That Food Guy
Golden Corral, Largo, Florida
Golden Corral - 10050 Ulmerton Rd, Largo Florida (727) 501-0885
Over the years I have tried the food at several Golden Corrals including Chubbuck, Idaho, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and most recently at St Petersburg, Florida. Once inside any of them and one quickly realizes they are all essentially the same – with very few exceptions. They are, in their own words, “an endless buffet” of cafeteria food. We will judge them accordingly.
In most things we are a left to right, top to bottom society. We read in that way, we stock our shelves that way and arrange the work on our desk almost subconsciously in the same manner. Curiously, the food lines at the Golden Corral start on the right with the salad bar on the right and the dessert section on the far left. It is of no actual importance but I have always wondered why…
I have been to this particular Golden Corral in St Petersburg (actually, Largo, Florida) many times. It was a favorite of my late father-in-law, Sonny, and several of his cronies. Recently one of his old friends, Bob Malory, called to catch up on recent activities. A dinner date was set and we were going to the Golden Corral. Perhaps Sonny would tag along in spirit.
I am not a gourmet in the sense that I don’t have one single set of absolute standards by which I judge all foods. Rather I have a more flexible style where I judge the food by what is expected, as with Golden Corral I will compare it to, as I noted, to cafeteria foods. I would probably be uncomfortable in a true, group gourmet setting, nit-picking the food and demanding the chef shave only the freshest truffles over my food. I have, on an occasion, attended a company holiday dinner that was given at a local gourmet bistro. The entirety of the restaurant was taken over for the event. The menu was abbreviated to accommodate feeding all the guests at once. I chose the médaillons de boeuf. They were nice, circular cuts of beef presumably from the tenderloin. Sliced thin they were cooked through and drizzled with a bit of sauce, possibly a pan reduction. It was a long time ago and I think I remember a bit of mashed potato, a swirl made with an icing tip, slathered in butter and toasted with a torch. A bit of green fluffy something or other finished off the plate. It was a very pretty presentation. What there was of it was very good, but there were no seconds offered. So, after a taste of a meal, when the party was over, I had to stop at a drive-thru on the way home to get a burger and fries to molify my hunger.
More properly, I suppose you could really call me a gourmand, a person who likes to eat a lot of good food. As a very active young man lots of food was not a problem. In later years I can’t burn it off as fast and the “lots of food” has caught up to me. I the last few years it has been a lot less food but always remembering the big feeds of the past. It has made me realize that inside every gourmand there is a trencherman waiting to get out. On the night of our visit to Golden Corral, I decided to set my trencherman free.
On this day, as is my wont, I started out down by the salad bar. Usually I have a large plate of salad. I like a busy salad, filled with all kinds of delightful crispy and tasty things. Of all the Golden Corrals I have visited, they all provide an excellent salad bar. There are a variety of lettuces as a base, and then it gets interesting. There are bean sprouts, mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheeses, peas, bacon bits, hard boiled eggs, croutons, ham bits, bits of grilled chicken and beef, fresh fruits and melons (just all kinds of luscious and wonderful things) and the list goes on and on. As I say, usually I fill the first palae with salad, perhaps in anticipatory atonement for the pigging out later. I must admit that the healthful aspects of the piles of greens on my plate were somewhat offset by the slathering of dressing, usually either Ranch or 1000-Island, that I generously applied. On this day, on a whim, I walked past the salads…
My first stop was at the little alcove next to the red meat grill, it is where they have their developing ethnic food items. I could see fajita chicken and little fried tortilla bowls to make a salad. I like fajitas a lot and if there had been some soft tortillas for me to make a burrito instead of a salad I just might have indulged. Instead I went for the Chinese food. On my previous trip to Golden Corral, they also had Chinese food to offer which I did sample. My impression was that it was a learning experience in progress for the chefs in the back room. I thought I would give it another try. The offerings were fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour pork, and fried spring rolls. Over on the other side of the grill I found some breaded fried shrimp which I added to the plate.
