Review of a Recent Dinner Buffet at Barren River Lake State Resort Park

The Catfish is Especially Good... But Have Dessert at Home

Barren River Lake State Resort Park Dinner Buffet

When writing my reviews of Kentucky Restaurants I’ve found that dinner buffets are especially tricky.  For one thing, you cannot conceivably expect every single item on the salad buffet, dinner buffet, and dessert buffet to be great. That’s asking a little too much.

In fact it’s so tricky that sometimes I wonder why anyone is brave enough to even have buffets. It’s pretty risky.  What if, say, a buffet’s mashed potatoes are the bomb – so  good they make your knees weak.  Let’s say the same buffet’s fried chicken and pot roast are equally fantastic.  BUT, the salad bar is puny, the soup embarrasses itself, and the bread’s dry.  When guests leave, chances are they’ll talk more about the negatives than the positives.

So what’s a restaurant to do? It’s been my experience that buffets are here to stay.  For the most part, guests love them.  A restaurant’s staff loves them, too.  Less work.  No doubt “cook to order” is tougher for the kitchen staff.  I have no problem with buffets, really. It’s kind of cool to pick out the things you want and march back to your table like a modern day hunter and gatherer.

However, a recent trip to Barren River Lake State Resort Park‘s Driftwood Restaurant reminded me of how unfair buffets can be. Being the fried catfish fanatic that I am, I naturally threw several pieces onto my plate. I also grabbed some roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables, green beans, and a humongous hush puppy.

The catfish had a wonderful flavor.  I absolutely loved it.  When I have catfish like this, it reminds me why I am to catfish what Cookie Monster is to cookies. The breading was perfection, the catfish was fried to perfection, and the flavor was beyond perfection.

I feel badly for anyone who has never eaten catfish this fantastic.

The green beans and roasted potatoes were very good. I love potatoes like this – just add a little salt and pepper and potato lovers like me are in Spud Heaven.  The green beans were seasoned just right – just enough to add a little flavor, but not so much that you forget you’re eating green beans.  The steamed vegetables tasted fresh, healthy, and wholesome.

The salad bar was about a 8 on a scale of 1-10.  Rough River Dam State Resort Park’s salad bar has made life difficult for all other salad bars.   They always have these amazing beets on their salad bar! They’re the best beets I’ve ever had in my life and now, whenever I’m at another salad bar, I look for beets just like them. Problem is most people don’t have any beets – let alone crazy cool wonderful beets.

The hush puppy was a big beautiful thing. Just look at it in the picture. Have you ever seen such a big hush puppy?  It was pretty good too. It didn’t have a whole lot of flavor, actually, but it certainly wasn’t bad.  Bad would come later.. at the dessert table.

How can I put this kindly?  The dessert table held the single most unattractive selection of desserts I think I’ve ever seen.  You know how it is when you normally stand before a dessert table at a buffet, right?  You stand there, thinking, “Oh man! Where do I start?! How much can I fit onto my plate without someone yelling PIG SOOIE at me?!

This was the first time ever when the only thing I thought was, “Oh, Lord. Which one of these guys do I dare try?

Allow me to say, right off the bat, that there’s no way the same chef who made the catfish is to blame for these desserts. No way. Impossible. Someone has tried to sabotage him in a most underhanded, unexpected way.  There’s something sinister afoot!

I’m guessing these desserts were store-bought.  In fact, the hideous looking pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie looked like it was bought in a store… in 1986.

Here’s the thing,  I bake a lot of pies.  I go crazy each autumn and bake more pumpkin and sweet potato pies than you can even count. Yet even I couldn’t say with absolute certainty which one this thing was.  Generally-speaking, if a pie is darker in color, it’s sweet potato.  A more orange hue points to pumpkin.

The hue of this particular pie was… well… I just don’t know.  I decided that not only would I not try this pie, I wouldn’t even acknowledge its presence.

The carrot cake looked incredibly dry, so I didn’t want to go that route either.  I wondered if it tasted as dry as it looked – my husband assured me that it did.  Something that looked like a square chocolate meringue pie had a ratio of 99% meringue to 1% chocolate pie.  I can’t even promise you there was any crust.  I’ll give them this, the meringue was very ambitious.  It was the most meringue-ly ambitious pie I’ve ever seen.  And yet… it was actually in a large rectangular pan.

I thought it was having too much of an identity crisis for me, so I passed on it.

