VINELAND - If you have ever been to a really good yard sale, you might have noticed how some people run from their cars before it is even in park, as if they are afraid of missing some spectacular deal. We observed the same thing happening at the East Buffet in Vineland.
Groups of people came running in the front door looking like they were anxious for a chance to eat there. We imagined it is crowded because the food is above par for a buffet of this type.
The best part of a busy buffet is the constant turnover of food. We were pleased to see food refilled frequently and care taken to stir it from time to time. This keeps food looking good and at a safe holding temperature. The refiller also wiped the counter clean each time they finished.
East Buffet has a smaller selection than some other Chinese buffets we have visited. But with all the basic food groups covered, a smaller menu can be a good thing.
Three food bars, each presenting about 18 selections, are broken down into soups and appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Bowls and plates are stacked near the soup section.
A very good, peppery hot and sour soup had gads of ingredients such as tofu, mushrooms, tiger lilies, egg, and more. Wonton soup and egg drop soup also were available, with a pan of crispy noodles on the side.
Hot appetizers included chicken teriyaki on a stick, fried southern-style chicken, Buffalo chicken, stuffed clams and jumbo shrimp with Chantilly sauce around the outside. We especially liked the fried dumplings, filled with tasty ground pork alongside a soy-mirin sauce for dipping. Both spring rolls and pork egg rolls were on offer, but the egg rolls didn't contain much pork and both were on the soggy side.
We liked the General Tso's chicken, although this dish was literally floating in sweet sauce. We sampled most of the items on the entree table, including chicken and broccoli, hot and spicy chicken, honey chicken, sauteed green beans, and corn pudding. Most were fresh and seasoned well.
We sampled something called iron plate beef, with peppers and onions. Boneless pork ribs were red cooked and piled high in a hot bain marie.
The table that held the desserts offered an assortment of sushi and a tray of cocktail shrimp alongside canned and fresh fruit, Jell-O, pudding, cakes, macaroons, and eclair-like pastries with whipped cream inside. A soft serve machine stood ready for those willing to take dessert into their own hands.
A plus for diners, everything was marked in two languages.
Hot food was hot and cold food was cold at the East Buffet. Etched glass sneeze guards protected the food from careless customers and the bright, clean dining room was pleasant and comfortable. You might not have guessed that from the cinder block and blue gun metal decor on the outside.
Host and cashier were attired in colorful, embroidered tops with Mandarin collars. Sky blue ceilings served as a counterpoint to the red paper lanterns strung overhead. Pagodas and fans decorated walls, but the center point was a flat screen television that often shows sports games and the like.
The crowd was an interesting mix of all ages, including plenty of families with young children. At lunch, workmen enter by the carload to pile up a plate or two, then rush back to their jobs. Retirees linger a little longer.
Whether the good food came first or the steady stream of customers, we can't say for sure. But you can expect to find something to please every member of your party at the busy East Buffet in Vineland.
C.C. Hoyt is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Hoyt c/o Taste Editor Felicia Compian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.
3722 E. Landis Avenue, Suite P, Vineland
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Liquor license: BYO
Credit cards: most major
Disabled access: yes
Price: Lunch, $5.99 (children 2 to 5 years, $2.50; 6 to 9 years, $3.50). Dinner $7.99 ( children 2 to 5 years, $3.50; 6 to 9 years, $4.50). Beverages $1.25
Our bill for two: $19.80 plus tip