The fried rice was bland, seasoned with a bit of soy sauce more for color tan taste, a few, and I mean few, kernels of corn and some green peas mixed in. It didn’t taste bad, it just didn’t have much of a taste at all. As an aside, I have been to a lot of the local Chinese take outs and even some sit-ins. What they offer as sweet and sour chicken they call New York style. I don’t know if New York appreciates the bum rap but it is not what I would call sweet and sour anything. Some breaded and fried chicken, nothing else and a bit of watery red sauce served alongside. Golden Corral, even though their product seriously needs improvement, is a quantum leap ahead of the New York style offered elsewhere.
On the plus side there was no shortage of meat; more than half the dish was the meat portion. There were vegetables and fruit as a good sweet and sour should have including peppers, onions and pineapple. On the negative side, it seemed the meat was pan fried (and a bit over cooked, tough and dry) rather than breaded and deep fried. The vegetable suffered the same fate being cooked to the point of softness and without a mouth feel or texture. The sauce was too mild and too thin. It didn’t have the sharp vinegar tang of the sour all soothed by sweetness. It didn’t cling to the meat and vegetables. It was just there on the plate without adding a lot of substance to the food. Again, it didn’t taste bad, it did have a bit of the oriental flavor but there is a great deal of room for improvement.
The spring rolls were a diminutive variety, about half the size you might expect of an egg roll. The filling was cabbage based I believe but with no distinct taste. The wrapper was fried to a nice golden crispness but the inside filling came up short giving an overall bland impression. A small saucer of chili sauce with a dab of Chinese hot mustard to dip the spring rolls would have helped immensely. Perhaps Golden Corral should take a hint from McDonalds and offer some dipping sauces like McDonalds does for chicken nuggets.
The fried shrimp were very good. However, they were spiced much like some chicken nuggets and their flavor almost overpowered the rest of the food on the plate. By themselves they would have been very good; nice large shrimp in a spicy breading fried to a nice crispy golden brown. It was not a good pairing with the Chinese good and that was my bad.
For my second plate I decided to continue with the theme concept and wandered about to see what I could find. The linguini caught my eye and I decided to go Italian. A nice helping of linguini and a ladle of the marinara sauce suited me just fine. Looking about, that was all there was to the Italian offerings, not even a crust of garlic bread. So, I added a few mushrooms from the red meat bar as well as some fried peppers and onions. The linguini was cooked just right, al dente, to the tooth. The sauce, based on crushed tomatoes, was little changed from when it came from the can in texture and taste. Some herbage had been added but I could not distinguish any oregano, basil, or any of the other popular Italian seasonings. It did not cling to the pasta. After I would wind a fork of linguini, all the sauce was still in the bottom of the plate. The mushrooms were a flavorful welcome adjunct to the linguini. They were cooked just right, a nice mouth feel without being rubbery. The peppers and onions were cooked just about right; a slight resistance to the bite but not crunchy like raw vegetables. They were an also welcome adjunct to the dish.
For my third sojourn I decided to go comfort food. Mashed potatoes and gravy supplemented with some more of those mushrooms, some steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, and a ground beef steak in gravy. I was quite surprised by the potatoes. I really can’t tell you if they were fresh mashed or from a mix. On the one hand I can’t believe Golden Corral makes their mashed potatoes from real, whole potatoes. That would be too labor intensive. Yet the potatoes I tasted didn’t have that mealy texture and flat taste that announces instant mashed potatoes. I have to rate the potatoes very high. The side of gravy was a nice dark brown, thick enough to coat the potatoes and only slowly seep downhill. It was not salty like you might expect from a gravy mix. The gravy on the ground beef steals was, however, just a bit salty. The almost perfectly round ground beef steak might be likened to a Salisbury steak but it was more akin to meatloaf in texture and taste. It had a good flavor. It cut with a fork but did not fall apart. The broccoli was steamed to tenderness and the cheese sauce had good flavor. If I had been told that I could have only one plate of food, knowing what I know
now, I would choose the mashed potatoes and gravy, ground meat steak and the broccoli and cheese sauce, albeit in a slightly larger serving.
