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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To Infinity and Beyond - Paula Deen's Buffet at Harrah's Tunica.

NOTE:  Paula Deen's will fade with history; Harrah's Tunica and other properties decide to rebrand restaurants after her epic fail.

Paula Deen’s buffet just goes on and on and on and on.

I’ve had so many readers ask me about the gargantuan buffet over at Harrah’s Tunica, I figured it was worth a check-out.

Now, before you get to wondering why my photos don't really show the glory of the restaurant, I have to share with you this simple fact: shooting in a casino is prohibited. I received special permission to shoot the food at Paula Deen's, as long as I didn't shoot anyone without their permission. Fortunately, I happened to be with family, so you get to be blessed with photos of my daughter. Yes, lucky you.

Anyway, as I was saying... I’ve had a lot of readers ask me about the Paula Deen Buffet over at Harrah’s Resort in Tunica. It’s not too far from Little Rock, and many people have headed all the way over there to sample and consume mass quantities of stuff. So eventually you knew I had to go.

There is something, though, that a lot of people are missing. The restaurant’s name is featured here and there as PAULA DEEN’S buffet -- with the word buffet printed much smaller than the name. Thing is, no matter how hard you try to use the lady’s name as an incantation, it is still a buffet. Which means you’re going to have to go get your food yourself and potentially stand in line to do so.

Many readers insisted I try the “Graze All Day” for $25. That's a thing of the past. I can understand this on both sides. Of course it was likely killing the casino. On the other hand, really folks -- grazing all day is one thing if you’re eating fresh veggies at a salad bar. Rich butter-laden food like this? While tasty, the chance for an epic cholesterol collapse increases greatly with the length of stay at a buffet.

Your experience may also vary as far as service goes. We went twice in the same day -- once for breakfast and once for dinner (and no, we didn’t have lunch -- it was quite enough to dine somewhere like this twice!). In the morning, our party of seven was seated in a private dining area, a room right off the buffet. The room itself was very pretty -- low lighting, yellow walls, a rustic table with matching chairs, a sideboard. It was nice to have the privacy. Unfortunately, that privacy (while affording us a great chance to catch up on family gossip) also seems to allow one’s party to be overlooked for swaths of time by the wait staff, so getting one’s drink refilled can be difficult.

On the other hand, a smaller group of us went in the evening, and we were seated in the main dining area. Our waitress, Nelly, was sweet and very attentive and talkative. She brought us several refills and switched us seamlessly from iced tea to coffee once dessert rolled around, and we never had an overload of plates on our table.

So, what do you get there? The short answer is a lot of very rich food. Yes, there is a salad bar -- but it's the one area that while I was there never had a line.

The breakfast is $8.99, and it's massive. There are all your regular favorites such as bacon and ham and sausage and scrambled eggs and biscuits and even an omelet station. But for the pork-challenged like me, there were a lot of non-pork options, such as the rather sweet Cheese Blintzes, the spicy Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict, the hearty but meat-free Grit Cakes topped with fried eggs and cheese gravy, the turkey sausage links.

They also had a whole section dedicated to meats like summer sausage and fried pork chops.

Of course there were several breakfast type casseroles -- hash brown casserole, egg casserole, some casserole with whole fresh spinach leaves in it.

My family bragged on the gravy -- apparently not your average made-from-a-mix preparation.

There were also plenty of fresh fruits and cottage cheese -- my daughter tried to wipe them out of fresh blueberries.

Right on the dot at 10:30 they pulled breakfast and lit into Sunday Dinner Sunday. Just while I was there for the morning, the offerings included a seafood station with gumbo and rice, rolls, a “boil” of shrimp and sausage and potatoes and corn on the cob, peel and eat shrimp, fried catfish, oysters on the half shell, grilled oysters, and hush puppies.

Out came the famous macaroni and cheese at two different stations, along with cheeseburger meatloaf and yams in the thickest syrup I’ve ever seen.

I counted four different sorts of gravy (white, brown, sausage and onion/pepper) and a towering pile of mashed potatoes. And of course there were fried green tomatoes.

When we came back in the evening there were all sorts of additional things, including the famed dressing
(which wasn't so spectacular in my eyes, but to each his own), stuffed bell
peppers, hot wings and
barbecue chicken, wet
and dry pork ribs,
fried chicken and fried
catfish and a whole lot
of other fried things.
Lots of fried things.
This is not the place
to go when you're on
a diet.

One thing the buffet does especially well is its dessert station. Rather than being a completely serve-yourself mishmash of small plates and frosting-laden crusted pie servers like so many place I have been, desserts are doled out on an individual basis.

Ice cream (eight varieties) is hand dipped by a clerk.

Dainty mini-desserts are plated for you from the glass case by an attendant (who won’t even bat an eye if you ask to sample more than one… or a half dozen).

Cakes are pre-plated on appropriately sized perfect little square plates.
The only self-serve comes in a few items that call for self-serving, such as cookies and yogurt covered pretzels.

Now, I usually have two problems with buffets -- the potential for cross-contamination (yes, even though you may love gravy on your macaroni and cheese, there are some folks who can’t have that certain meat protein) and the freshness of the food.

On our breakfast trip we went in around 9:30am. What was available seemed pretty fresh. In fact, while I was up there getting a plate one of the behind-the-bar crew folks pulled the tray I was about to serve up from and replaced it. Which wasn’t bad.

However, when my mom went a few minutes later, same thing happened -- except it was right when they changed over breakfast to lunch, and she didn’t get a chance to try one of those Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict. We both wondered at the waste there -- I mean, the food was fine, but heavens changing over seemed a bit more important. That being said, the changeover from breakfast to lunch was sudden, really sudden.

All in all, Paula Deen's buffet is an excellent... buffet. I know, some are still going to mourn over their mint-leaf decked iced tea that it's not table service, but considering the location and volume I just don't see how that would be possible at the price. Go -- once in a day. As Paula Deen herself says, "wear your stretchy pants" if you plan to pig out. Pace yourself. Leave something for others. Be polite. And remember you're a guest in her "home."

You'll find Paula Deen's Buffet at Harrah's Casino Resort Tunica, off Highway 61 some distance south of Memphis. The phone number there is (800) WIN-4-WIN. Have a good time.


  1. I thought it was a top-notch buffet. Do they still give away the recipe cards? I got several when I was there, including her recipe for mac and cheese, which is awesome when made at home too.

  2. I really hated that buffet, as did the hubs and our couple companions. Everything was soggy and gross. The only thing we found edible was the crab legs, because really, how can you mess up boiled crab legs? We all said that if the casino hadn't comp'd the meal in the first place, we would have been very angry over wasting our money. It came highly recommended.

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  4. Interesting article. Thanks


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