There are destination restaurants, restaurants worth the trip for a meal. That’s essentially the entire premise of the Michelin system. The more stars the longer the acceptable journey.
What there aren’t many of is destination buffets. The vast majority of buffets are simply opportunities for diners to maximize their intake. There are advantages to a buffet. Little Billy only eats chicken fingers? And little Suzy doesn’t like anything on her plate to touch? Load up little Billy with chicken fingers and get little Suzy a new plate for each item. Then Mom and Dad can eat what they want. Unfortunately, it is usually steam table upon steam table of mediocrity and mass production.
There are exceptions, however. One is the Old Country Store in Jackson, Tennessee. Yes, they are cooking tremendous amounts of food every day, but they are doing it well. Their home style cooking stands up against anyone’s. But they’re not the only one out there.
We were recently invited to visit Buffet Americana at the Gold Strike casino in Tunica. When you hear Americana in the context of food, your mind tends to jump straight to American icon foods like hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, and apple pie. But that’s not all that Buffet Americana is about.
The Gold Strike’s director of cuisine, Chef Andrew Smith, has a much broader vision of modern American food. There’s a tandoori oven baking na’an and turning out wonderful meats. Across the room, there’s a Mongolian barbecue grill, and in between is food representing much more than just the standard fare.
That’s not to say that the classics are ignored. Roast beef, ham, and turkey are available with gravies and au jus. (Pro tip: If you plan to fit anything else on your plate, ask for a small slice of roast beef.) The vegetables offered vary daily, but you can always get greens and peas or beans. It is the South after all.
Wandering into the international section, we found shrimp Creole, coconut jasmine rice, and more. The Asian section offered several favorites from noodles to gyoza to whole roasted striped bass.
Angela’s favorite item of the evening was the beef Mongolian barbecue with mirin soy sauce. Chef Smith said that guest acceptance of the dish has been slow because many are unfamiliar with it. The process is simple. Grab a bowl and fill it with your choice of fresh vegetables. Next, give the bowl to one of the workers at the grill. Tell them what kind of meat and what sauce you want. Then just stand back and watch while they grill up a dish just for you, fresh and with just the things you like in it. Once folks figure that out, it will catch on fast.
The salad bar offers three lettuce mixes and all the toppings you could want plus a selection of cold salads. When we were there, the cold salads included a corn fajita salad and a squash blue cheese salad. Four different soups are available as well. Another of Angela’s favorite offerings were the cheeses, meats and antipasti. She had sage derby and ham. Smoked gouda tempted me, but my massive slice of roast beef didn’t leave room. I ended up getting distracted by all the other goodies, and I never did get my cheese.
On Friday and Saturday nights, part of the salad bar is cleared off to make room for sushi and seafood. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try that, but we will be returning to celebrate the boy’s 19th birthday. Entertainment that evening will be provided by the boy himself as he devours enormous quantities of sushi and seafood. And who knows what else.
That does remind me of another benefit of Buffet Americana; it is very kid friendly. Kids five and under eat free, and those 12 and under get discounted meals. And there is plenty they will want to eat, including frozen yogurt for dessert.
We have never been frequent visitors to Tunica because we don’t gamble. After seeing all that Buffet Americana has to offer, however, we will be traveling that way more often. With food this good, you can only win.
Disclosure: Gold Strike Casino provided us with dinner and a stay in their hotel.