I decided to go with something that looked like it began life as a white cake.  Apparently, a little chocolate pudding joined the white cake at some point, then they covered themselves with chocolate syrup (icing? glaze?).  I thought that much chocolate couldn’t possibly be a bad thing… I was wrong.  This nameless dessert was really bad.  The pudding tasted store bought… as in off brand store bought.  My final assessment was that the cake was from an off brand cake mix, the pudding was the most off brand pudding known to man…  and the syrup-glaze-icing stuff?  That remained a bit of a mystery. I’m a card-carrying chocoholic but I couldn’t even finish it halfway.

Here’s something all restaurants with buffets should adhere to: Don’t put anything out on the buffet that you aren’t 100 percent proud of. If someone were to come in and eat just one thing… make sure anything they chose could stand on its own.  As I’ve said, I cook a great deal. I even have a food blog – always a sign of someone who loves to cook, right?  When I make meals for my family – whether it’s for a holiday or every day – I never sabotage myself by putting something on the table that I’m not completely happy with. If something turns out less than wonderful, I throw it out to the possums, raccoons, skunks, and any Bigfoot that happens by.  I tried a new recipe not long ago for red pepper soup.

It ended up in a plastic dish in the yard.  Later that eventing, I saw a possum lapping it up. She must have liked it because when I retrieved the dish the next morning, she’d even chewed a little of the bottom out.  Good old possums, so easy to please.

When you think about it, having a crummy dessert table is especially bad because it’s the last thing your guests eat.  It’s the last thing on their mind and the last taste (literally) in their mouth.  So, although I’d enjoyed a wonderful dinner, the last thing on my mind was the unfortunate dessert.

Ironically, when we eat out, we often don’t even have dessert because I always have something sinfully good baked at home.  I LOVE to bake cakes, cookies, candies, pies, etc and always have something made up for my family.  If only I’d skipped dessert this time.

Oh well, sometimes irony bites the hand that feeds it.

Here’s the thing:  There were more good things than there were bad things on this buffet.  A lot more. If I had left, without dessert, I would have only wonderful things to say. When I looked at the dessert table, I should have simply turned around and called one more piece of wonderful catfish dessert.

You know something I’d like to see more of in Kentucky Restaurants?  Comment cards.  If you allow your guests to tell you what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they downright hated, you’ll know the areas you need to improve in.

Of course, a good old-fashioned, “taste it before you put it out” could do wonders, too.  Heck, in the case of the pumpkin pie/sweet potato pie… simply looking at it first would have done the trick.

Before the restaurant opened for business, an older gentleman told my husband that, lately, he thinks the buffet at Rough River Dam State Resort Park is better than the one at Barren River.  You would never see a dessert table like this one at Rough River.

Ever.

The catfish at Barren was as good as any catfish I’ve had at Rough River and the vegetables were dead even.  I’d give Rough River an edge on the salad bar (courtesy of the beets that can’t be beat), and if we’re talking desserts, Rough River Dam State Resort Park’s Grayson’s Landing Restaurant  takes Barren River Lake State Resort Park’s Driftwood Restaurant to the wood shed…. the whole time asking, “What were you thinking, little brother?

I want to end on a positive note, so allow me to remind you again that the catfish was excellent and the vegetables were darn good.  The tea we enjoyed with our dinner was outstanding and the coffee we ordered to go with our dessert was extra wonderful. Kentucky State Resort Parks always, always, always have outstanding coffee.   Our server was great – I don’t think my tea was ever even half full! The Louie B. Nunn lodge is a real beauty.  When you go, be sure you admire the beautiful ceiling and rafters along with everything else.  The entire park is gorgeous and I could happily spend an entire day just looking around and photographing everything… and eating catfish and drinking coffee.

Now, that’s what I call a great day!

I noticed something on our recent visit that I also really love, the lady working at the front desk greeted us when we walked in.  I always think that’s a great way to treat guests – make them feel welcome right off the bat. The lodge was decorated beautifully and reminded me of a big beautiful lodge in winter.  So cozy!

When all’s said and done, by all means, go to Barren River Lake State Resort Park’s Driftwood Restaurant.  Order off the menu OR enjoy the buffet.  Whenever we’ve ordered off the menu, we’ve always been more than satisfied – downright tickled, even. Just remember one thing if you do the buffet – if the desserts don’t look great, don’t chance it.

Go home and have a cookie.

Also See: Pictures of Barren River Lake State Resort Park’s Christmas Decorations!

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