There are buffets and then there are buffets, and the Hollywood Casino's Epic Buffet, a few minutes from downtown, is among the latter.
Top-notch food, nearly all cooked in-house (including pizzas, soups, Asian, veggies, and desserts save for pies), are beautifully presented in modest portions. The large cook staff is friendly, well versed, and uniformed in snappy whites topped with caps.
There's nothing cafeteria about Epic and it's not cheap, but everything (and it was a lot) that crossed this reviewer's palate on a couple of visits was good and often, mighty fine.
Lunch, as always, is the best deal, and the fare doesn't seem to differ greatly from dinner. Seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., it's $15.99, which includes a non-alcoholic beverage. (Alcohol can be purchased separately from one's server and prices are reasonable.)
Have time to kill and love a killer deal?
People 55 and older who register for the casino's Marquee Rewards card (you can register and use it the same day), will pay a mere $5.99 for lunch and $11.99 for dinner on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Here's how it works: Pay at Epic's hostess desk, receive a number, then leave to wander the neon wonderland or become mesmerized by a machine. When your number is called, you return. However, wait times can be 30 minutes to two hours. You might fare better getting an early dinner just before 4 for the lunch price, or coming for dinner (lines are shorter after 6 p.m.)
Dinner prices vary a bit, but are typically $21.99, Sunday through Thursday (5 to 9 p.m.); $36.99 Fridays (5 to 11 p.m.); and $29.99 Saturday (5 to 10 p.m.).
High-ceilinged Epic approaches elegance with marble-look and dark-wood walls, tables, and wide, comfortable booths. Serving areas are beautiful. Initially overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices (though not nearly as vast as some buffets), I spent a while meandering, taking in as much as I could. The variety is great for meat, fish, or health-conscious eaters as well as vegetarians. Absent is the heavy aroma of grilled/deep fried food; no burgers or fries here, but they can be purchased 24/7 at the adjacent Take 2 Grill.
In Epic's center, a large oval area is ringed with salads/soups and desserts (about a 1 to 2 ratio). Against the back wall, food is clustered in themed groups of four or five, each item in a bowl that's constantly temperature-tested and replenished.
An Italian cluster has a couple of pizzas with paper-thin crusts, chicken alfredo with penne pasta, meatballs in sauce, and veggies, all very good. We were told gnocci would be added soon.
A Southern cluster has catfish and sweet potato wedges (don't miss either), succotash and deep-fried green beans (skip both). Mac and cheese was good, as were meaty ribs. An Asian group has crispy pot stickers, egg rolls, and divine coconut rice. If you like baked beans, the cowboy beans with tender steak are great as are mashed potatoes and gravy. London broil slices were rare and a bit chewy.
There's usually a chef's selection dish, which is always worth a try.
We hit crab night on a Friday; the legs are succulent but cracking your own, especially thin legs or those with soft shells is time consuming. Too little bang for my buck, especially when there are so many wonderful temptations.
The best of the salad bar were baby spinach and strawberry with strawberry sauce, seafood salad, potato salad with real bacon, and coleslaw; macaroni salad was bland. Both beer cheese and chicken noodle soups were excellent.
At the far left end are a couple of types of sushi and a make-while-you-wait bowl of protein and veggies. Order via a small card, circling a protein (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp), selecting a sauce (the orange and ginger was fabulous), and filling a bowl with veggies, all of which a chef cooks on the spot.
I rarely have dessert when dining out, but they're irresistibly gorgeous and most are homemade. My favorite was bread pudding, served warm; it fills the mouth with a soft, mild sweetness. Embellish with a dot of soft-serve ice cream. Don't miss the creme brulee, made in little foil cups drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce.
If you love lemon, the meringue pie is a superb combination of flavors and textures, with intensely tart lemon, soft meringue, and a half-inch-thick crust of finely chopped coconut with perhaps a bit of flour. Underwhelming but pretty were the lime tarts and cannoli. There's a nice variety of cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and pies.
Menu note: Through Aug. 30, the 5 to 11 p.m. Friday buffet is $36.99 and features all-you-can-eat Alaskan snow crab.
Contact Bill of Fare at email@example.com.
DINE | RECENT
Summaries of recently reviewed area restaurants, in the order in which they were reviewed, with the most recent at the top.
● Eddie Lee’s, 4700 Nantuckett Dr., is most known for its steaks and seafood, has a rich history, evident by the crowds of loyal customers who pour in and out of the restaurant. The entrees were tasty and the service, even better. Eddie Lee's has an old school flair about it, which its customers seem to enjoy. $$ 3 Stars
● Jominic’s Trattoria, 612 Adams St., is a little slow but it's one of downtown sandwich shops worth visiting if you're shopping local. The Primo sub has it all and the soups are homemade and worth the $3.99 price tag. $ 2 stars.
● Mister Spots, 206 N. Main St., Bowling Green, is a close as it comes in Ohio to authentic Philadelphia Cheese Steaks. The venerable sandwich shop, which is open daily until 2:30 a.m., is also known for its wings. $ 3 stars.