LANCASTER, PA -Our feature, Restaurant Inspection Redemption, is designed to give restaurants with long lists of inspection violations a restoration of their reputation through our visits. We look for the positives and report upon them in an attempt to revitalize their image. This week, we reviewed Star Buffet & Grill. Let it be known that I really, really tried to find good things to say. However, when you’re walking through a sewer in the pitch black with shit up to your knees, it’s hard to keep a smile on your face. That was what my experience at Star Buffet was like.
The Star Buffet & Grill is another frequent flyer in the restaurant inspection reports. They have been out of compliance many times. The most recent inspection was published last week and was a hefty paragraph in length. Issues included hand-washing procedures being inadequate, food being left out too long, temperature control issues, cleanser with excessively high chlorine levels, food being uncovered while being stored, residue accumulations, and last but not least “no procedures for employees to follow when responding to an event involving vomitus or fecal matter discharge onto surfaces within the facility”. I’m not even sure what that last one means but I’m definitely sure I don’t want to know.
I decided take my family along for this meal. Someone asked, “Are you really taking your daughter to eat there?” Umm, Hell yes. How am I going to be able to identify botulism in my lifetime if I never see it in person? This is one of life’s many teachable moments.
We went on a weeknight and the restaurant was not very busy. There were only a few families there, including one man who was on his third plate of crab legs. I so badly wanted to ask for his phone number to check in on him in a few days to see if he lived to tell the tale. We were seated in a comfortable booth underneath a dragon on the ceiling who kept giving me dirty ass looks.
We went up to the buffet and the first thing I noticed was that the dish on the top of the clean dish stack was dirty. The food selection was diverse and there seemed to be more American (traditional) food than Chinese food. My daughter and husband were especially excited about the hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls. There were many seafood options and a sushi bar, but we did not partake in them due to a strong will to live.
My daughter took a bite of a chicken nugget and said, “This nugget doesn’t taste like anything. What’s the point?” She has a point. Overall, the food was mediocre at best. The only thing I did like was the boneless spare ribs until my last bite had something crunchy in it and I subsequently spit it out. My husband ate one plate and that was all—he is usually a firm believer that in order to get your money’s worth at a buffet, it’s a two-plate minimum. However, one plate was enough for him.
Aside from the dirty plate, there were a few other disgusting things we witnessed during our short tenure there. This included what we deemed the “food hole”—an area in the wall that was cut out and had a shower curtain haphazardly installed above it. A cloth curtain held by shower rings would be pulled to reveal the food hole, an area where servers scraped excess food into a basin. It was filthy and didn’t look like it had been cleaned or emptied for a long time. Also, two employees were drying vegetables directly on dining tables in the dining room with bare hands. They put nothing down on the tables underneath the raw vegetables and left them sitting out for some time in between handling customers and other tasks; I saw no hand-washing in between handling dishes and drying the vegetables. There were some flies in the restaurant, likely attributed to the fact that they had a wooden stick propping the side door to the dining room open. It seemed clear that they did not care about the optics of their restaurant and that their poor inspections were not to be taken very seriously.
I truly felt like this the closest brush with death I’ve ever had. Aside from some strong stomach cramps, we all survived. At the end of the meal, my fortune cookie reflected this near-death experience perfectly. It read, “If you don’t have time to live your life now, when do you?” So wise, fortune cookie. I promise that I will not squander this second chance that I have been given by surviving my trip to the Star Buffet & Grill.