The truth hurts -- the economy sucks and you can't sit on the patio at Julian
every night, nursing an expensive glass of wine and a tasty cauliflower flan with roasted garlic crostini.
On the other hand, you don't want to cook at home every night. Or maybe any
Ah, but for the cost of a couple of first-rate car washes, a pair of windshield wipers, and a 25-pound bag of cat litter, you can feed a whole hungry gang at one of these all-you-can-pile-on-a-plate palaces.
No. 5: the Calypso Buffet at the Isle of Capri (1800 East Front Street). This is only a deal, explained the nice hostess at the front desk, if you have plenty of comp points on your Isle One Players card. You don't have one? Honey, that's the plastic card that looks like a credit card and which you stick into any one of the noisy, jangly slot machines on the main gambling floor of this northside casino. The buffet isn't particularly cheap (or interesting) without that card. There's not a terrific assortment of dishes (although, compared with the stingy buffet restaurant at Harrah's, it's practically a groaning board), but the breakfast buffet is tasty enough and the weekend dinner prices ($20.99 each on Friday and Saturday nights) include prime rib, shrimp and crab legs.No. 4: the Golden Corral Buffet & Grill
(8800 Nortwest Skyview Avenue). This location, barely a year old, is the new generation of modestly priced steakhouse-buffets in the successful chain founded by James Maynard and Bill Carl in 1973. It clings to the tradition of old-fashioned comfort foods such as honey-glazed ham, pot roast (which is surprisingly good), meatloaf and chicken pot pie. Not everything on the well-laden steam tables is worth talking about, but some of the culinary innovations introduced here, like the sweet-and-hot "Habanero Shrimp," have to be tasted to be believed. (It's not bad, if you like General Tso's Shrimp with hot peppers.) And you have to love a dessert selection that still includes Jell-O cubes.No. 3: Sweet Tomatoes Salad Buffet
(1309 Meadow Lake Parkway). This elaborate salad bar holds enough fattening stuff -- cheeses, pasta salads, dressings -- to counter all the goodness of its fresh vegetables. It isn't all-you-can-eat, though it's easy enough to heap up a towering plate of deliciousness. What is
a value, however, are the all-you-can-eat soups, pastas and baked goods. This smorgasbord costs a bit extra, but if you're hungry, you can do some serious damage on the pasta selections (today's variety includes salsa de Lupe, macaroni and cheese, and lemon cream with capers), the eight daily soups and cornbread, muffins and foccaccia. With butter, naturally.
No. 2: China One Buffet
(5150 North Oak Trafficway). You'll see culinary creations on this buffet that aren't necessarily Chinese in origin. In fact, a few of them aren't recognizable as having any familiar ethnic origin. But it's all hot, fresh-tasting and satisfying. And, best of all, it's cheap.No. 1: Papa Lew's Soul Delicious
(2128 East 12th Street). For 10 bucks and tax, restaurateur Doris Lyman -- widow of this restaurant's namesake, Lewis Lyman -- serves up a bountiful buffet. It may not be as lavishly arrayed as the Peachtree Buffet, but it's a lovable collection of home-style fare, including daily specials (meatloaf and liver and onions on Mondays, for example, and baked spare ribs on Wednesdays) along with the standard favorites, like crispy fried chicken, neck bones, navy beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, rolls and cobbler. No one gives you a dirty look for filling up several plates. In fact, the charming Mrs. Lyman likes to see her customers well-fed.