I Ate at the Poughkeepsie Golden Corral And Survived (Sort Of)
I ate at Golden Corral for the very first time and it was as glorious and terrible as I imagined.
For the past year, I've been putting off going to the new Golden Corral on Route 9 in Poughkeepsie. The idea of eating at a buffet named after a livestock pen didn't seem very appealing to me. Add that to the troubled history of this specific location, and the Golden Corral never popped to the top of the list of places I needed to dine at.
My 8-year-old son, however, has heard magical stories from his classmates about this fabled restaurant and has been begging me to take him there for weeks. Reluctantly, I finally caved in and took him for dinner. I was either going to be the father of the year or scar him for life, but I figured we'd roll the dice and see what happened.
Upon entering Golden Corral I was immediately confused. There was a long line of soda machines and a register. With no employees around I just strolled into the restaurant not knowing where to go. After looking around for a bit, I found a very pleasant worker who explained to me how the whole thing works. First, I needed to get a drink and then head to the register to pay. Refills were free, but for some reason, you could pay a little extra for a huge plastic cup. This made no sense to me until I saw people leaving with full cups of soda. That's right: soda to go. This was a whole new world I was not prepared for.
I grabbed a small cup and paid for me and my son. Dinner for one adult and one child came to $23.23. I made sure the price was correct and was assured we could eat as much as we liked for less than it costs to wash my car.
After heading to our table we were greeted by a very nice and friendly server who instructed us on how to attack the buffet. He told us he'd take care of cleaning up our plates and refilling our drinks, our only job was to eat and enjoy. I was thinking that maybe I could get used to this. Perhaps I've made a mistake avoiding Golden Corral for so long?
The first road bump appeared when we grabbed our plates before going to the buffet. The first two plates we got were covered in scratches. The white, plastic plates were also tinted with a faint, orange food stain. I dug deeper into the pile of plates to find some clean ones and discovered that all of them had the same issue. I convinced myself that the plates weren't dirty, but just well worn. I don't think I'm a snob, but it was hard to get past eating off of these plates. Especially as we began to eat and the scratches became darker with food stains.
After coming so far, it was too late to turn back now. Looking around, no one else seemed to mind the plates, so we pressed on and got some food. The first stop was the salad bar. This was the loneliest part of the restaurant. It was obvious that not many people visit the salad station. This was the only area of the restaurant where the carpet wasn't worn and all of the food looked as though it was just put out.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the lettuce and spinach. It was fresh and crisp. There were plenty of fixings and dressings. My biggest fear about going to the buffet was having to choose from food that had been manhandled by other people, but the selections were set deep enough into the service bays that I felt confident that the food was as contaminant-free as could be expected. Not bad.
The next station was a potpourri of foods that dazzled and amazed. There was fried and roasted chicken, tortillas, Chinese food, fish, steaks off the grill, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, pizza, chili, pot roast and dozens of other foods for the taking.
I'll be honest, the food wasn't terrible. I took small portions of each food, planning to go back for bigger plates of my favorites. The variety of food was so enormous that I was filled up before I found anything I really wanted to go back for. My son fell in love with mashed potatoes and pizza. Usually, I'd make sure he was eating some sort of vegetable, but when in Rome... The smile on his face made it clear that he loved the idea of eating whatever he wanted. I was actually surprised when my usually picky eater went back several times for chicken and macaroni and cheese.
The main event at Golden Corral, however, is dessert. In the middle of the station dedicated to sweets is the famous chocolate fountain. The recirculating cascade of warm chocolate is a germophobe's nightmare, but after coming so far on our journey, I just had to take the last plunge. Not surprisingly, my son loved the fountain. He dipped marshmallows, strawberries and rice crispy treats in chocolate, waiting for them to harden before attacking the chocolaty skewers. I had samples of the pies, cakes and puddings. There was a sad-looking soft-serve ice cream machine with a pile of melted ice cream sitting underneath it. Perhaps if it looked more appetizing I would have tried it, but we stuck to the other desserts. My favorite was the banana pudding.
After shoving as much dessert as we could down our throats, we decided that we had eaten all that we could and it was time to leave. I'm not sure what the tipping custom is at Golden Corral, but I noticed that many of the other diners left without leaving money on the table. Our server was great and brought my son a few extra glasses of milk, so I left a generous cash tip before heading out. As we approached the door my son bolted back to grab one more treat; cotton candy to go.
Driving home I was pleasantly surprised. Not because the Golden Corral was better than I thought, but because it wasn't as terrible as I had feared. Before going to sleep I even contemplated returning to the buffet one day. That is, until I woke up the next morning.
After a sound sleep, I woke up dazed and confused. Stumbling out of bed I wondered to myself how much I drank last night. After realizing it was a weekday I struggled to understand why I felt so terrible. Was I getting the flu? Then it hit me: Golden Corral. While the food didn't make my stomach sick, it did leave me feeling sluggish and sleepy. Sitting here writing this article, I still feel terrible. Perhaps it's the amount of salt I ate or the sugar, but either way, I can't imagine how people do this on a regular basis.
After finally experiencing Golden Corral, I totally get the appeal. Being able to eat as much as you want from a variety of not terrible food for a really cheap price is intoxicating. But will I be going back? Maybe one day. But for now, I just need to drink lots of water and take a nap.
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