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DISH '09: Buffet Guide 

BY SUSIE HUME

Whether you're trying to stretch your dollar in this tight economy, expand your limited palette, or you just enjoy pigging out every once in a while, the all-you-can-eat buffet offers something for everyone. It's enticing because it presents a challenge to the diner: The value is directly proportional to the amount you are capable of packing in. Therefore, the battle of diner versus buffet is always a losing one: Either you leave proud, but with intense gastrointestinal distress, or you eat just one plate's worth and end up feeling ashamed, knowing that the buffet has been victorious and you have overpaid.

The all-you-can-eat buffet is now more commonly referred to as a just a "buffet," a term actually originating back to 18th century France, indicating the way in which the food was served --on a buffet table or sideboard--instead of indicating the quantity consumed. The first all-you-can-eat buffet was introduced in the mid-1940s by a hotel manager in--you guessed it--Las Vegas. By the 1960s and 70s the chains spread across the U.S. like Ponderosa and Golden Corral. But as any true buffet aficionado will tell you, the best buffet foods are found at local establishments and Rochester has plenty to offer--from the upscale to the diner; foreign and American cuisine; brunch, lunch and dinner-- and all provide veritable smorgasbords to please even the pickiest of eaters.

Though Rochester is more than 2,000 miles away from Las Vegas, a short trip to Farmington provides an experience somewhat akin to the neon-city. The Vineyard Buffet, tucked inside the Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack (5857 Route 96; open daily 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; $13.95 lunch and brunch, $17.95 dinner), offers both the wide selection and quantity of a Las Vegas buffet, replete with "cha-ching" noises as you dine, courtesy of the slot machines just outside the restaurant. The buffet is deceivingly small, offering a carving station with two meats, a wide array of seafood, and Midwestern, Southwestern and Italian dishes, but the icing on the cake is the giant dessert buffet in the middle of the room, serving homemade cakes, brownies, cookies, éclairs and an ice cream sundae bar complete will all the fixings.

While a true fan loves the buffet in its every form, some are turned-off by buffets, worried that the focus will be on quantity rather than quality. And while that may be true for some establishments, Rochester has its fair share of upscale buffets that offer the best of both worlds. With breathtaking 180 degree views of Rochester accompanying high-class dishes, Horizons Restaurant at the Woodcliff Hotel & Spa (199 Woodcliff Dr; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; $22 adults, $11 children), offers a singular Sunday brunch experience that changes each week. The spread always includes a carving station, an omelet bar, at least three to four specially prepared entrees (by chef Steve Wilkinson), a wide selection of desserts (prepared in-house by pastry chef Michelle Carlson) and some more exotic dishes like Israeli couscous salad and blintzes.

For an experience that will please adults and children alike, head to the beach--CrescentBeach (1372 Edgemere Dr; 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; $18.99 adults, $8.99 children)--for their Sunday Champagne brunch. While adults can enjoy the all-you-can-eat crab, prime rib and, of course, the champagne (after noon), kids will enjoy watching donuts being made fresh and then moving down a conveyor belt, ready for the picking.

Mario's Via Abruzzi (2740 Monroe Ave; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; $21.95 adults, $12.95 children) has also been offering upscale fair at their Sunday brunch for the past 12 years. They feature more than 70 different items each week and aim to offer an experience that tantalizes all five senses. The piece de resistance is their pasta wheel: a giant wheel of parmesan crafted into a bowl with piping-hot pasta tossed in, which melts the cheese and flavors the pasta concurrently. Considering one giant wheel of parmesan costs more than a thousand dollars, the dish is rarely imitated. Diners can finish off their meal (if there's room) by dipping fresh fruit into Mario's chocolate and caramel fountains.

Enjoying oodles of posh food certainly has its appeal, but sometimes there's nothing better than a belly full of comfort food and Patty's Pantry (2485 Dewey Ave; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; $8.95) offers a Sunday brunch that fits the bill. Mounds of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits may be standard brunch buffet fare, but Patty's also offers some more unusual diner buffet food like their orange blossom-infused French toast or, their most popular buffet item, potato bake, a breakfast casserole loaded with potatoes, bacon and cheese.

With at least a dozen different Chinese buffet restaurants and a handful of Indian buffets, foreign cuisine is quite possibly the most common buffet-type in Rochester. While there are many to choose from, one Chinese buffet is a sure standout among the rest. China Buffet (376 Jefferson Rd; open daily; price varies) offers three full aisles of Chinese food--with favorites like General Tsao's chicken, fried rice and lo mein--but they also offer sushi, a made-to-order stir fry bar and a salad bar. Just up the road in Henrietta is Thali of India (3259 South Winton Rd; 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays), offering both a lunch buffet on weekdays and a dinner buffet every Monday night.

And once you've had your fill of foreign cuisine, you may want to dine on something a bit more local. Martino's (742 Long Pond Rd; 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; $8.99 adults, $4.50 children) offers a truly Western New York-style buffet--all-you-can-eat Buffalo wings. Formerly known as Tano's, this pizza and wing joint offers a dozen different flavors of chicken wings, cheesy bread and, of course, celery and blue cheese every Wednesday night. And if you can't dream of eating wings without pizza, you can always stop at Dandrea's Pizza and Pasta (750 Ridge Rd W; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; $6.99) the night before for their Tuesday night pizza buffet. They have three types of pizza and an appetizer bar with items like wings, mozzarella sticks and battered mushrooms.

And, finally, bringing the buffet full circle to its French origins, the downtown location of Simply Crêpes (114 South Ave, in the Monroe County Central Library; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; $15.99 adults, $10.99 children) offers a Sunday crêpe brunch for those who are more specific in their buffet cravings. You get to try a variety of their most popular brunch dishes, including the crêpes benedict, turkey gouda and oatmeal crème brulée.

So, Rochester, with a vast assortment of all-you-can-eat buffets to please every mood, taste and wallet size, we can surely say, with God as our witness, we will never be hungry again.

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