whichever you like. She’s even got some salad fixin’s off to the side, but hardly anybody ventures toward them. She offers you a glass of sweet tea and a plate. Oh and she reminds you to save room for banana pudding, warm peach cobbler, or a giant slab of red velvet cake. When you’ve eaten all you can or care to, just waddle on out of the dining room and let Grandma clean up after you.

That’s sort of what a good Southern buffet is like. Except in this scenario, Grandma asks you to cough up somewhere between 10 and 20 bucks. But on the plus side, you get to select your own lunch companions. Did I mention that some of the best Southern buffets are only open for lunch? Well, I reckon Grandma’s been working since dawn to prepare this feast for you. She’s tired. Would it kill you to make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for supper?

I’ve been to a couple of the better-known Southern buffet joints in the past year, Paula Deen’s Lady & Sons in Savannah and Two Sister’s in Jackson. They ranged from good to really good, but I have to say Mama Hamil’s in Madison, MS, has them both beat. Two words: Fried okra. I think Mama Hamil fries hers in crack. Besides which, Mama’s meal will set you back less than 10 bucks, not including tip. (Note: Include tip!)

Sometimes buffet restaurants will let you load up a to-go container, in case you want to enjoy your feast elsewhere. But you’re limited to whatever fits in the box. So depending on how much you care to eat, this might not be advisable.

However, this is most often the one and only way to leave a buffet with food in your hand. If there’s any food left on your plate, that’s where it stays. You can’t take it with you. And if you didn’t save room for dessert, too bad. I repeat, you can’t take it with you.

This strict policy may seem A. wasteful and B. not very nice. But consider the alternative universe where all the patrons leave with “left over” slabs of ribs and fried chicken. It’s a slippery slope toward bankruptcy land.

What’s your favorite buffet restaurant? And do you ever visit the salad bar?

Stop by for a visit and discuss all manner of Dixie delicacies and doo dads at Stuff Southern People Like.

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