Janis and Bob both braved the line at the red meat grill. Janis asked for medium rare and had a nice cut with a nicely pink middle and Maillard-browned surface with grill marks. She said it was just perfect and was large enough to satisfy her appetite. Bob asked for a thinner cut and he was served appropriately. He said it cut easily with the table knife service provided but was perhaps just a bit on the chewy side.
All in all, we ate to out satiation points, didn’t find any bad food and really enjoyed some of the others. It was good company in pleasant surroundings; a genuinely good night for all.
I have included at the end some pictures from previous visits to compare with this adventure.
Labels: all you can eat, buffet, Chinese, ethnic, Florida, Golden Corral, Italian
The Thirsty Marlin - Largo, Florida
The Thirsty Marlin Grill and Bar
351 West Bay Dr. Largo, FL 33770
727 586-3474 http://www.thirstymarlin.com/
My wife’s Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Effie wanted to take her out to lunch to celebrate her birthday. Her cousins Alan and Kila would also be attending making it a pleasant family affair. Gilbert and Effie had selected The Thirsty Marlin, a restaurant in Largo they have frequented before. We arrived at Gilbert and Effie’s place at the appointed time. Alan and Kila were already there. We sat in their sun room that overlooks Lake Seminole. We had a pleasant interlude of small talk, catching up on the doings of the family. We were able to tell of our new dog, Chena, and Alan and Kila told us about their new and spirited canine, Daisy. Smaller and lighter cars are helping the environment but for six people it meant that we had to caravan in two cars; neither Janis or Kila or Effie would agree to ride in the trunk. Perhaps on that day we were not so green.
The Thirsty Marlin is an anchor store for a low-rise mini-complex. There is some parking in the small lot behind the store but additional parking is available on the brick paved street in the rear. The interior lighting is dim. Actually, it is dim enough that reading the menu was a chore for these old eyes and if I had not brought my reading specs it would have been impossible. There is booth seating along the walls and table seating in the aisle between. It is close quarters for maximum occupancy. As a result, in consideration of my dining companions and neighbors, I did not take any interior photos that required a flash. A flash would have been overpowering in those circumstances. Instead I used the camera’s movie mode and later extracted stills from the film clip. I apologize ahead of time, the images are of poor quality, grainy and with some color shifts but they do help to illustrate the story.
We arrived during the last of the lunch hour rush. There wasn’t any wait and we were escorted to our seats, two tables joined together in the center aisle. The waiter was quick to arrive and take our beverage orders. At that point the conversation from all the surrounding diners was animated. However, over the course of our lunch the dining room was vacated in the end of the lunch rush and conversation became easy and low volume.
We were six diners but I only have to report on three selections. Effie and Kila ordered the Cheeseburger In Paradise (Half pound fresh ground beef char-grilled on our mesquite wood fired grill, placed on a toasted onion roll and topped with !00% real Kraft® American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion served hot with crispy French fries. Heinz 57® on the table. All sandwiches include chips, pickle, coleslaw and iced tea
) from the Working Lunches Section, $6.99. It is a big sandwich and with the French fries and side of coleslaw it makes for a filling meal. It appeared to prepared well and had a nice open face presentation.
Gilbert and Janis also ordered from the Working Lunches section, Shorty’s Jerk Pork Sandwich (Fresh, slow roasted hand pulled pork. Done jerk style with a sweet and spicy taste of the islands. Served on a toasted onion roll with red onion slices. All sandwiches include chips, pickle, coleslaw and iced tea
), also $6.99, $7.99 on the regular menu. The pork portion is large, more than adequate. I was able to sample the meat. Cooked tender, it has a nice sweet flavor with a slight tang as an aftertaste. Also, with the sides of French fries and coleslaw it makes a filling lunch. The two sandwiches, the cheeseburger and the pulled pork, are very tasty and filling meals at reasonable prices and helps to explain the lunch hour popularity of the Thirsty Marlin.
Alan and I ordered Thirsty’s Fish and Chips (Thirsty’s fresh catch, hand battered and deep fried until golden. Served with crispy fries and Bahamian dipping sauce.)
