Quality is a gamble at the casino buffets.

A Boatload of Food 

Quality is a gamble at the casino buffets.

Come and get it: The words "all you can eat" have an almost hypnotic quality. The concept of loading up a plate with as much food as possible is a seductive one that goes against the very grain of America's Puritan past, when gluttony was considered a sin.

And what better place to combine sins -- gluttony and gambling -- than the casino buffets, where the mountains of food have nearly as much visual appeal as the slot machines? It's easy to feel like a winner when you've stuffed yourself with several plates of food -- beating the house by getting more than your money's worth -- at a single sitting.

In fact, Station Casino (3200 N. Station Road) might have overplayed its hand on November 4 when it kicked off a "buy one, get one free" Saturday breakfast promotion at the Feast Around the World Buffet. The lure was successful enough that there was a massive line of people waiting to get in. Most of them stood in line for well over an hour (the promotion continues through November 18) and the hungry diners at the end of the line, clutching their coupons, were grumbling as loudly as their stomachs.

I joined a disgruntled group that headed to nearby Harrah's (1 Riverboat Drive) to try to catch the $5.99 breakfast buffet at the Fresh Market Buffet. But you have to be quick on your feet to grab that deal. The casino's dismally lit dining room (so cramped and unattractive that it makes Station's dining room look as grand as the Taj Mahal) has breakfast only from 7 to 10 a.m.; after that, the buffet switches over to a brunch format and the price rises to $10.99.

The brunch buffet was well-laden with slightly better than average lunch and breakfast fare, though the lunch dishes came off best. The white-jacketed cooks at the "American Bounty" station made omelets to order -- which turned out to be a wise choice. The stuff on the steam table included too-dry, barely warm scrambled eggs, and the "breakfast pizza" (made with eggs, cheese, and sausage) tasted no better than the frozen toaster pastries sold at the supermarket. The bacon was so thin and overcooked that it crumbled like ancient papyrus before I could lift it to my mouth, and the cold sponge that passed itself off as French toast would have been better dusted with cleanser and used to scrub down the tables.

A vat of decent cheesy macaroni and a round of roast beef were among the lunch items, although the woman carving the beef sliced it thinner than tissue paper and growled if anyone asked her for a more generous serving. Over at the little Chinese food station, the egg rolls tasted like the frozen variety, but the tiny ginger meatballs in a spicy, cornstarchy sauce were pretty tasty.

The desserts were standard-issue cafeteria items. We had little wedges of cream pies and real ice cream (instead of that ubiquitous soft-serve stuff) that a nice lady scooped out from behind a glass case. I squirted my ice cream with tepid "hot fudge" from a built-in pump next to the case.

So it wasn't fine dining, but we did get to eat all that we wanted. The problem is, after the ninth plate of food, we not only didn't want anymore, but we also couldn't eat again until Monday. Call it a straight flush.

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