Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Grove Buffet at Scioto Downs Racino

UPDATE (July 16, 2014): I revisited The Grove Buffet for lunch. Sadly, the quality of the food has gone significantly downhill. Everything looks pretty, but the meats and fish were overcooked and tough. The vegetables were okay. Perhaps it’s because Chef Terrell was no where to be seen – either at the restaurant or on the website (his LinkedIn page still lists him as the Executive Chef at Scioto Downs Racino). Having visited Hollywood Casino’s Epic Buffet the day before, I can report that Hollywood’s food had improved and now outshines Scioto Down’s. At $7 for a discounted Senior Lunch on Wednesdays, it was tolerable, but Hollywood’s $7 lunch on Tuesdays is a better deal – as the long lines there vs. no lines at Scioto Downs can attest.

A new buffet in town: The Grove Buffet at Scioto Downs racetrack video slot machine casino, about 10 miles south of downtown Columbus, opened on August 3, 2012, the casino having opened on June 1st. Having just taken my Mom to her local slot machine casino at Yonkers Raceway in NY plus Foxwoods Casino in CT, I wanted to see how this new casino would fare in comparison. I’m not much of a gambler (I’m too much of a mathematician, so I know what the odds are against my winning), but I wanted to check out the food and the place, expecting my Mom to come visit soon.

The entry is new, bright, and airy – much nicer than Yonkers’ Empire Casino. Everything is new. This photo (that I borrow from the Columbus Dispatch, since taking photos in most casinos is illegal), gives the feeling of the place. The slot machines are spaced out nicely, with wide aisles, and the ceiling is high and bright and the entire casino is non-smoking. I got my free “IN” Club player’s card, walked around, and made my way to The Grove Buffet for lunch.

I was given a nice seat with a view of the buffet in front and the slot machines behind me. My waitress was very cheerful, attentive, andl helpful. Off to get my first plate …

The 7 serving stations are set along the wall, with cooks preparing and slicing food for the steam table trays. Large dinner plates available under the counters.

Here are my first plates. My main dish with: Kung-Po bay scallops with eggplant & peanuts; barbecued ribs;  Brussels sprouts with bacon; roast chicken (I asked the cook to cut me the dark meat quarter from the roasted chicken halves); asparagus with cream sauce; gyoza, shrimp with wilted spinach; baby carrots & sugar snap peas; fried chicken; matzoh cracker. From the salad bar: mixed greens; baby shrimp; chicken; mushrooms.

Just about every dish was well prepared and not overcooked. The chicken was juicy, the vegetables crisp and colorful. The spare ribs were the drier Chinese style: the meat didn’t fall off the bone, but was tasty and tender. Only the Chinese dishes looked overcooked and tired (perhaps because they weren’t in demand and so had been sitting for awhile).

I went for a second plate, focusing on the Italian station: manicotti; pizza (several types were offered); more shrimp and spinach; pot roast; more Brussels sprouts; baked ziti with meat sauce; more asparagus. The Italian dishes were competently prepared. The pot roast   looks stringy – like the type offered at Der Dutchman’s, but is much more tender & tasty. The shrimp were as crisp as their translucent appearance indicated. The veggies were also crisp and tender.

The dessert offerings are beautifully presented. So tempting! I took a slice of blueberry pie, and a taste of the blueberry-lemon bread pudding and apple crisp.

I introduced myself to Executive Chef Craig Terrell, who I had seen throughout my lunch checking out each of the serving stations, carving and serving, and circulating among the diners asking if they were enjoying their lunch. I asked if I could take his photo – and he went back to get his toque for it.

I complimented Chef Terrell on his restaurant. It’s the best American-style commercial restaurant buffet I’ve had around Columbus. At $13.99 for lunch ($9.99 for seniors over 55 on Wednesdays), it’s a few dollars more than the likes of Home Town Buffet, Golden Corral, and the Amish buffets, but the offerings are so much better! Brussels sprouts, asparagus, shrimp, scallops – items I’ve haven’t seen on buffets. (To be honest, the new Sunday buffet at New Albany Country Club is extraordinary in its offerings and quality, but it’s priced at $25.95.)

Chef Terrell and his staff clearly care about providing a good dining experience and quality for money. Gamers can earn “IN” Club points for free lunches or $10 off dinner.

Speaking of gaming, after I walked around a bit after my big lunch, I played for a couple of hours on the free $25 I was given with my new “IN” Club membership. Many of the slots were new to me, despite the thousands I’ve seen at Empire City and Foxwoods.

I had a good time playing machines I hadn’t see before and hit a $38.45 bonus on a 25 cent bet. I worked up to over $50 in winnings on my free $25 voucher, but managed to lose it all back to the casino trying out other machines, breaking even for the day (not counting the cost of my lunch).

So I’m happy to report that when my mother comes to visit, I can take her to Scioto Downs where she’ll be happy to find new machines to play and I’ll be happy to go eat my fill at The Grove Buffet. She doesn’t even have to wait for the new Hollywood Casino to open on October 8th. While together, Scioto Downs and Hollywood Casino will have fewer slot machines than Empire City, the variety of machines, the clean, bright, airy feel of the casino, and its non-smoking environment will please her. And with the money I’ll save by not playing the slots with her, I can easily pay for good buffet meals!

UPDATE: Given a couple of negative comments about the food, I went back to try it again in November. I went on a Wednesday where they give a “Senior Lunch or Dinner Discount” of 1/2 off for lunch or dinner. The long line moved quickly – basically as fast as the cashiers could process; getting a seat wasn’t a problem. The waitstaff was as diligent and courteous as my first visit.

