Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 12 p.m.
The taco station at the Old Country Buffet
If Old Country Buffet ever had grace, it certainly fell from it by the mid-2000s. The restaurant struggled on quality control, competition from other buffets, and a changing dining mentality that didn't always prioritize all-you-can-eat ribs over the taste and flavor of said ribs.
Then in early 2013, Ovation Brands, the parent company for Old Country Buffet, got a new look and a new CEO and remodeled the Twin Cities' 12 OCB locations to create a more modern appeal. Could the Old Country Buffet overcome its fusty reputation? We went to see for ourselves.
At the West St. Paul location, we noticed immediately that some of the buffet's rebranding was really nothing more than adding folksy names to standard offerings. For example, adding the prefix "Fay's Homestyle" to a formerly unnamed fried chicken doesn't make much of a difference to this Buffet Buff. But some of the changes are substantial. OCB is now serving much of the food in single-serving ramekins and using slightly more adventurous taste combinations such as Asiago cheese and mushrooms, scratch cornbread stuffing, and a well-seasoned orange chicken.
These might not sound like huge improvements to the haute cuisine set, but the reality is, most of us don't head to Old Country Buffet for their Michelin star rating. We come for quality hot food that can stand up to a buffet setting and make a whole party of different palates happy.
For a number of years Old Country Buffet fell well below that expectation, but things are looking up for the buffet chain. In their new offerings, Old Country Buffet dropped some of the items that are guaranteed to never work in a buffet setting: chicken wings, broiled fish, and big vats of question-mark-flavored stews. Evidently, they still haven't gotten the memo on eliminating soggy French fries, but the menu does focus on putting its most valuable ingredients in well-presented dishes. Standouts in this category are the single-serving sweet potato casseroles and shrimp and grits. Old Country Buffet is also offering single-serving mini pot pies that get passing marks for a truly flaky crust and hearty filling.
A surprisingly tasty pot pie