A version of the dish was on the specials board and was less than the menu price of $15.99. The fish was well prepared; the coating was crispy and golden, the fish tender and flaky and had a fresh clean flavor. It was about a 6-ounce whole white fish filet. On the plate was a ramekin of coleslaw. The cabbage was crisp, the sauce mild; a dash of pepper helped to liven the taste. The French fries, a large serving, are served in a separate basket. They are golden brown and crispy. A carrier with many sauces was provided. I tried several but found the house tartar sauce, mild with just a slight kick, to be just right for this dish. It was a more than adequate portion for lunch or dinner.
Our server was attentive even though he was very busy at the beginning with the near full house. We were seated quickly, our orders taken in short order and the food delivered in a reasonable time. The server was about refilling beverage glasses as needed. We all had a good time and we managed to linger a bit but as the noon crown had abated but we didn’t keep anyone else waiting at the door.
I did notice one item on the menu of interest, The Marlin Challenge – The Grand Slam Burger. (A two pound version of our famous and most popular Cheeseburger in Paradise, served with coleslaw and hot crispy fries. A true Big Bob challenge. Eat it all… including the side items and your next Grand Slam on your next visit is on Thirsty. Good Luck!!! No sharing allowed on this one. $12.99.)
Only two pounds…. Hmmmm. If I skip breakfast first I just might try this one on my next visit to The Thirsty Marlin.
Labels: cheeseburger, filet, fish and chips, jerk pork, Largo, marlin, onion roll, paradise, thirsty, Thirsty Marlin, white fish
Super Buffet - Seminole, Florida
Super Buffet – Seminole, Florida
11227 Park Blvd. North Seminole, Florida 33772
The wife’s and my birthday are quite close. In fact they are just separated by just one week by day and month although the years are quite a bit farther apart. It does make it easy for friends who like to take you out to eat on your birthday. It is sort of like getting two for the price of one.
As our birthdays for this year approached, family friend called us and asked to take us out to dinner. A date and time was set and all that remained was where.
We do what married couples do and refrain from voicing a preference to allow the other the choice. As the date grew closer Martha suggested a Chinese place she knew and liked. Neither of us knew about it so it would be a new and novel experience, a broadening of our horizons. Janis and I drove over to pick up Martha just as a Florida thunderstorm began to unleash its fury. By the time we arrived at Martha’s house the squall line was sending gusting winds and rippling waves of rain racing across the streets. After picking up Martha I was the last one back in the car and as a result became sopping wet from the rain. I hoped that would dry before reaching the restaurant.
The Super Buffet is but one store in the massive Seminole Mall. Except for the sign there is little to tell what lies within the particular storefront. By the time we pulled up in front of the restaurant, the rain had subsided to a light sprinkle. I was only half dry. We entered through double doors trimmed with brass. The foyer in subdued lighting features the cashier, the hostess and a decorative fountain. Off to the sides are two dining areas. In brighter lights ahead was the food service area. There were several serving bars featuring cold foods on ice and hot foods in steam trays. Just a note in passing, at most other restaurants of this type, self serve, all you can eat, customers pay first and then are seated. Here you are seated, you have your meal and you are presented the check. For the buffet, lunch (11:00AM to 3:30PM) is $7.39 per person. For dinner (3:30PM to 11:00PM) and all day on holidays the cost is $12.99 per person. There is a re
duced rate for seniors and children
We were seated in less than a minute. The waitress took our beverage orders and bid us to begin making our selections for dinner. One serving bar is labeled Italian. There are is eclectic mixture of dishes there including some that appear to be Italian inspired, even a small pepperoni pizza. However, I am afraid that much was lost in the translation. Other serving bars are labeled salad, seafood, Chinese, and dessert. Of note, not found in most other oriental buffets, there is at the end of the food service area a grill station for Mongolian barbecue. We started off together but wended our individual ways through the aisles between the food service bars.
I started down the Chinese/Oriental aisle. There were a few signs missing but most offerings are labeled. To sample as much as possible, I took a bit of as many items as my plate would hold.
