Randi Kreiss

All you can eat? Amid a tenacious virus, not so much.

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If there’s one thing that is quintessentially American, it’s the all-you-can-eat, stuff-yourself-till-you-die buffet. Now, as the Delta variant spreads, shutting down buffet venues across the country, many folks are missing the opportunity for unrestrained gorging, which is a kind of sport coast to coast.

This is a small grievance, to be sure, considering the misery that Covid has wrought, but it’s one of the pandemic lifestyle changes that bite. Like not being able to see your doctor in person or having to move your book group online or canceling your plans to see friends or family. With Covid unbound, we have to carefully consider whether to dine out, unless it is a well-spaced outdoor setting.

Dozens of buffet restaurants have gone belly up, and the rest are struggling to create safer dining opportunities. Not that buffets have ever been the healthy go-to choice for a meal. The basic idea is that you can abandon any reasonable eating habits you may have acquired and just shovel in as much food as you want to without anyone saying “enough.” In fact, some folks have taken to competing at a few of the big buffet emporia to see if they can get kicked out for eating too much. No such thing. You. Cannot. Eat. Too. Much.

No one wants to be reminded that there has always been a direct path from the buffet line to the IV line in the E.R. We Americans want our super-sized meals, damn the glucose and cholesterol readings. If you dine out at a traditional restaurant, it gets awkward to order three desserts, but a buffet makes it not only possible but easy.

Now, with Covid, buffet restaurants are struggling to survive, except in the South, where Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee vie for the best attendance award. There is guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Avoid offering any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars and drink stations. This limits the use of shared serving utensils, handles, buttons or touch screens and helps customers to stay seated and at least 6 feet apart from people who do not live in their household.”

Right.

In Florida, where masks are a sign of weak-minded liberalism, many buffets are still in business. Oh sure, there may be a server behind the dessert bar, helping you to the pie, but you’re jammed in with a million other unmasked people.

Historically, Las Vegas has always offered the biggest, cheapest buffets. If you were willing to leave your life savings at the roulette table, the hotel was willing to feed you into a coma. The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace was the ultimate food experience for thousands of tourists. According to a review, it served more than 3,000 people a day across nine stations, featuring hundreds of items including nigiri sushi, dim sum, rotisserie chicken, 12-hour roasted American wagyu, paella, lobster bisque, snow crab legs, chicken and waffles, gnocchi, pizza, deviled eggs, pho, miso soup, Penang curry, cheeseburger sliders, soba noodles, poke, foie gras PB&J, oysters on the half-shell, shrimp and grits, pozole, tofu, General Tso’s chicken, avocado toast, peppercorn-crusted prime rib and more.

According to its website, Caesar’s has reopened its buffet after making renovations and (one would hope) installing safety measures to avoid serving up a super-spreader for dessert.

I don’t want to come off as a buffet snob. I’ve put in my time at the bacon station at many breakfast buffets. On the road, a cheap hotel buffet was an acceptable choice. You could always find something to eat.

Here on Long Island, private tennis, golf and social clubs drew new members to their opulent buffets. I loved being a guest at these places, which offered delicious food and the all-you-can-eat ethos, although with more savoir faire than a Golden Corral.

Buffets have been so abundant and ubiquitous that people learned to brainstorm the most effective methods of getting the best choices of expensive cuts of meat and seafood without wasting stomach space on the dinner rolls. My own son-in-law nailed down the tactical approach to buffets years ago: Eat protein first. Don’t bulk up on salad. Go to the lobster and the shrimp and hold off on the carbs. No one ever made any profit on his buffet dinners.

Now most buffets are the stuff of nostalgia. My most memorable one was a lunch for President Ronald Reagan when he and Nancy visited Temple Ohr Torah in North Woodmere. The centerpiece was a bust of the president, done in chopped liver. 

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.

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