Maybe it was the fact that buffet food was so different from the homemade and traditional Chinese meals that we typically ate; or maybe it was just that buffets were the best way to feed a family of five kids. I hate to admit it but I do have a special place in my heart for the Golden Corrals of this world because of that.
Still, I like to think I’ve developed my palate beyond that. Which is why I was particularly intrigued to check out The Chef’s House at 1729 Walton Way.
I’d noticed the you-can’t-miss-me pink house at the intersection of Druid Park and Walton Way for years without realizing that it was a restaurant.
The fare? Southern buffet.
The first time I tried to go, the small anteroom was so packed that I was forced to come back another day. Fast forward a couple of years, when the restaurant came back to mind when I was trying to think of a new place to try with my friend Kim.
“Your choice!” she texted back when I offered her a few suggestions. So Southern buffet it was.
On this Friday, I got there a few moments early.
“How many?” asked the mannerly young gentleman who was in charge of the cash register. “It’ll be just a few minutes.” I peeped inside, and a mix of couples, businessmen and working folks were all happily eating.
Once Kim arrived, it was a couple more minutes, then we went back into the second of the restaurant’s two dining areas.
The restaurant itself is all white paneled walls and homey – but not overly so – with just a few colorful pieces of art on the walls and a flower at each table. The dining areas are small – hence the occasional wait.
Once we ordered our drinks (half sweet and half unsweet tea), it was time to hit the stainless steel buffet.
For those used to the miles of food choices at a Golden Corral or S&S, the selections might seem few, but there were still plenty of options.
On one side was a small salad bar with an assortment of dressings and fixings. On the other, the full buffet, featuring two meats and a fish, a basket of cornbread, two starches and two green vegetables.
“OK, you’re making me feel guilty,” laughed Kim as I headed to the salad bar. So we both decided to start off with a small salad. Mine was very simple – just crisp iceberg with red tomato and a slice of cucumber with ranch dressing – a nice, fresh, light salad.
But for the main course, I went all out. That day we had barbecue, fried chicken and grilled fish; green beans and collards; potatoes and broccoli casserole; and cornbread. Everything but the collards made it to my plate – just a bite of each to sample.
The barbecue was sweet and tender, in a flavorful sauce and not at all greasy or heavy. I’d had similar fish at other restaurants – just a white fish with just a light Cajun-esque seasoning. And my fried drumstick was very crisp – and surprisingly not greasy either.
The owner enlightened us when she came by to fill our drinks, explaining that the chef focused on low-sodium, low-fat, healthy versions of Southern favorites. In fact, some local doctors with patients on low-sodium diets even encouraged their patients to dine at The Chef’s House because of its focus on healthy but good food, she said.
Good Southern food without the fat and salt? I certainly could take her up on that.
The interesting thing is that the food had a lot of flavor, especially the vegetables. The green beans were so savory, I almost couldn’t believe they weren’t cooked with the requisite hunk of pork fat. The red-skinned potatoes didn’t need anything else; and the broccoli casserole was creamy, dotted with fresh broccoli and bits of cheese.
Before she walked off, the owner also asked, with a tilt of her head, “You’re going to get some peach cobbler, aren’t you?” It wasn’t really a question (not that she really had to twist our arms), so I made my way back a third time to scoop out a couple of servings for the two of us.
The peaches still had a little bite to them, but the crust was tender and crisp and sweet. My only wish? For a scoop of vanilla ice cream to go with it.
“Y’all come back, now,” called the owner, as we paid and made our way to the door. With its welcoming atmosphere, adorable cashier/host, and healthy versions of Southern food, I’d say that was a guarantee.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: The Chef’s House, 1729 Walton Way
HOURS: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
SECOND HELPING: (706) 733-8622