3458 N. Fruitland Lane, CdA
When rumors started fluttering around that Coeur d'Alene was next in line on Golden Corral's short list of places to build a restaurant, an oddly numerous amount of local folks started freaking out with excitement. Granted, our town hasn't had a corporate buffet style eatery since...um, I can't even remember.
I think the last local entry into the World of Many Sneezeguards was Granny's up in the dog end of the Silver Lake Mall, which mercifully died at least a decade ago. So, it's been awhile since Coeur d'Aleneians have been able to give up on life via sweatpants and five hours taking gluttonous trips to the trough of bland, sub-cafeteria style foodstuffs.
If you're one of these buffet queens yourself, I'm sure you're glowing bright with joy that the Cd'A Golden Corral has finally hung their "line starts here" sign and have flung open their doors for business. I'd been to the North Spokane Corral several years ago and I'd be lying if I said I walked out of there in fits of culinary bliss.
In fact, it was so blah, even bleh, that I couldn't wrap my brain around why people think the place was worth getting worked into a frenzy about. After my maiden visit to the new Cd'A restaurant, I certainly can't say I've had any major positive breakthroughs in regards to my opinion of the place.
The Golden Corral buffet concept was hatched in West Virginia in January 1973, and 41 years later, there are over 500 locations all over everywhere. I'd imagine that the Cd'A location is a typical specimen, but I did find it odd that the very first thing one encounters immediately after wandering inside and getting in queue is not a hostess, or even a cashier, but a tall pile of clear plastic cups and a row of soda pop dispensers. Yes, you pour yourself a beverage (at $1.99 for a bottomless situation) while in line to pay.
There's only one option here once you're face to face with the cashier: buffet buffet buffet. I arrived at lunchtime and my total came to exactly $11.11, including my Mountain Dew. In a sea of 73% senior citizens, it wasn't easy to find a table which promised any semblance of peace and privacy, so I just went for the gusto and took a seat right in the middle of it all.
I landed between a solo dining gentleman whose Dep-drowned hairdo must have made all the ladies go tingly in 1958 but was now a grey, slightly askew birds nest, and a physically shaky couple in their eighties who both had their daily pharmaceuticals laid out neatly before them, ready to swallow with a spoonful of instant mashed potatoes and gravy. "Eileen! Take your goddamn crazy pill", coughed the man at one point, struggling to point a wedge of pink ham into his face with his 6.2 Richter Scale hand.
My waitress Miss Katie shashayed by with the promise of unlimited soda refills and instantaneous evacuation of my rejected, dirty plates, and her service was weary but excellent. I fought off a couple of bratty, unsupervised grandchildren and grabbed an industrial plastic plate from the giant stack.
Round One: salad bar. You've got to a little careful with the salad portion of a corporate buffet experience; salad can be deceptively filling and the last thing you would want to do is devote the majority of space in your intestinal tract to leafy greens and veggies that may actually provide some kind of vitamins and healthful benefits. No, you need to save most of your tummy space for processed and deep fried crap.
So I used the tongs to gingerly place a light dusting of spring greens atop my artfully minimalist chunks of iceberg lettuce. There's a lot of stuff to choose from, nothing unusual for a standard salad bar, but I tried to keep it simple with just some mushrooms, carrots, olives, and sunflower seeds with Caesar dressing. Not bad, but it's hard to rate a self-created salad situation as either toot or boot. I also tried the seashell pasta salad, which was surprisingly OK, but naturally it pales next to my mother's version, which I had just enjoyed at a BBQ a few days before. Winner's column! Last up for Round One, a couple of deviled eggs that were THE most boring deviled eggs in the universe, no tang, no twang, just bland and slightly rubbery. Not today, Satan, not today.
Round Two: Pardon my (non) français, but there is a LOT of shit to choose from when approaching the main heat tables at the Corral, and I mean that quite literally. So, it's kind of a game where you eyeball an item and try to suss out whether or not it's going to a) taste okay and b) give you a case of painful gastroenteritis. I suppose if you frequent the place (and many of the patrons I encountered seemed like they make it a daily event), you would kind of get to know what's good and what's full of hate. But I wasn't even sure where to begin with it all, so I just took random grabs of this and that and hoped for the best.
