Golden Corral, 1640 E. 4th St. (at Baker), Ontario (also at 2037 Rancho Valley Drive, Pomona); open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
(It’s schedules like the above, by the way, that make me regret my policy of typing out restaurants’ business hours.)
Buffets’ heyday might seem to have come and gone, with the late, and lame, HomeTown Buffet driving the final limp celery stalk into any remaining interest. But along comes Golden Corral, the North Carolina-based chain that has made a big entry into California.
I was only mildly curious about Golden Corral. I’m not a buffet guy. But a week ago, three members of our newsroom, which was practically the entire newsroom, were all going to the Ontario location for lunch and invited me to join them. Why not? I knew I’d never go on my own.
When you enter, you get your tray and your self-serve drink before you pay, which probably cuts down on cheating from those who would claim they would only get a water while later secretly filling up on soda, and plenty of it. Lunch is $13, with drinks extra. I actually did get water. A server stopped by our table a couple of times to offer refills, since you can’t get them yourself, so be prepared to tip a dollar or two.
There’s oceans of seating, and a weekday lunch does not seem to be the busy time. I’ll bet weekends are a different story. There are five areas for food: Greenhouse (salads and fruit), Smokehouse (Southern/BBQ), Hacienda (Mexican), Grillhouse (chicken and fish) and Brass Bell Bakery (dessert).
One colleague went all-Southern (see above), which she called a Southern potluck: fried catfish, hush puppies, popcorn shrimp, fried okra, mashed potatoes with sausage gravy, fried chicken, “Bourbon St. chicken,” pot roast and a roll. She liked it and singled out the popcorn shrimp for being more shrimp than batter.
My first plate, above, was, to go clockwise from left, toasted ravioli, pulled pork, fried shrimp, hush puppy, fried fish, Bourbon St. chicken, collard greens and rice. Not bad.
Another colleague had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and green beans. Taking after the “Southern potluck” diner, he declared: “My course is Sunday afternoon at Aunt Bea’s house.”
He said his strategy is to try to get seven courses, but not seven plates, represented. The fourth in our group said he looks at buffets as a competition: “Oh, David got the clam chowder. I need to get that.”
It’s hard to photograph a buffet, especially when you’re 1) trying to be subtle about it and 2) not trying that hard to begin with. But here’s one view.
The dessert area included a chocolate fountain, soft serve ice cream, hand-scooped ice cream (which the staff serves), cookies and brownies. I had a chocolate pudding, which was pretty good.
Overall, my friends were satisfied. The competitor did his best to keep up and, sated, spent the afternoon struggling to stay awake. Golden Corral is all right for what it is. As a non-buffet guy, it’s hard for me to imagine going back. It wasn’t that good. But it’s definitely of better quality than HomeTown. If you’re a buffet guy or gal, you might like it.