This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … the buffet.
No, not the Jimmy Buffet, although an equally strong case could be made for that industrial-strength pop star who has made millions rewriting the same two songs for the past 30+ years. I’m talking about the American restaurant buffet, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, be it at the greasiest Bob’s Big Boy knockoff or at the highest-end resort that gets away with charging 40 bucks a head because their just as flavorless eggs are a little less runny.
Not being a world traveler, I don’t know if the restaurant buffet is a strictly American phenomenon. I’m guessing it’s not, as the rest of the world seems to understand the concept of eating until one is full and then – snotty Eurotrash! – stopping. But many Americans need a daily caloric intake comparable to the size of the average AIG bonus check, and these Old Country Buffet-addicted superslobs are the same human beanbag chairs who have to wedge themselves into the seats beside me on planes or at sporting events.
I could almost understand the appeal of eating yourself into buffet nausea if the food was great, but it never is. It’s not even good. (Note that I’m talking strictly about restaurants and not weddings or family gatherings, where the buffet style meal is actually preferable.) Regardless of the variety of foods or of the noble but always failed attempts to add a gourmet flair to the slop they dump in the endless string of stainless steel bins, buffet food is a lot like an Angelina Jolie movie. It might look good, but afterward you feel queasy and rooked out of 10 bucks.
While any buffet scene disgusts me, the one that makes me sickest is the breakfast buffet, loved by the fattest of the buffet-loving buffoons. These people don’t walk to the food spread. They waddle, often unshowered and unshaved, the women draped in mumus and the men wearing whatever ratty shorts or sweatpants allow for the maximum elastic waistband stretchage, allowing them to blow out their bellies with minimum discomfort.
Once they have plate in hand, they begin the obscene heaping o’ the vittles, taking not only too much soggy bacon and watery eggs, but also both kinds of sausage (flat hockey pucks and shriveled midget cocks), cold underdone toast that could serve as damp wash cloths for the fever-stricken, a stale mini-bagel left over from the Battle of Antietam and a not even remotely edible English muffin limper than a eunuch’s pecker. And of course, in an attempt to move that Kilimanjaro sized plate of colon-clogging goo through their no doubt already impacted colon, they fill up a little bowl with canned fruit cocktail. They shovel the contents of the plate down their gullets, then, somehow, repeat the process, sometimes twice, because after all, it’s “all you can eat!” Watching these cretins powereat is like watching frantic colonial insurgents cramming their muskets with powder and bullets at Lexington and Concord.
Even the supposedly fancy buffets at resorts and finer restaurants are gross. They create an air of class and fine dining by adding a few overrated gimmicks, but the food is never that good. Take the omelet station, where some halfwit, coke-addicted cook one job removed from the Applebee’s grill dons a chef’s hat and becomes the maestro of the egg, cooking omelets to order just for you. And what do the buffet bozos do at this omelet station? Ask the Eggman to include thirteen items in their omelet, rendering the whole thing a sloppy, overstuffed mess in which none of the flavors can actually be tasted.
Mr. High-falutin’ Omelet Maker is also the non-chef who mans the roast beef or ham slicing depot at the higher end dinner buffets. He is invariably stationed at the end of the buffet line, meaning he must slap a 3/4 inch thick, Texas-sized slice of heat lamp warmed roast beef or ham atop the twelve other items the buffet buffoon has already plopped onto his first plate of the evening’s gorging.
The industrialized presentation of the grub helps quash any enjoyment of the meal. No matter how meticulously prepared the food (and how careful can a cook really be when making food by the vat), it loses its taste-bud oomph when it has to be scooped, plucked or tonged out of a metal tank which has already been picked through and coughed on by the virus-spewing slew of diners who trudged past and poked and prodded the food before me. When I select my lukewarm, no longer moist but now-incubating-hepatitis-germs glob of chicken cordon bleu (an item included in every chichi gourmet buffet by law, I think), I know I’m taking a piece of food that was shunned by everyone else that preceded me in the grazing line. Yum.
These gourmet buffets do have higher quality food, but they leave you just as unsatisfied. I once had the Sunday brunch buffet at one of the country’s highest rated resorts, Nemacolin, located in southwestern Pennsylvania. Options included lobster tails, sushi and caviar. It still sucked. Oh, the food was as good as you’ll find on a buffet, but that was the problem. When free to eat as much as you can of very good food, the sensory onslaught renders the whole experience an overdone exercise in Caligula-like gluttony (without the gang-banging, no less). I’d have much rather enjoyed another room service breakfast of a pineapple muffin and fresh fruit plate. (Only $18!)
Which brings me to my next gourmet buffet gripe: the price. Why am I paying $29.95 to serve myself? Walking should never be part of any eating experience that I am paying for. I understand that it at least allows the fat folk to get in a little exercise while they play “Watch Me Try to Fill the Empty Voids in My Life with Plate after Plate of Food That, Like My Life, Lacks Flavor, Zeal and Originality.” If I want to exercise while I eat, I’ll enter the Tour de France. Otherwise, please have some sweet-assed young waitress serve me my meal so that I can leave a ridiculously inflated tip in the pathetic hope that she’ll see through my grizzled middle-aged ugliness and the little matter of my sitting-just-across-the-table wife and insist on following me to my car for a post-dessert, thank-you hummer. With a buffet, I lose that dream, and anything that kills dreams is no good.
So spare me the rave reviews of the recent buffet experience that allowed you to make a embarrassing mess of yourself. The best meals provide an intriguing complexity of flavors, some intense, some restrained, but always interesting and delicious. Foods and spices are combined with a combination of care and daring, complementing each other with their flavor, texture and even color. The final products are artistic in their presentation. And a great meal has one more characteristic: You can’t go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or …
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.