Buffets vs. Entrées

It's one of those age-old debates: quality versus quantity. In a perfect world, heaping portions of seared ahi tuna, pan-crusted grouper, and 12 oz. filets with blue cheese crumbles would glisten away under heat lamps and sneeze guards, with an all-you-care-to-eat scoop perfectly positioned to accentuate these delicacies.

But, because no such food heaven exists, I must make a decision on whether I prefer small, pricey, and delicious meals, or oversized portions of average food. I choose the latter, and I'm going to tell you why.

I believe in value for your hard-earned dollar. With buffets, you control your own destiny for a set, non-negotiable price. Take as little or as much as you like. Over-indulging is encouraged at a buffet, although I can't recommend making it a habit.

I must admit -- larger menus frighten me a bit. I'm "that guy" who can't make up his mind after everyone else has ordered his or her entrees. A buffet is my cure-all for this phobia. If I don't like what I've selected off the buffet, I simply return to the buffet line (with a new plate, honoring the strategically placed sign reminding us of the health of all the patrons) and pick something else.

Buffets are efficient for the consumer. You don't have to worry about a server slowing down your eating habits. Where else can you walk in a restaurant, politely greet the server, and have a full plate in under a minute? And where else can you design a dessert with such culinary freedom? Bread pudding smothered by a swirl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, topped with sprinkles, Oreos, and chocolate chip cookies? One word: Awesome.

Now some may argue that buffets are wasteful. This is true, I say, for children and amateurs. But if you live by the golden rule of buffet etiquette, "Take what you want, but want what you take," then all should be well in the world.

-- Drew Ermenc

About 20 years ago, I witnessed a sight that almost turned me against buffets. An obese man made at least his third trip to an East Memphis food bar. He loaded his plate with gravy-laden meat, mashed potatoes, white beans, and various "salads" smothered in mayonnaise and piled with cheese, croutons, and olives. These olives, perhaps his idea of a green vegetable, he grabbed -- yes, grabbed with his hand -- after he knocked the serving fork to the floor. Then he carried this staggering haul to a table and proceeded to shovel in the food.

Of course not everyone who visits a buffet behaves with such abandon. But something about "all-you-can-eat" brings out the glutton in humans. The food is there, so we stuff ourselves, because we can, and ain't it grand!

Well, it's not grand. It's unhealthy, unseemly, and unfortunate that we can't control our excess. How many of us have made too many trips to a buffet and sworn never to do it again, but in less than a week find ourselves back at the trough, piling on the victuals and packing on the pounds?

Don't get me wrong. I love good food and can flat put it away. And despite the aforementioned memory, I still graze now and then at food bars and usually practice self-control. The key is knowing when to quit. Those who don't pay the price of obesity -- the rate of which among greedy Americans has risen by 60 percent over the past 10 years -- while we all shell out more in higher medical bills and health insurance.

Avoiding buffets and ordering from restaurant menus makes better health sense -- except that these days many restaurants' single portions could serve a family of five. Still, we can enjoy restaurant owners' generosity by consuming a sensible amount and taking the rest home.

Which I did recently. A slab of carrot cake the size of New Jersey. I hear it calling me now -- though I couldn't possibly finish it off. Okay, I could, but let me tell you, it doesn't taste too good with crow.

-- Marilyn Sadler

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