The food was as good as I had remembered. Only the Chinese offerings looked a little tired, since the diners apparently bypassed them to ensure they had enough room on their plates for other offerings.

Moving the food line was more of a problem this visit. Despite the different serving stations, everyone lined up to the far right and waited patiently to get through all the choices – except for the Italian food section on the left, which is a little separate (and, of course, for the separate dessert section).

I re-introduced myself to Chef Terrell, who, as on my last visit, was checking on the food and service, and talking with diners. I complemented him on his restaurant. I told him I had also tried the buffet at the new Hollywood Casino, but thought their food was mediocre. He admitted that he had also visited there and told his staff that if he served food like that, he’d fire them. I urged him to keep up the good work and told him I’d be back.

Columbus Food Adventures: Meat Lover’s Tour – 2. Thurn’s Specialty Meats

I’ve swooned over their Double Smoked Bacon, but had never shopped at Thurn’s Specialty Meats. So when I saw a visit to Thurn’s was on the Columbus Food Adventures Meat Lover’s Tour, I signed up immediately. And what a visit it was!

On entering Thurn’s we were greeted by a long row of glass-faced meat cases displaying a tantalizing array of meats and cheeses as well as an alluring smell of smoke.

Behind the cases, Albert Thurn – a 4th generation of the family operating the store since its founding in 1886 – greeted us. Albert told us about the history of the business and their products. (The Columbus Food Adventures blog on Thurn’s recaps this story nicely, so I won’t repeat it here.)

Albert then took us on a behind-the-counter tour of his business. First, the curing room – a cool, but not cold room where various cuts of meats and sausages were hanging and marinating to cure before and after smoking.

Behind that, we were shown the room where meats were prepared. Albert showed us an array of locally-sourced meat cuts and different casings (intestines) from which sausages were made. Around the large room were big meat choppers and grinders, mixers, double-bowl heated kettles, ovens, and other food preparation equipment – some that have been in use for over 80 years.

Sausage casings of various sizesHe showed us various types and sizes of casings used to make different sausages, with extruders that can shoot 30 foot lengths of sausage down the long prep table.

At the far side of the room. Albert opened the doors of one of the two walk-in size smokers.

Out poured a cloud of sweet smelling smoke, enveloping us. We had been warned that we would leave smelling a little smoky; many of us wanted to find a cologne that would let us smell like that regularly!

Through the smoke, we could see racks of meats and sausages that were being smoked. Some of the meats take more than a day to smoke. Albert was, of course, a fount of knowledge about the business he had been raised in and clearly loved.

We came back out into the retail shop with a great appreciation of the love and care that goes behind a week’s work to prepare the offerings that Thurn’s sells only from Thursday until early Saturday afternoon, by which time they’ve usually run out of what they had produced that week.

As we were touring in the back, Albert’s colleague had been preparing canapés and platters for us to taste!

It was a beautiful array of Thurn’s smoked meats and cheeses, along with assorted canapés they had prepared for our group. And they tasted even better than they looked! As I tasted, I recalled the nice selection of meats and sausages I had bought in my years living in NYC’s Yorkville section of Manhattan, with the German sausage shops like Schaller & Weber.

As we tasted, we made note of what items we wanted to take home with us. Bethea and Andy had a cooler in their van which would keep our purchases cold until the end of our tour.

Cash registerI took home a bag of cold cuts, smoked chicken wings, and smoked trout. controlling myself knowing I could be back next week for a new purchase. Albert said he sells as little as one slice, so I had quite an assortment for small fraction of the price I’ve paid in NYC.

Old fashioned passion about the food they carefully prepare and offer to their customers: That’s part of what’s so wonderful about living in a place where people have such pride in the food they prepare. Thank you, Albert and Thurn’s, for being such shining gems of the Columbus food scene! I’ve added you as a regular stop on my shopping route!

Columbus Food Adventures: Meat Lover’s Tour – 1. Skillet

I grabbed a spot in Columbus Food Adventures‘ inaugural Meat Lover’s Tour on June 14, 2012. I took so many photos that I’m splitting my write-up into pieces – one for each stop.

Our first stop was Skillet in German Village, one of Columbus’ meccas for locavore cuisine.

I had eaten at Skillet a few times before and have always been excited by the ever-changing menu, based on what’s available by its local growers.

We took our seats as Bethia Woolf told us of the restaurant and menu.

Chef/owner Kevin Caskey came out of his kitchen to greet us and explain the dish he had prepared for us on this “Meat Lovers Tour”: Cincinnati Style Tripe Chili.

A strange concoction, regular Cincinnati-style chili is served on a bed of spaghetti, with chili serving as a sauce. Skillet’s interpretation is far more intriguing: “Oven baked spaghetti pie with fried King’s Farm duck egg and Kokoborrego Owl Creek Tomme sheepsmilk cheese.” Visually spectacular with the fried egg capping its surprise.

The egg yolk formed an extra layer of luscious sauce to meld with the chili-infused tripe (instead of the strips of beef in the usual formulation). The noodles added a textural contrast instead of the main focus of everyday Cincinnati-style chili preparations, as did the spinach leaves. I knew the rest of the tour would be good, since all of my tour members “oohed” and “ahhed” and none “yucked.”

Chef Kevin clearly takes great pride and joy in his food – and rightly so! I’m glad to have friended him on Facebook after this visit – and then to have run into him at Thurn’s shopping for himself, as I was. But that’s another story.

The blackboard says it well – much to the pleasure of its fortunate diners! Thanks Kevin!