Don’t eat at the County Buffet. That’s the takeaway from this piece, presented upfront for those readers who may be short on time or attention. If you’ve come across this page while deciding whether to dine at 118 W. Troutman Parkway, I urge you to eat somewhere else.
If you’ve come to this page as a regular Feasting Fort Collins reader, you’re no doubt familiar with the concept behind “Restaurant Roulette.” It’s a sort of special project by the blog, in which reviewers dined at Fort Collins’ dingiest restaurants (specifically those restaurants that failed their most recent health inspections) to see whether or not the food would make them barf. This is the last of those reviews.
I didn’t barf after eating at the Country Buffet. In fact, I didn’t get sick at all – though my bathroom did stink like a rocket engine for about 36 hours. And though the restaurant’s inspection cited numerous violations, I didn’t find the place to be all that unsanitary (with the notable exception of a kitchen employee who failed to wash his hands in the restroom).
I’m not trying to steer diners away from the Fort Collins location of the Country Buffet because the dishes look dirty or because the food is undercooked or even because the staff leave the restroom with shit still clinging to their unwashed fingers. I’m trying to steer diners away because the food sucks.
And with a few exceptions (like the bile-scented chicken alfredo pictured above), the food sucks for one reason: it’s been left out too long. And that’s really only sort of their fault.
Food isn’t made to order in a buffet, of course. It is instead expected by customers (who pay $11.49 for the dinner buffet – or $14.50 with the soft drink bar) that the restaurant provide a diversity of foods in such abundance that they be available at a moment’s notice. Barring a preternatural understanding of customer demand, this inevitably places staff in a position where they must either throw out perfectly edible food or leave it to wither under the dry heat of the buffet lamps.
At 118 W. Troutman, the staff tend to favor food conservation. So strongly that much of the available food is either dried to jerky or congealed to something like rubber.
This is chili.
This meat is from the carving station, where the attending employee made a point of trying to “sell me” on the roast beef pictured in the center. This was not the same employee I later saw leaving the restroom with fecal matter under his fingernails.
Though there’s little hope for the chili pictured above, even the most dried-out meats can be salvaged with gravy – a technique apparently adopted by most Country Buffet diners. Of all buffet items, the gravy appeared to be among the few emptied frequently enough to keep fresh.
And while most of what I ate looked like what you see pictured above, I found a few items quite tasty. The baked chicken, the pot roast and the chicken pot pie were all good. But because I suspect this had more to with timing than with the quality of the recipe, I can’t recommend them in good conscience.
There is one item at the Country Buffet that I will recommend without hesitation: the sirloin steak. This is the one item the restaurant cooks to order – and while it’s ultimately a pretty crappy steak, it is still a steak. Because there are no limits on the number of steaks a single customer can order (I asked), it’s probable the best way to go about Country Buffet dining is to just get stuffed to the gills on sirloin.
They’ve got other stuff too, of course. The salad bar is probably about as good as the one in your college cafeteria (though the meat has the same drying-out problem there as everywhere else), and there’s a little dessert bar with little cakes that are just fine. None of it is good enough to make up for the dried-out husks of entrees that take up most of the dining room floor.
For an extra $2.29, you get access to the buffet’s drink bar. This contains about a half-dozen Icee flavors, a few tubs of iced tea, and one of those weird monolithic new soda fountains.
This machine is mostly stocked with Aspartame-sweetened versions of less-than-everyday sodas. Orange Crush Zero. Fanta Zero. Mello Yello Zero. Armed with this knowledge and a good look around the dining room, one can pretty safely assume that a good portion of Country Buffet diners are diabetic.
But the quality of the food from a health perspective isn’t something we have the time or the page space to delve into. I’ll simply say – as a longtime lover of lousy, greasy food – that there are far better places in Fort Collins to get fat.
So there you have it. If you’re looking for a place to eat dinner tonight (or ever), don’t choose the Country Buffet. And if you happen to work there – please, for God’s sake…
Matt Minich is a Fort Collins based freelance writer and editor. He can be reached on Twitter at @minichmatt