Hometown Buffet – The Perfect Un-Valentine’s Day Dinner
Sunday morning, I woke up and started flipping through the freshly printed newspaper. I wasn’t reading any of the articles, but rather thinking of where I was going to take J for Valentine’s Day. For many, Valentine’s is short for gift and snazzy dinner. I’m really not into holidays, or rather, non-holidays such as Valentine’s day, but it was going to be our first. Was Valentine’s Day a cruel day created by marketers at Hallmark or by women who want to gauge their man’s affection and commitment? Whatever the case – I didn’t have anything planned. I could spend $200 on sushi. I could go to a posh restaurant and select their prix fixe menu. But all of those just sounded so… booked and overdone. Besides, almost every decent restaurant in LA was probably booked with lovebirds. Last year’s V-Day was fun because I went with a friend to Beacon and gawked at all the couples gazing into one another’s eyes over pork belly and seared albacore. They were all in a trance. I gave J a call.
Me: “Hey, what do you wanna do for Valentine’s?”
J: “I don’t know. Surprise me. I like surprises.”
Me: “Ok. How about something… different?”
J: “Different is good. Prix fixe sounds good.”
Me: “Ok, careful what you wish for.”
I jumped back into flipping through the newspaper. Where was I going to find an inexpensive place with a prix fixe menu. Nothing left in the newspaper, but a stack of coupons and direct mail. I went ahead and perused it and eureka… here was what I was looking for!
Oh… yes. A coupon for two to Hometown Buffet. Different? Check. Surprising? Double-check! Prix fixe? Oh-yes, triple check… a $10.69 + tax prix fixe menu. For those that don’t know what Hometown Buffet is – think of it as an all-you-can-eat Sizzler, minus all that popcorn shrimp and shrimp scampi. I called J right away.
Me: “Ok, I’ve got a place.”
J: “Yeah? Where?”
Me: “Mmm, they’ve got a reasonably priced, prix fixe and it’s definitely different.”
J: “Oh nice. Where?”
Me: “Hometown Buffet.”
J: “…… what?”
Me: “I’m serious. They’ve got coupons too haha.”
J: “Haha! Let’s do it.”
Wednesday night, after work, I drove off to J’s place to pick her up. I had also forgotten to buy a gift. Any well-respected gentleman presents his lady with a gift on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t have anything in mind to buy. I was stuck. But as I was driving on Venice Blvd., something caught the corner of my eye. I saw a man and a woman standing behind a pack of stuffed bears. Furry white teddy bears holding red heart pillows, wrapped in cellophane. Oh nice… and only $8!! Wait? Is this cheesy? Who cares, I ended up buying one. Now, I had some company in my car.
I got to J’s place and walked into her place with the bear covering my face. She freaked out and realized what I got her and started busting up.
J & Venice Blvd. Bear
You can’t see it, but J is actually staring me down with evil contempt. She asked that I censor her face. The bear requested anonymity as well. Nice picture frame huh? It’s furry too. This bear is going to be extinct very soon. RIP.
We got to Hometown Buffet at around 7:15 and the line was out the door – about 40 people waiting to get their $10.69-grubbing on.
The Buffet Line
I was baffled – I didn’t know if we were at the DMV or Hometown Buffet. The line was painfully slow. People were pacing back and forth. Everyone eyeing each other to see if anyone would attempt to inch past their place in line. Hometown Buffet should just offer motor-vehicle services. That’d be nice to get the license mugshot and a $10.69 meal all in one stop. There would be less angry (and less hungry) people in the world.
Pure Class… and Glass
To make this evening even more special, I took a lunch break at Target and picked up tea candles, two plastic wine-glasses (re-usable of course – i’m not rich) and a snazzy wine-in-a-box package. (Hometown Buffet doesn’t serve alcohol.) The wine box included 4 Hi-C like packages with a foil-sealed spout. I chose the 50% Cabernet and 50% Shiraz.
*Gasp* Breathtaking I know. A wrong pairing of reds to fried chicken, sliced ham, garlic mushrooms and canned, Sysco corn. What the hell is that thing in the back??? Whatever, this was supposed to be our special meal and Hometown Buffet lets you be your own chef. After shooting the photo, I took a sip of the 50/50 Cab/Shiraz varietal made by the Target Vineyards. My thoughts on this wine? It really wasn’t 50% Cab and 50% Shiraz… it was more like 100% undrinkable. 100% refund too, please.
Deep Sea Creature
Do not be frightened. J’s first dish resembled an angler fish. If you threw this in front of Jacques Costeau, he’d have a genus species name for this dish within a few minutes and have it mapped in a fish family tree. This 2,000-calorie creature inhabits the sheet pans and chaffing dishes of Hometown Buffet. This still looked better than a lot of the dishes presented at the first annual Iron Chef Souplantation.
Oh yes. This wasn’t bad at all. I prefer it over KFC, but definitely not over Popeye’s and Mrs. Knott’s. The skin was nice and crispy and the meat was very moist – it just wasn’t that flavorful. Needed some more salt and cayenne/paprika. I still ended up eating 5 drum sticks and am paying the price with a ‘yeet hay’ sore.
Mound O’ Mac
To make the night even cheesier, I indulged in HTB’s mac n’ cheese pit. Honestly, I don’t mind Souplantation’s mac n’ cheese. It’s bland but they leave it to you to flavor it with their table salt/pepper. Hometown Buffet’s is way better because it’s similar to TV dinner M&C. Yes, microwave M&C is one of my guilty pleasures – as well as Jeno’s pizza. I wouldn’t be surprised if I caught the cooks back there emptying hundreds of boxes of Swanson’s mac n’ cheese into a chaffing dish. I had 2 rounds of this, mmm.
The USDA rates all of the beef before being sold. Prime being the best, then Choice and Select. This quality of meat was unidentifiable. It was the lonely stepchild of all meats, placed in the dark, unmarked on a dusty rack, crying in naked/fetal position. The marking on the label probably looks something like “USDA??? Beef??? Sell by ??????” Maybe it’s a zebra? Anyway, I constructed my own Steak Frites dish for under $10.69. Don’t bother asking Hometown Buffet for Steak Frites because you’ll get a blank stare. just go make it yourself. I ate 3 pieces of the beef and stopped before dislocating my jaw from overchewing.
In addition to the fries, J feasted on two bowls of these. Like the beef, it’s also the lonely, neglected stepchild of all meats, crying in naked/fetal position. I wonder how soon it’ll be before Pinkberry starts selling their machines within convenience stores or selling boxed frozen yogurt in supermarkets.
A Moment of Affection and Indigestion
After the many plates of food, we couldn’t move and ended talking for a little while. We then went over to a ‘Valentine’s Day’ booth that Hometown Buffet set up and took a few goofy photos. Although this wasn’t a typical Valentine’s Day venue, we had a total blast eating here. J was so happy that we followed through haha. We both didn’t really care for V-Day, but if we were going to go out, we should try doing something different. We looked at the many other couples and family who were here tonight enjoying their evening. And although not everyone eating here is wealthy enough to enjoy the finer places in LA (including us of course), they still knew how to enjoy themselves. Because at the end of the day (and bill), whether it be a nice meal or a hole-in-the-wall meal, it’s about having good company.
On the drive back, J passed out because of food coma and I was slowly feeling the effects of the Sysco corn and Target Vineyard wine, hitting me. I looked over at the sleepy one and smiled and thought to myself… “what a cool girl I have.”