I used to live on Union St. in Schenectady. I worked on Central Ave. in Colonie. I was single then. I was foot-loose and fancy free, as they say, with no family to care for. I ate whatever, and wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but I had yet to discover there's a whole world of great food out there. I was also broke. I ate at a lot of fast food joints. I actually preferred them, and except for the occasional foray to Applebee's, that's where my restaurant dollars were spent.
Those were dark days.
Five days a week, twice a day, I would drive past Golden Corral during my daily commute to and from work. It's on the westbound side of Central, not too far from Rt. 155. One could argue Golden Corral is fast food. Technically it's a family style buffet, with wholesome foods like vegetables. For the several years I drove by it, day after day, I never once stopped in. No one ever invited me to go there either. Nor do I remember anyone ever saying they liked it.
Even back then, in spite of sustaining myself on a steady diet of Wendy's, Domino's, Kentucky Fried
Chicken (it wasn't KFC back then), and McDonald's, I was showing signs of liking good food. Having enough common sense to avoid an all you can eat, dirt cheap buffet is proof I was a foodie yet to spread his wings. Deep down inside there was indeed a man who loved good food, fighting to get out. A man who would one day sneer at the long lines of cars at the "drive thru".
But now I've come full circle.
I was driving down Central Ave. recently, and there it was... Golden Corral! I couldn't believe it's survived after all these years. I got as excited as a 6 year old on Christmas morning. I have a thing for bad chain restaurants, and it was then, with glee that I started plotting my visit to "The Best Buffet in the USA".
When I arrived I was actually a little nervous. I loathe buffets. It's one thing to eat bad food, it's quite another to eat bad food that's been sitting around in a steam table for God knows how long. At least at CiCi's the pizzas move quickly and they're fresh. Worse, Golden Corral has been linked to more than one outbreak of salmonella. But I put those thoughts out of my mind, turned off the car, kissed the picture of my daughter I keep on the dash, and headed in for what might be my last meal.
The sheer number of choices at the very large buffet tables are dizzying. There's a taco section, pizza, fried chicken, Chinese, pasta, lots of different vegetables, fried shrimp, various side dishes like mashed potatoes, corn bread and rice, toppings such as cheese sauce and gravy, plus a salad bar. There's also a dessert section which has pies, cake, brownies, soft serve ice cream and cotton candy among others.
I went for lunch and it was $8. Dinner is a few dollars more, but dinner includes steak and additional seafood choices.
Believe it or not, in spite of it being all you can eat for $8, with a myriad of choices, I don't consider it a good value. I tried to sample as many items as I could, and left full. But I also left unsatisfied, as though I hadn't eaten at all.
The hot dishes are for the most part flavorless and/or mushy. Vegetables are obviously from a can. They start out mushy, then sit in the steam table where the texture further degrades. Fried items might start out crispy, but quickly get soggy. Anything saucy becomes gooey and gloppy. Everything is processed and of low quality. Plus most of it is lukewarm.
But I get why people eat here. My guess is anyone that likes it eats processed, canned, and frozen meals at home, and Golden Corral tastes familiar to them. Plus, looking around, most everyone's plates were piled high full of food, and they perceive GC to be a good value.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of items that were decent. The salad bar (which I didn't eat) to my surprise included a bowl of spring mix with dark leafy greens, and a nice bowl of baby spinach, and they looked fresh. Unfortunately, one is forced to eat it with one of the processed, gloppy salad dressings. Also, I managed to score a piece of fried chicken right out of the kitchen. It was quite good. The breading was flavorful and crispy, and the chicken was tender, and it was blazing hot.
For eight bucks I'd rather go to Five Guys and get a freshly cooked, incredibly satisfying and filling burger than eat the mediocre, bland, and mushy food at Golden Corral.
Turns out my intuition was right, and I didn't miss anything driving by all those years.