Ballad of the bad buffet

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Ballad of the bad buffet

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For years I had avoided going to the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Williston because whenever it was mentioned, the response from anyone who had been there was, “Gross!” Generally when there is such a unanimous negative reaction to a place, you avoid it. For me, that sometimes makes me more curious, so on a recent weekend I decided to drag my best friend along with me to see if it really was so bad.

It was.

When you first walk in there is a desk that you have to go up to and to the right on the wall is a menu. This was immediately confusing to me since I was always under the impression that it was just a buffet.

I figured out that you could just get the buffet for $9.99 or you could choose a meal and buffet combination for a little extra. I chose to get the 6oz sirloin steak with the buffet for $11.99. My friend chose Monterey chicken for the same price. This also comes with a choice of baked potato, rice, or fries as a side. I chose rice. Other char-broiled steak options include ribeye, t-bone, chopped steak, and sirloin tips. Chicken and seafood options were also available.

To add to my confusion the cashier gave me three different slips and reminded me not to forget my silverware out of the giant bucket next to the desk before sending me into the restaurant. The three slips included my receipt and then two smaller ones that had my drink and meal order for the waitress to take.

I went around the corner to find my friend who had gone in before me. We decided after standing around for a few minutes that we were just supposed to seat ourselves and hope someone would be around to take our slips with our order.

We found a booth and went up to the buffet. My plate on the first round contained macaroni and cheese, a corn nugget, bourbon street chicken, pizza, a fried chicken wing, and a salad.

Everything appeared very dry or old or messy, but too late to turn back, I gave the mac & cheese a try. It was definitely lacking something. That something was cheese. It tasted more like Alfredo sauce and was missing the gooey-ness that makes mac & cheese so lovely. I decided to move on to the corn nugget.

I was unsure what a corn nugget actually was, and through investigation discovered it was gooey corn inside of a coating of fried breading. It was . . . unpleasant. I was thankful I only got one.

I moved on to the Bourbon Street chicken with high hopes for some flavor worthy of the New Orleans reference since everything up to now had been pretty bland. Wrong. It was dry and had no distinct flavor.

Maybe the slice of pizza would be better. I got a small slice of pepperoni and so far it was the best thing I tried. I say that lightly, though. It was basically what you would expect from a frozen pizza that had been sitting out under heat lamps for who knows how many hours.

Next was the fried chicken wing. I love chicken wings, so I was sure this was going to be better. Again, it was very dry but it at least had a little flavor. There was a hint of pepper. That’s it. Dry and slightly peppery.

The salad was actually fairly decent. The lettuce and cucumbers were fresh. The carrots were very dry, though. I decided I could overlook that since the lettuce was at least tolerable.

By this time my steak and rice arrived, thanks to a loud but generally nice waitress. I ordered it medium well, and it seemed to be cooked to my specifications, and arrived hot. It had a little more of a grayish color than I would have liked, however, but despite this it actually didn’t taste terrible and it wasn’t dry like the rest of the meat I had tried. It also had a hint of Montreal steak seasoning. Just for good measure, I tried a little steak sauce with it, which was a Ponderosa brand steak sauce. This was lacking the little bit of bite you usually get from steak sauce.

The rice was hard to eat. It had no flavor and I felt that I was actually eating tiny rice shaped pieces of plastic. I only ate a few bites for research purposes before deciding that it was unhealthy to eat all that plastic.

I was able to try a couple of bites of my companion’s Monterey chicken, the sauce for which was bright orange. The chicken itself was actually good. It was juicy and not overcooked, but the orange sauce tasted like watered down ketchup.

After all this disappointment I still decided that I should see what was going on with the desserts.

I had some chocolate pudding covered with the thin layer of skin that forms on pudding sometimes. Beneath that skin, it was quite gritty.

I also tried the warm apple cobbler, which was basically a pile of mush and reminded me of flubber in the Robin Williams movie. The apple part tasted a lot like dehydrated apple chips and the cobbler part had dissolved into the mush, indistinguishable as its own thing.

Others at the restaurant appeared to appreciate the fare or at least tolerate it better. I noticed a lot of families with kids who were constantly wandering around unattended. They appeared to enjoy their food, as it was an easy and relatively cheap way to get out of cooking a meal for the family on occasion.

I left full but resolved to warn others of the horrors that await at the Ponderosa. I hope they will not be as curious as I had been.


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