Busy, bountiful buffet and free balloons Its delights include fresh vegetables, steaks to order, hot muffins; $50 and under


There may be no greater excess in this great nation than the all-you-can-eat buffet, so it seemed the logical place to take a visitor from Germany.

Our destination was the Golden Corral in Glen Burnie.

We figured a Monday night would be a good time -- not so busy as the weekend. We were wrong. Monday is "Family Night" at the restaurant off Ordnance Road, with free balloon animals and face-painting, a bicycle raffle (prize awarded monthly) and a biweekly appearance by Precious, the skateboarding dog.

It was packed and so noisy you could hardly hear the Muzak. There was the din of people talking, the rattle of carts wheeling dishes to the washers and the dinging bell that every 15 minutes signals the arrival of fresh-baked cookies, rolls and muffins at the Brass Bell Bakery.

And to top it off, you can order a steak.

Is this hog heaven or what? Maybe it should have been named the Golden Trough.

Our visitor, Ute Friesen, touring the country in that nether world between university and career choice, found the continual movement of people and dishes almost dizzying at first, but then a transformation took place near our table along the aisle.

We watched a young boy drop his plastic plate, heaping-food-side down, next to the bakery-sweets counter, and within seconds an employee had put up a caution cone and begun mopping up. It was transfixing. And suddenly we were caught up in the rhythm of the place.

Round plastic containers of fresh salad items wheel by and are slipped into Playskool-like round holes on the serving island. The brass bell dings, and the blueberry muffins are ready. The waiter is ever ready for refills.

He forgot David's steak, but -- hey -- David was busy making the rounds of the hot foods section and its six other kinds of meat. It eventually arrived, an inch-thick, 1-pound sirloin, medium rare exactly as ordered, and tender.

The local Sizzlers, which went belly-up in a bankruptcy reorganization last year, had a prettier salad-and-fruit display than that of the Golden Corral. But the latter puts out smaller quantities and keeps the food and greens fresh.

Ute was impressed by the freshness of the vegetables. (The cooked ones are a tad mushy, alas.) David was impressed at little touches, like the fresh-made pizza popular with the "deputies" -- children whose buffet price is measured according to height.

Bonnie loved the chicken gravy. The chicken wasn't bad, either.

It's easy to order just the adult buffet at $6.69 (30 cents higher Friday through Sunday). The lunch buffet, which lacks fresh-carved meats, runs $5.19. Beverages are $1.09 with unlimited refills, but you could go for water with a lemon slice instead. Ute does not recommend the Hi-C fruit punch, which she said tasted like overly sweet bubble gum.

Bonnie ordered just the buffet, while David's big sirloin was $7.99 -- with the buffet added for an extra $3.99. Ute had the filet mignon (which she made the mistake of ordering medium instead of medium rare) at $8.99, including potato, side salad and a roll that was mediocre. David replaced it with one of his blueberry muffins.

For buffet survivors, there's a no-holds-barred dessert bar. But after a couple of plates of vegetables and meats, pasta or pizza, and muffins, muffins, muffins, more than one pass at dessert would be sheer gluttony.

Our meals came to $29.84 before tax and tip.

Maybe we'll go back on another Monday and check out the skateboarding dog. This place is a hoot.

David and Bonnie welcome readers' suggestions on Anne Arundel restaurants with a good meal for two, priced under $50 (before tip and taxes). Write to them at P.O. Box 1152, Pasadena 21123.

Golden Corral

Where: 6701 Chesapeake Center Drive, off Ordnance Road. 410-590-0270

Hours: Breakfast, 7: 30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; lunch, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Dinner prices: Entrees, $4.79-$8.99; buffet, $6.69-$6.99

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, Discover

Rating: ** 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland, **** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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