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Thursday, April 8, 2004 03:20 am

All you can eat

art963
New dishes are routinely added to Buffet City’s menu
PHOTO BY NICK STEINKAMP

To me, "All you can eat" usually means "You won't want to eat this stuff." With the exception of elegant Sunday brunches, the places that promote overindulgence in trip after trip to the buffet offer food that just isn't worth the effort.

Buffet City proves that every rule has an exception.

Located at 1774 Wabash Ave., Buffet City does an excellent job of combining the unlimited-eating format with fresh-tasting food. The restaurant bills itself as the "largest New York-style Chinese buffet in Springfield" and offers more than 150 items to back up that claim. New dishes are routinely added to the menu to freshen up the offerings for frequent customers.

Several things distinguish Buffet City from the rest of the pack. First, the variety of dishes is impressive -- you can choose Mongolian grill, sushi, Chinese dishes and American favorites such as fried shrimp. The food is fresh, replenished frequently and doesn't taste as if it's being served in massive quantities.

The dinner seafood buffet is the best bet for your money. In addition to the large serving stations featuring tubs of steaming food, from sesame chicken and dim sum to chicken legs and potato wedges, there are fresh seafood options such as snow-crab legs, baked and raw oysters, mussels and peel-and-eat shrimp.

I was impressed with the sushi bar, located at the back of the dining room, which offers freshly made California rolls and spicy salmon rolls with avocado, as well as raw tuna, salmon and barbecued eel. You can watch the sushi chef in action as he continually makes and refills the rows of sushi. Next to the sushi bar is a Mongolian grill, where diners select their own meats, vegetables and sauces and then hand them over to be grilled to their specifications. Diners can choose from everything from bowls of mushrooms, carrots and bean sprouts to slices of chicken and pork.

I have dined at Buffet City several times. During one dinner, a family sitting next to us was feasting on plates piled high with snow-crab legs. Another woman was eating a plateful of cream puffs. My mother prefers to stick to the salad and fried shrimp (which is large and crispy -- not the popcorn variety usually found on buffets). My father was ecstatic at being able to enjoy fried frog legs, sizzling shrimp and ribs all in one meal. I saw one child eating nothing but a plate of kumquats. That's the beauty of a buffet -- you can enjoy all you want of your favorite dish or enjoy a small sampling of a wide variety of dishes. It would be hard not to find something here you like: from American basics such as pork, beef, chicken, boneless spare ribs, salad, fresh fruit and ice cream to the array of Chinese dishes, which ranges from dumplings, egg-drop soup and egg rolls to an array of pork, seafood and chicken and vegetable dishes.

You can also order from an extensive menu, which includes fried rice, lo mein, chop suey, and chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, and mein fun dishes. The menu also features healthy options of steamed food, cooked without oil or MSG, such as steamed chicken with broccoli, and several lunch specials. Although the menu sounds appetizing, the buffet is hard to pass up, especially if you're hungry.

The dessert options are uninspiring, and most people seem to choose ice cream and fruit to finish their meals. The plates of pastries, brownies and other generic options weren't worth saving room for -- not that we had any room left once we finished our meal.

Even though customers serve themselves, the waitstaff is friendly. They frequently visited our table to remove used plates and refill our drinks.

The lunch buffet, offered from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, is $5.99 for adults and $3.29 for children ages 3-10 years. The Sunday buffet is $6.99 for lunch and $8.99 for dinner ($3.50 and $4.50, respectively, for children). The dinner seafood buffet, served from 4-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, costs $8.99 ($4.50 for ages 3-10). Buffet carryout is also available. The restaurant serves beer, wine and soft drinks.

Buffet City is located at 1774 Wabash Ave. Phone: 217-787-8299. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sun.

Easter eggs

According to the American Egg Board, more eggs are sold during the spring than at any other time of the year. In 2003, an average of 72.6 million dozen eggs were sold at U.S. supermarkets each week.

Because many people decorate eggs for Easter or spring and use eggs as part of the Passover seder meal, that number usually increases during this time of year. Last year, the total number of eggs sold during the week before Easter jumped to 84.8 million dozen; during the week of Easter, egg sales reached 105.4 million dozen.

So what will you do with all those leftover hard-boiled eggs? Because the week after Easter has been designated Egg Salad Week, why not try the following recipe (provided by the AEB)?

Egg Salad

Chop the eggs and add a moistening ingredient -- perhaps mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt or a bottled salad dressing. Then add shredded or chopped carrots, chopped olives or other vegetables. You can also stir in chopped chives, snipped parsley or other herbs.

Spread the salad on bread or toast slices or roll it up in a tortilla; spoon the salad onto lettuce, spinach or other greens; or stuff it into a pita pocket, a hollowed-out tomato or a large cooked pasta shell. For a new treat, serve hot egg salad on an English muffin or sliced bagel, cocktail rye-bread slices or even a frozen waffle, then sprinkle on some shredded cheese and bake or microwave until the cheese is melted.

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