I have to admit that whenever I hear the word “buffet” in relation to a meal I am about to eat, I get a little closed-minded.
I picture small children reaching unwashed hands into bins of nearly-congealed food, sneezing under the sneeze guards and running unaccompanied down narrow aisles with plates piled too high. I picture flies. Lots and lots of flies.
The Butter Bean Buffet was different.
While there were plenty of children present on the recent Friday evening I chose to sample the restaurant’s cuisine, they were sitting, seemingly well-mannered, with their families in cozy booths.
The place was busy without being overly crowded and the friendly wait staff instantly made me feel like I was at a potluck family reunion instead of a roadside diner.
Vanessa Gainey, who runs the restaurant with the help of her daughter, Jessi and several other relatives, said it was just those types of family functions that inspired her to open the Butter Bean, which serves downhome favorites like chicken pie, beef stew, potatoes and gravy, meatloaf and, of course, fatback.
“All the women in my family were excellent cooks. They had so many recipes,” said the former graphic designer (she’s responsible for the Butter Bean’s logo). “I grew up on this stuff. Everything on the buffet is homemade – even the Ranch, Thousand Island and Bleu Cheese dressings.”
And everything on the buffet is filling. The $10 dinner price includes all-you-can-eat access to the “hot bar” and the “cold bar” (salad, etc.), as well as a drink and your choice of dessert. But, as we soon found out, the downside of such hearty choices is that going back more than once takes a stomach of steel. But even if you get full on one plate, $10 isn’t bad for so many options.
What really made the Butter Bean for me was Gainey’s very recent decision to add menu items to her restaurant’s offerings. She (rightly) assumed that folks stopping in for lunch might not have the time or the gastric fitness to take on a full buffet.
While Justin went bold with the dinner spread and was content for the most part with his choices, I ordered a burger and some onion rings. When the burger came out of the kitchen hot, greasy and seemingly made of (gasp) real ground beef, I was pleasantly surprised.
It fell apart like a burger from the backyard grill and all the toppings (I had my choice of ketchup, mustard, onions, slaw, chili, swiss or American cheese and relish) tasted fresh. Even the onion rings came out piping hot and looked like they had been hand-breaded and fried (I didn’t verify this).
Another upside to ordering off the menu is that nothing (except for the Papa Bean Basket, which weighs in at $7.95) was priced above $5.
When it came time for the dessert that Justin got with his buffet, we couldn’t choose between the orange cream, lemon, German chocolate and pineapple upside down cakes so we got the sampler. No complaints with any of those, which is not surprising considering Gainey told us they were all recipes passed down from her paternal grandmother.
If I had a stamp of approval, the Butter Bean Buffet would get it, along with an advisory warning: going on an empty stomach is an absolute must.