Category Archives: buffets

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.

Imperial Garden’s Chinese Buffet

Imperial Garden - Buffer-side Seating
On weekends for lunch, you might find me at one of my favorite Chinese buffet restaurants in Columbus: Imperial Garden. I love Chinese buffets, because Chinese food is my favorite cuisine. But when I eat out alone or with a few friends at a regular (non-buffet) Chinese restaurant, the old rule-of-thumb of ordering one dish per person to share means we don’t get very much variety. Fortunately, at even a smallish good buffet, there’s quite enough variety to satisfy my diverse hunger.
One requirement of any buffet, though, is that they have enough diners who will empty the food trays quickly enough to ensure that fresh trays of food are continuously coming out from the kitchen. I have tried almost every Chinese buffet restaurant in Columbus and have learned well enough to walk out if I don’t see enough fellow diners in the restaurant. This has never been a problem at Imperial Garden.
Imperial Garden’s buffet – offered only at lunch on Saturdays and Sundays – has the largest variety of really interesting and original Chinese (specifically, Shanghainese) dishes in Columbus. (Most Chinese buffets cater to an American clientele who prefer what is called “Chinese-American food.”) And the dishes are really good here! However, most are dishes that most non-Chinese diners have never experienced. They have sometimes been labeled on the buffet, but the signs are written only in Chinese. So even if my non-Chinese friends are adventuresome enough to try new dishes, they have no idea what they are eating. This photo blog is for those friends, to provide them with a photo menu and diary of the dishes usually served there. Although they often introduce different dishes, many stay the same from week to week.
There are 2 buffet tables. Start with the one in the back of the restaurant. That one has appetizer dumplings and three soups: a savory soup, bean curd soup (to which one typically adds sugar to make it a dessert soup), and a sweet dessert soup (typically, red bean). It also has a few light desserts (usually sesame balls and orange wedges).


Pot Stickers
Cold noodles with hot pepper, bean sprouts, cilantro
Fish soup with preserved cabbage
My first plate selection, with Fried Cruller, Chinese Chive Dumpling

A selection of dumplings, some cold noodles, and a bowl of soup make a nice appetizer course.

On to the hot dishes: about 20 of them, plus 2 additional soups and rice. It’s hard to have even just a little taste of all of the entrees, so I concentrate on my favorites the first time around, and go back for another plate to try other dishes. It would take a third plate to have a sampling of all of the dishes, but I never make it that far; I try to save space for a sesame ball and water chestnut gelatin, when offered, for dessert.

Although my family is Cantonese, Mom was born and raised in Shanghai. So while Pop and Yeh-Yeh (Pop’s father) cooked Cantonese food at home and most Chinese restaurants in my childhood NY were Cantonese, it was a special treat to go to the 2 Shanghai restaurants in Manhattan (one in Chinatown, the other up on Broadway and 92nd St.). So both real Cantonese and Shanghainese food are comfort food for me – and it’s certainly comforting for me to enjoy Imperial Garden’s food.

Working on this blog is getting me hungry! I’m glad I’ve invited friends to meet me there this Sunday for lunch! If you’d like a personal tour of this food for lunch, just give me a call; I’d love to guide you and your palate!

Rice Noodles
Shanghai Bok Choy
Fried Chicken Wings
Roast Duck
Beef Tendon with Bamboo Shoots: my favorite!
Braised Pigs Feet
Chinese Radish with Hot Peppers
Sea Weed
Tendon Beef with Peanuts
Fish Fillets with Pepper Sauce
Chicken in Peanut Sauce
Pigs Ears with Vegetables
Baby Squid with Celery: another favorite
Pork Belly with Cabbage and Carrots
Japanese Eggplant
Pork Intestine with Tofu (don’t say “yuk” until you try it!)
New Zealand Mussels
Pressed Tofu with Pork and Bamboo Shoots: my virtuous favorite
Salt-cooked Whole Shrimp
Beef Tripe
Egg Drop and Hot and Sour Soups
White Rice
Sweet Rice Sesame Balls with Black Bean Paste
Main Buffet Table

NYC: Wretched Excess

Arrived in NYC yesterday. Having not eaten, I tried out a Japanese AYCE restaurant that David & Laura’s friend Bill Darden had recommended. It’s now called IchiUmi, 6 E. 32nd Street. Unbelievable! For $18.95 + $2 for green tea, I luxuriated in trying 6 different kinds of whole fish, dozens of nigiri and sushi rolls, plus tempura, meats, veggies, soups, oyster congee, and desserts. Honestly, the sight was more savory than the food (quality: B-), but still, the value was impressive!