Safe bet: Buffet at del Lago Resort & Casino offers flavorful food for less money
By Jacob Pucci
Buffets and casinos have been a one-two punch of excess in America since the 1940s, when the first all-you-can-eat spreads popped up in casinos on the Las Vegas strip.
Thankfully, the days of the $1 midnight buffet of cold cuts and Jell-O mold salads are over and in its place is a modern version where quality and quantity are equally important.
Farmers Market Buffet, located only a few steps away from the flashing lights of the slot machines, is one of several dining options at del Lago Resort & Casino, which opened to the public on Feb. 1.
The 285-seat buffet was full when we arrived for a late lunch around 2:30 p.m. on the casino’s first Saturday in business. Based on the out-the-door lines we encountered when we left the buffet, dining during the mid-afternoon was the right call.
The buffet is organized as a series of stations around the perimeter — pizza and Italian, American comfort food, carving station, Asian and international — with salads and desserts occupying the large center island.
With only so much stomach space, I zeroed in on the proteins. So I blew past the green salad and went for the Thai chicken and spicy roast beef salads. In both cases, the meats were tender and the vegetables, notably the colorful bell peppers and herbs, were fresh and crisp.
Italy was the next stop on my world tour, where pasta and wood-fired pizza are the names of the game. The pizza was good, but lacked the charred, blistered crust I look for in a top-notch pie. However, the rich, earthy mushroom ravioli and shrimp and vegetable pasta, with pieces of squash that still retained just a bit of snap, were highlights of the meal.
Spring rolls, dumplings and stir-fries, offered both on the buffet line and at a made-to-order station, are among the offerings at the “Stir Crazy” Asian food station. Diners are instructed to fill a bowl with vegetables, sauces and noodles and hand it to the chef, who adds chicken, beef or shrimp to the mix. But unless you only want a few bites, forget the small bowl and use a plate instead.
Having to balance a mountain of ingredients in a small bowl was among the opening week hiccups we encountered. Aside from the salad bar, none of the food was labeled, leaving the staff to repeatedly explain the offerings to diners. Without any signage, each dish was a bit of a guessing game. Fortunately, I’m an adventurous eater.
The stations were spaced close together and with direction or guide, cutting in to grab an item can be awkward. Installing some sort of queue would help eliminate the bottle-necking and waits.
Regardless of when you dine, there will be a line at the “Center Cut” carving station, but every second is worth it for the grilled steak alone. The beef, cooked on an open pit grill to a perfect rare, was smoky and tender enough to cut with a butter knife. Seriously, buffet steak is not supposed to be this good.
Farmers Market Buffet also nailed it with the comfort food, which included the likes of fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and pot roast. The greens were tender with the right amount of vinegar zip, the pot roast was tender and beefy and the chicken was crisp and tender, which is no small feat for something sitting under a heat lamp.
Saving room for dessert at a buffet is often a tough task, but it would be a shame to miss out on the selection of cheesecakes, crème brulee and other cookies, cakes and sweets. Tip: Skip the soft serve and head to the gelato counter, where scoops of pistachio, chocolate hazelnut, salted caramel and other types of gelato are served. The buffet also has not one, but two chocolate fondue fountains, perfect for coating whatever your heart desires with milk chocolate.
Despite its opening week jitters, the Farmers Market Buffet offers a wide range of flavorful food for less money than I blew playing video poker for 15 minutes. In a place where winning or losing your money comes down to the press of a button or the deal of a card, the Farmers Market Buffet is a safe bet.
Farmers Market Buffet
del Lago Resort & Casino, 1133 State Route 414, Waterloo.
Saturday and Sunday, from 9 to 11 a.m.
—Price: $13.99 ($11.99 with Players Club Card)
• Lunch: Daily, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
— Price: $17.99 ($15.99 with Players Club Card)
Monday to Saturday, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, from 5:30 to 9 p.m.
— Price: $22.99 ($20.99 with Players Club Card)
The casino and all restaurants are only open to those 21 years or older.