by Terrance Mc Arthur
Our roving food critic Terrance Mc Arthur continues his search for great food in Sanger and the surrounding communities. Check out more Great Food Search here!
Buffets—no, I’m not talking about Jimmy and his parrothead pals in Margaritaville—are faster than fast food, homelier than home cooking, and come in many varieties. The Great Food Search presents a sampler—a smorgasbord, if you will—of all-you-can-eat places in the Central Valley. This isn’t everybody (Sorry, Ole Frijole—I wasn’t in your neighborhood), but here are some nice places to feed a bunch of people.
Home Town Buffet—3744 N. Blackstone Ave, Fresno (and in Clovis, and W. Shaw, and Visalia, and more). In the past, this was where you’d go if you had a lot of people to feed, but you still wanted a sit-down atmosphere. The food didn’t have to be great; it just had to be there…and there had to be lots of it. There have been some changes made.
Now, the service is friendly and attentive, serving areas are refreshed almost as soon as you take something (keeping it hot, and not allowing it to dry out). The old carrot coins have been replaced by tender baby carrots, labels tell you what all the food is, and mini-skillets hold wonderful servings of steak tips with mashed potatoes, pulled pork with cowboy potatoes, or cheesy hashed browns. Best of all, the milk machine still dispenses chocolate milk! Tourist buses pull up frequently, giving you the opportunity to make friends with people whose language you don’t understand.Mitsui Buffet—117 W Shaw Ave, Clovis. This used to be a Golden Corral, but its current incarnation is very Asian. Entering the restaurant, you will see a path shining through a darkened room, leading you to a curving bank of serving tables bathed in light. There is sushi, lots of Oriental fare…and pizza. Salad fixings and desserts are along one side. It has a nice soup selection; the Hot and Sour Soup is mild, but it can still open up your sinuses. In the entry area, you can pay a dollar and spin a wheel to get a prize, up to a free meal (I won a fortune cookie).
A-Star Buffet—4984 E. Kings Canyon Rd, Fresno. Spread through a former pizza place, A-Star has a wide variety of Western and Eastern food. There’s a koi pond by the pay area, with some massive fish that are for looking, not eating. Several seating areas can be used for groups or parties, and the atmosphere is bright and cheery, but the big drawing card is the food.
There is sushi, chicken feet and pig feet, lots of Chinese food, and a Mongolian station. (you pick the meats, veggies, noodles and sauces, and someone with ninja skills slashes at it with sharp things on a hot-hot-hot surface until it’s ready for you to wolf down gratefully). They have a fish (not one of the koi) that is bathed to a buttery tenderness. I really enjoyed the Shrimp Fettucine Alfredo, with S.O.U.S.es (Shrimp of Unusual Size), and there is Mexican fare, a grand salad area, and steaks that won the hearts of my wife and my daughter.
Fermin’s Steakhouse—1351 7th St, Sanger. Sunday Brunch, 9am-3pm. Adults: $12, Seniors: 9$, Children under 8: $7. Fermin’s is an upscale restaurant in up-and-coming Sanger. On Sunday mornings, it transforms into a modest Mexibuffet that would be perfect for the before-and-after-church crowd, or the I-don’t-want-to-cook bunch. You can assemble a decent salad, then dive into the usual suspects of Hispanic cooking like tortillas, rice, beans, eggs and sausage, and menudo. The main dishes are really the best part of the buffet. Excellent enchiladas, sauce-enriched chile rellenos, and…I’ve got to tell you about the chile verde!
When you raise the lid of the steam table, all you see is green liquid. Start scooping it, and up pops piping-hot chunks of pork that fall apart when they hit the plate. The flavor is exquisite! Of all the dishes in this episode of the Great Food Search, out of all the buffets I sampled, this was the best thing I ate!
Fermin’s Sunday Brunch is a bold experiment. Not all restaurants would try something like this that was a risk, but community-friendly. It would be a shame to see this end, it needs to be supported.
…And the Envelope, Please
Where would I take a group of people with different tastes and degrees of finickiness? Home Town Buffet and A-Star Buffet. Home Town is best for down-home cooking, while A-Star offers a staggering variety of foods, and both of them clean off your table when you abandon a plate, and check to see if your drink needs refilling. I was really impressed by the chile verde at Fermin’s, and I may go back to Mitsui to spin the wheel and try to win that free meal.
Keep eating, people! (Remember, there is a comma in that statement. I am not endorsing cannibalism!)