There was teriyaki chicken, General Tso’s chicken, a mushroom and seafood delight, fried rice, yakitori chicken, sweet and sour chicken, an egg roll and some tempura. On the way back to the table I passed the sushi section and stopped for a few pieces as well. And lastly, the salad bar beckoned with some stuffed green olives.
I did notice that there was copious ice under the cold foods and the sushi. All of the hot foods were indeed hot and to touch the surface of the table was painfully hot. I also noted that the presentation trays were shallow and did not hold a lot of food. They had to be replenished often. During dinner I noted that the staff members were frequently busy stocking and replenishing the food items. The food would appear to be f
resh from the food preparation area.
I will preface my critique with this: The food served at the Super Buffet is certainly on a par with the other local restaurants of this type. None of the foods are spectacular but on the other hand none of the foods are really bad. I think many of the items are mass prepared outside and then heated or cooked to completion before serving. As such they suffer the same ailment as other mass produced foods – designed to offend as few people as possible, they truly please even fewer.
The chicken selections were tasty but I really had to look close to see rather than taste if it were chicken teriyaki, General Tso’s chicken or chicken yakitori. The sweet and sour chicken is what is called the New York style, I believe. It is breaded and fried chicken morsels. Alongside is a
container of red sauce that you ladle over your chicken morsels. This presentation certainly pales in comparison to the traditional Chinatown version with peppers, onions and pineapple. The New York style, although done well as far as it goes, really suffers in comparison because of the lack of the traditional accoutrements. The egg rolls are the smaller variety and nicely crispy fried. The filling is basically cabbage and they benefit from a dunk in hot mustard or chili sauce. The tempura selection was limited to slices of zucchini and sweet potato. They were very good, the batter fried light and crisp and the vegetables tender but not soggy. Enjoyment would have been enhanced if there were some additional tempura selections. The fried rice was more a saffron-style yellow rice and didn’t have any particular significant taste. Personally, fried rice is one of my favorite oriental-style comfort foods but I found the Super Buffet example lacking in breadth of ingredients and seasoning.
Personally I don’t care for sashimi. Therefore, my selections from any sushi bar are very limited. On this visit I selected some California rolls and avocado rolls. They were both the inside-out makizushi rolls. Each selection had a rolled coating of tobiko. They were well made, the avocado still a lustrous green without any darkening from air exposure. They tasted good and seemed quite fresh. If I eat a California or avocado roll and taste fish I know there is a problem in the kitchen. In this case there was no taste of raw fish, just the taste of the ingredients. I did notice the service area was well iced and there was not a lot of product on display. There is more than adequate portions wasabi and gari awaiting the diner.
The true gourmand can’t go to an all you can eat restaurant and eat but one serving. For my next foray I decided to try the Mongolian grill. There is a nice selection of ingredients including vegetables, (such as sprouts, green peppers, onions, broccoli florets, etc) meats (chicken, beef and pork) and seafood (white fish, shrimp). The ice table is cold. They stock small amounts of food in the trays which I guess would help to insure freshness. I made my selections of some bean sprouts, mushrooms, green peppers, broccoli, chicken and shrimp. They use flat plates instead of bowls that I have encountered elsewhere. I handed my selection to the chef and he went to work. The grill is not the round Mongolian grill of myth. It is a rectangular flat grill with an at
tached open flame grill that any short-order cook would instantly recognize. I would miss the flourish of the serving, a swish off the edge of the grill into the awaiting bowl. The grill was hot; I could feel the heat even through the sneeze guard. But I noticed the chef used a spritz of water and a dome for much of the cooking – steaming more than frying. The food is cooked with less caramelization than is done on the traditional Mongolian grill and the presentation is more colorful. There is a list of four sauces available and I chose the teriyaki. It was a tasty dish, the vegetables cooked to tender with just a bite. It was an enjoyable conclusion to the main courses.
I tried some samplings of the desert bar. They had a nice selection of melons, strawberries and lots of petit fours style cookies and cakes. The fruit was firm and fresh and refreshing after the heavier fare of the main courses. It was a nice sweet ending to a dinner with loved ones and friends.