The Mac n Cheese was crying, CRYING, for some salt and once I did that it almost reached the front gate of the realm of frozen microwaved Stouffers Mac n Cheese. I do like Brussels sprouts, and these Brussels sprouts tasted pretty nice and buttery, but their texture was like a optical illusion for the mouth - it looked like a solid but was mushier on the palate than a jar of Gerbers.
The melancholy and pointless red potatoes (flecked with suicidal flakes of dry parsley) were approximately 57% cooked through, so they had a raw earthy crunch. Far more enjoyable, perhaps the first enjoyable item since the green salad, was the cheesy garlic bread strip, which was a bit on the limp side but had a thick and yummy layer of mozzarella and a significant bang of what at least tasted like real garlic. Winner's column!
It takes someone with a real culinary purple thumb to turn a simple comfort food like meat loaf into a DIScomfort food like the meat loaf offered at Golden Corral. It would be unkind to pick on the wearisome taste buds of our senior community, but this product was clearly designed for their pleasure and their pleasure only. After two quick nibbles, I became convinced that this meat loaf was jointly sponsored by the Soy Council of Canada and Iams ProActive Health Large Breed Dog Food, bereft of flavor, crumbly and dry like a stale granola bar. I. Just. Can't.
The "Awesome Pot Roast" wasn't, like, totally tubular or anything, but it was a hair more edible than most of what had come before, closer to Marie Callender's frozen than Budget Gourmet frozen. The hush puppy was at least semi-passable in that it tasted like a ball of wet air fried in fresh oil, but at least the oil was fresh and a ball of fried anything is going to be at least semi-passable.
Round Three. Overall, I had the most rewarding moments of the whole Golden Corral experience with this brief round. The Mini Steak Burger was actually done incredibly well. The juicy beef patty had a sufficient thickness and was grilled to a perfect medium rare. The pickle was a nice touch and the bun had a nice brioche-ness to it. Winner's column! Tasty deep-fried popcorn shrimp is a hard item to screw up and they didn't! Winner's column! My tongue woke up fully with the delicious steak fries. OMG! Finally! Salt! Winner's column! Lemony, buttery asparagus cooked to a toothsome, non-mushy consistency! Winner's column! And a yummy tart strawberry. Winner's column!
It's easy to lose track of time when you're inside a slow-motion day-mare like Golden Corral, so when I looked at my iPhone and realized it was 12:24 I panicked a little. I had an optometrist appointment at 12:30, so I had to wrap things up quick. If there was one thing I had learned from my previous experience with the Spokane Golden Corral, it was that the dessert bar alone was pretty much worth the price of admission. So, I decided my optometrist could wait and headed over to the "Brass Bell Bakery" section of the restaurant to do a quick graze-through.
As far as I could notice, the Cd'A Corral doesn't have one of the chain's infamous chocolate fountains, which was a slight disappointment. With the clock-a-ticking, and minimal time to really go deep with the MANY sweets on offer, I just went right for the vanilla/chocolate swirl soft serve with hot fudge, a rice krispies treat, and the worlds most microscopic slice of cheesecake. All very nice, very nice indeed. Winners column! If I could have gotten away with it, I'd have stuffed my pockets full of krispie treats, cookies, etc. on my way out the door, but the eye doctor was waiting, so I just had to blow Miss Katie a goodbye kiss and book out the door.
Like I said earlier, if you decide to give in to Golden Corral, it needs to be visited with some regularity just to figure out what's hot and what's not and what hits the spot and what gives the gut rot. I had a fair level of success with some of the items, but others made me long for the days of having "lunch" with my grandma at the LaCrosse Health and Rehabilitation Center cafeteria. Personally, I doubt I will devote the future time, dollars and nerves into making Golden Corral a very regular haunt.