When I saw the billboard announcing the opening of Great Chow buffet on Wrightsboro Road, I couldn’t wait to tell my brother Piers.
No need, though – it was already on his radar. Piers is legendary in our family since he can down a nearly unlimited number of helpings, all while staying ramrod thin. Which makes buffets his jam. In the ensuing weeks, he called Great Chow several times to pin down the actual opening date – with the result that he, our brother Mark, my husband, Sean, and I arrived early for dinner on Great Chow’s first night.
Despite that, there was already a traffic jam in the parking lot. Great Chow is located in the former Grand Buffet location in the Richmond Plaza shopping center across from Augusta Mall. The billboard advertises a huge number of selections available – and I can believe it. After we finally found a parking space and stepped inside the spacious restaurant (there are three dining areas), we were greeted by delicious aromas that seemed authentically Asian, while multicolored lighting set off 12 long buffet stations – and that’s not even counting the sushi bar, hibachi grill, noodles bar and ice cream freezer.
After we paid for our meals and were seated (we opted for a table since the booths were fairly narrow – we wanted more belly room!), I walked the line to scope out our options.
The various stations offered desserts, salads and fruits, steamed chilled seafood, deep-fried foods, Asian entrees and American dishes. But that’s just scratching the surface of what’s available at Great Chow. Case in point: “Wow, frog legs! This place is awesome!” I heard a dad exclaim to his horrified daughters. And there they were: deep-fried legs that could have been chicken were it not for that distinctive bend.
My brothers meanwhile went for leg of a different variety: pigs feet. As I mapped out my first plate, I walked past mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, clams, crawfish, turkey, whole fried fish, Chinese beans, chicken and broccoli, pizza, chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce, raw oysters, potato and pasta salads, cream cheese-stuffed wontons, Asian stir fries, sweet potatoes, calamari, head-on shrimp, fried chicken (with sweet and sour sauce available but no gravy – although the buffet did strangely feature a pan of melted butter next to the chicken!), crab legs, noodles, rices, colorful sliced fruits and so much more.
It was an almost bewildering number of choices. But I was happy with my first go-round: tender potstickers stuffed with seasoned pork, delicate and sweet coconut-crusted shrimp and of course a frog leg, which tasted just the tiniest bit muddy but was nicely cooked, still moist and, yes, had the texture of chicken.
I was really intrigued by the noodle bar, and while I was enjoying a taste of sushi (a decent California roll, nice and fresh), Sean ordered up a bowl for us to share. First he chose ingredients (his bowl featured bok choy, bean sprouts and noodles), then lined up for the attendant to cook them in broth, top them with seasoning, and spoon one of three soup options on top of them – chicken, oxtail or spicy. Sean chose oxtail, and the result featured a deep rich brown broth.
My first taste was intriguing. The soup was heavily scented with spices, almost tasting Middle Eastern rather than Asian, thanks to the aromatic cardamom that I detected, along with a strong dose of cilantro. I really liked how hearty and warming it was though – and how you could customize it with your own ingredients. However, my brother Piers ordered another soup, this time with the spicy broth, beef tendon, fish ball, shrimp, flounder and imitation crab, and the flavor was very similar, thanks to the heavy doses of spices. Reducing those overwhelming spices is something the buffet could easily tweak, and I hope they do, since the noodle bar is pretty unique and sets it apart from other local buffets.
The good thing about choices is that you can be as selective as you want to be, so for my next plate I chose more of the same – those delicious potstickers, sushi – and added some lovely chicken and broccoli, which was light and fresh; white rice; and steamed fish, a tender white fish delicately scented with ginger.
But really, I was saving up for dessert. Asian buffets notoriously have bad desserts, but the choices are pretty good here. Nothing appeared homemade of course, but there was a good variety of cheesecakes with various toppings, a great selection of ice cream bars (an older couple that we were waiting behind took the choice very seriously) and as is customary, lovely fresh fruits, sliced and ready to eat, including some enormous red grapes. The other options, such as cookies, shortbreads and bars, were typically Asian – i.e. not very sweet.
One thing to note: I don’t know why Asian restaurants and buffets tend to carpet dining areas since rice and other foods are inevitably scattered and then ground into the floor covering, but at least Great Chow chose to go with carpet squares, which are easier to replace. That first night, everything looked lovely and clean, and I hope it will stay that way.
Overall, I have to say that Great Chow was pretty good, the service was great, and there were a few standouts: I really liked how the buffet offers unusual options and there were several dishes such as the potstickers and fish that seemed very authentic.
Great Chow has a lot to live up to with a name like that, but at least on its first night, it was off to a good start.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Great Chow, 3449 Wrightsboro Road, #1128
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily
COST: $6.99, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
• $9.99, Monday-Thursday, 3:30-10:30 p.m.
• $10.99, Friday (3:30-10:30 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday all day
SECOND HELPING: (706) 737-7997