Their take home menu features a list of combination plates and traditional Chinese food choices in small and large containers much like a traditional Chinese take-out shop. As well, the menu lists the majority of the buffet items for take home at $3.75 per pound lunch and $4.95 per pound dinner. Sushi and sea food have a different pricing schedule. You can have it your way; eat in or take out.
Labels: barbecue, buffet, Chinese, eat in, fried rice, grill, Mongolian, Seminole, super, sushi, take out
Burger King - A Second Chance
Burger King – A Second Chance
A hot and muggy Florida afternoon found us at the local big box hardware store picking up supplies for yet more home renovations and improvements. As we finished loading the car the
wife asked me if I wanted to stop by Burger King, she had a new coupon book that just come in the mail, and save the need to cook dinner when we got home. Since I do dearly love hamburgers it was an easy yes to elicit. But then I had to stop and consider for a minute. I had reviewed the neighborhood Burger King back in February, 2011 (http://thatfoodguy.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html ). It was not a favorable review. Since it was bad once, did we want to go back again? The next closest Burger King is several miles away. We finally decided to give the local store a chance to show what it could do. Coupon book in hand,
we drove to Burger King. Even though the order was to go, we went in rather than order from the drive-thru.
The coupon book had many different offers. There were buy one and get one free, buy this and get that, but what we finally decided on was a Family Bundle ($9.99) and two regular hamburgers ($1.98) on the side. The bundle included: 1 Whopper, 1 Whopper Jr., 1 10-piece chicken tenders, 3 small French fries, 3 small soft drinks, and two pies - one apple and the other a Hershey chocolate cream pie. It seemed like a good selection to compare against our last visit.
From where we were standing we could watch the servers unobtrusively. When the products came through the pass through, the bagged them in a careful manner and use multiple bags so as to not overfill and crush the bottom food items. I was happy with that. We collected our order when it was ready and took it directly home. The unloading of the hardware store items would wait until after we had dinner and sampled our Burger King order.
The wrapping of the food items was intact. Inside, the food, as we expected, did not look like the promotional photographs adorning the restaurant walls. It was, however, well within the range of what we normally expect a
Burger King sandwich to look like. It was a tremendous improvement over our previous encounter. In biting into the Whopper, the bread and meat were still nice and warm after our ride home, but what I did notice was that the lettuce and tomato were still cool, not yet heated through by the meat which I took to mean the sandwich was freshly made to our order and had not sat for any length of time under a heat lamp which I considered a big plus. The taste of the Whopper, the Whopper Jr. and the regular hamburgers was just what you would expect from a Burger King product.
The Burger King French fries are small sized French fries, not as small as shoestrings, and that small size allows them to cool very fast. Our French fries were still warm and didn’t need a few seconds zap in the microwave when w
e got home, another plus. The chicken tenders were still warm in their cardboard box. Well formed breaded pieces and not at all greasy. The white meat chicken is tasty and the breading has a nice spicy taste that I liked very much. Perhaps I should have asked, but then I didn’t see any sauces for the chicken tenders on the counter. When we got home I got a bottle of ketchup out of the refrigerator but some of the other popular chicken tender dipping sauces would have served better. Perhaps Burger King doesn’t offer them, the server certainly didn’t offer, but then again I didn’t ask either.
All of the food served to us was of good quality and looked just as you would expect a Burger King product
to look like; certainly not like the promotional photos
but what we the public have come to accept as the close-enough facsimile. The food products were carefully handled and not crushed. The food seemed to have been prepared fresh and was still very presentable after transporting home. This Burger King will once again be on our list of local places to go for fast food.
The Family Bundle with the addition of the two regular hamburgers was more than adequate to feeds four people and could easily been stretched to feed five. For $12.81 ($11.97 plus tax) it was a reasonably priced meal. The pie slices are still in the refrigerator waiting for another time when we are not quite so full from dinner.
Labels: Burger King, chicken, hamburger, tenders, whopper, Whopper Jr