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Thursday, June 9, 2005 01:31 pm

appetite 6-9-05

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International Buffet offers more than 180 items daily

The trend of all-you-can-eat dining in Springfield continues, now on an even bigger scale. The International Buffet is the latest restaurant in town to give people the option of grazing on anything from sushi and General Tso’s chicken to pizza and frog legs.

At one time, the Heritage House was the king of the all-you-can-eat buffet, or smorgasbord, which offered such homestyle cooking as fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The Heritage House has closed its doors, but in its place a slew of new restaurants offer massive amounts of international food.

International Buffet, which is located on North Dirksen Parkway, offers more than 180 items, seven days a week. The restaurant, a sister establishment to Buffet King on South Veterans Parkway, bills itself as the “biggest and most luxuriant buffet in Springfield.” I don’t know about the “luxuriant” claim — row after row of vat after vat of food on warming tables can only yield so much ambiance, but I have to agree with the first part. The tables of food are piled high with fried frog legs, catfish, garlic bread, Peking duck, prime rib, steak, and ribs. An extensive sushi bar, including several kinds of rolls and sashimi (raw fish) in a glass case, is also featured. Although the menu says that Chinese, American, Japanese, and Italian foods are served, only a few dishes, such as linguini, could be classified as Italian.

But with the number of other dishes to try, you won’t miss the spaghetti. Two of the more unusual items I sampled were a steamed red-bean bun and squid stir-fry with jalapeños. Neither dish was worth revisiting. A large salad bar offered a tantalizing spread of fresh fruits such as strawberries and pineapple, plus pasta salad, shrimp cocktail, various cold salads, and greens. A squid salad, featuring marinated vegetables and whole squids, drew attention from curious diners. I didn’t see anyone actually take a serving of the colorful salad, but it certainly created a stir.

One thing worth noting is that when dishes labeled “spicy” were indeed spicy. Sometimes buffet food is bland, but not here. Dishes such as spicy shrimp with tomato sauce truly packed a punch. One of the best items I tried was the peanut chicken. Consisting of chicken pieces clad in a crunchy-peanut-butter coating, the dish was rich but flavorful and unique. The meaty mammoth crab legs were tasty, and the prime rib was surprisingly juicy and tender. The dessert options, especially the ice cream, were better than those I’ve found at similar buffets.

Not all dishes looked appetizing, though: The salmon swimming in melted cheese was almost unrecognizable and looked more like pizza. And although the restaurant is large, it becomes congested as people wander about, trying to decide which dish to sample next. But for less than $10, International Buffet is a great deal if you’re really, really hungry or want some variety in your life.

International Buffet is located at 2520 N. Dirksen Parkway; 217-788-8833; www.buffetking.net. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sun.

The new D’Arcy’s

D’Arcy’s Pint has opened at its new location, 661 W. Stanford Ave., two blocks east of the Wabash curve. The restaurant, known for its horseshoes and homestyle Irish pub fare, was formerly located in the Town and Country Shopping Center. The expanded menu includes lunch sandwich specials, such as a Celtic Philly cheesesteak and New York deli-style corned beef; the dinner menu features steamed mussels in garlic and white-wine sauce, crab-dip appetizer, and the “Taste of Ireland,” a sample platter of such traditional favorites as shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage, and fish and chips.

For more information, call 217-492-8800. Kitchen hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu. and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. The bar is open until 1 a.m. each day The owners hope to offer outdoor dining by the end of June.

Lunch at the Oaks

The Oaks, a restored 19th-century mansion overlooking Petersburg, is now open for lunch. The historic bed & breakfast, which has been in business for 10 years, is now serving lunch, including grilled sandwiches and several salad entrées, such as a fruit plate with lemon bread, Oriental chicken salad, Thai beef salad, and Mediterranean chicken salad. The Oaks is located at 510 W. Sheridan Rd. in Petersburg; 217-632-5444. Lunch is served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Reservations are suggested for parties of six or more.

Food on the plaza

Downtown diners can now grab a steak and go. A concession cart operated by All Star Catering on the Old State Capitol Plaza offers grilled ribeyes, pork chops, brats, hot dogs, chicken, drinks, and more. This is the first year the business has operated a cart downtown, says owner Garret Jordan, who also owns the All Star Bar at Eight Street and North Grand Avenue. All Star, a regular vendor at the Illinois State Fair, is the only vendor selling food on the plaza at this time.

Smoothies and more

Caffe Panini has added two cold-drink specialties to its summer menu. The downtown eatery now offers 12 exotic flavors of smoothies made with fresh fruit, skim milk, and protein and vitamin enhancements. Blended ice beverages in such flavors as mocha, Tahitian vanilla, and caramel rooibos are also offered. The café, located at 231 S. Sixth St., 217-522-0488, is open 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 7:30-9 p.m. Fri., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.

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