At Denison’s newest old restaurant, Country Garden Cuisine, everything old is old again. The building on the Eisenhower Parkway started life as Arlene’s Catfish and over the years has housed several restaurants, most recently the Southern Grill and Kitchen. I ate there a few times and found it reasonably good, and a reasonably good value for the dollar, but there was nothing there that made it stand out. I never had a chance to review the place.
For several months it was closed, and then it recently reopened with the same owners, same menu, same website — it still says Southern Grill and Kitchen — but with a new name. The only real change I could perceive was new hours. Previously closed at lunch, it now offers a buffet at lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and expands it to include breakfast items on Sunday. There is also a full-scale menu available at any time.
It is now Country Garden Cuisine, and so, with a couple of friends, I decided to give the buffet at try. We got there about 1:30 p.m., and may have been the only diners in the building. The steam table with the buffet line was hot, maybe a little too hot as you risked the steam leaking up from around the hotel pans. There was a nice selection of vegetables, fried chicken strips, chicken fried steak, fried catfish and two kinds of soup. They may have meatloaf on occasion, but there was none that day. You could also build an iceberg salad or try the potato salad.
Another table held desserts. Several pies, chocolate, pecan, lemon and a spice cake. The pieces of pie were more slivers than slices, no more than two bites, but as one of my friends pointed out, you can go back for more if you wish. We saw no bread of any kind.
I got collards, carrots and squash casserole, and a piece of each of the meats. The vegetables were uniformly good, hot and tasty, particularly the squash casserole. The fried foods appeared to be hand breaded and not the frozen hockey puck so often seen these days. They were good — not great — although the catfish was a bit limp. This, of course, is the bane of all buffet fried foods. They don’t hold well, getting limp or soggy and losing the crunch they had hot out of the fryer. Unless you get a fresh batch just out of the kitchen, anything fried on a buffet line is likely to be on the soft side.
As to desserts, when you walk into the lobby, you are greeted by a glass case filled with beautiful desserts. They are plastic versions of the real thing, made for display, but I was assured that all of the desserts served are made in-house. The ones I tried were good, but the slices were too meager.
Running a good buffet is difficult; proper food management to avoid waste is an ongoing problem, and since the buffet idea is new, even if the restaurant is not, the staff may still be working out the kinks. Overall, the Country Garden Cuisine lunch buffet was reasonable for the price, and deserves a second chance. Anyone with the courage to go into the food business deserves a second chance.
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