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September 8, 2010

The Taste Bud: Screw it, I’m havin’ thirds

A number of years ago, I accompanied my parents to a chain restaurant called PoFolks, where my father and I squared off in an all-out, take-no-prisoners, fried chicken-eating contest. That’s right: all-you-can-eat fried chicken. It’s a miracle our hearts didn’t take out restraining orders against us.

I generally avoid buffets these days, but when my friend Kirk mentioned a local all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet recently, I decided I had to have a taste. (Seriously, a barbecue buffet? Yeah, I’m in.) So Kirk and I met for lunch at Brandon’s BBQ and Pizza, at 9901 Lagrange Road, the former site of Fat Jimmy’s, and let the eating commence.

Buffet-style dining is different from your standard restaurant experience. People seem to get genuinely excited at a buffet, as if they’ve been given the keys to a magical new world. Heck, one guy walked past us with seven or eight pieces of pizza piled on his plate. The buffet’s not going anywhere, pal — calm down.

But think about it this way: If you pay $5.95 (which is the ridiculously reasonable price at Brandon’s for lunch), you’re essentially paying for the amount of food you normally would get for about $6, such as a sandwich and two sides. The rest is a bonus. After the first plate, as Kirk noted, it’s about how much more you can cram in.

I asked one of the employees how many plates of food we’d have to eat before we started costing the restaurant money. Her eyes widened. She paused, then said, “Probably quite a few.” Sounded like a challenge to me.

And so people lined up to pile their plates with everything they saw. Why not try it all, and then some? C’mon everybody, it’s a buffet!

Another thing to note about the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord is that all too often the food is just, well, there. Quality is tossed aside because the buffet purveyors also know that once the first plate of food is devoured, it’s about quantity, not quality. Also, most buffet food is tailored to a less-than-refined palate, which is one more reason I generally avoid the all-you-can-eat offers. (I’m looking at you, Golden Corral.)

But the food at Brandon’s was surprisingly good, starting with the pizza. There were always four or five pies on the buffet with a variety of toppings. They were all heavy on the cheese, which balanced nicely against the mild tomato sauce. The toppings were generous as well, unlike most buffet pizza I’ve had.

As for the barbecue, the buffet rotates ingredients from day to day. When I was there, two different types of barbecue graced the hot bar — one was a sweet, tangy pulled pork barbecue, while the other featured a richer, smokier sauce. They sat alongside classic comfort sides such as baked beans, mashed potatoes, potato salad, coleslaw, buttered corn, cooked carrots and more. Quite a lot considering the price, especially when there’s pizza to boot.

At one point, Kirk showed up at our table with a plate that combined pizza with mashed potatoes. You know you’ve found heaven when you are eating pizza and mashed potatoes simultaneously.

We agreed the potato salad, with tender chunks of skin-on spuds that had a mild, creamy texture, was the best of the sides. The beans and carrots were solid but unspectacular. I made the mistake of remarking that the corn was good, which prompted Kirk to muse, “I’ve never tasted bad corn or really good corn; I’ve just tasted corn. When you say, ‘This corn is good,’ you’re speaking for corn in general.”

Thanks, Kirk. He also praised the coleslaw for being really “goopy.” He said, “You’ve got to be drinking it as much as eating it.” Dude’s not right.

The buffet at Brandon’s BBQ and Pizza exceeded expectations, even if said expectations weren’t terribly high going in. Perhaps that’s the upside to buffet eating — your expectations are already tempered (ahem, HomeTown Buffet), so when you find a good one, it’s a bonus. Brandon’s certainly qualifies as a winner in its class, and they have a regular menu as well. Check it out at www.brandonsbbqandpizza.com.

Screw it, I’m havin’ thirds.