HomeTown Buffet, exterior

The former Old Country Buffet near East Towne Mall became HomeTown Buffet this summer and now features Asian, Mexican and Italian stations.

HomeTown Buffet, which before its image update in July was called Old Country Buffet, has seemed a popular smorgasbord near East Towne Mall since it first opened in 1995.

No matter what your financial situation, it's easy to come to HomeTown Buffet and eat twice as much as you would at home and considerably more than you would at any other restaurant in an attempt to get your money's worth.

On the way in a cashier takes your $13.38 - the total for the buffet, "beverage bar" and tax, and you're ready to go to town.

The last time I had been to the restaurant was for a review when it opened 16 years ago. I remember being won over by the pre-made salads. In particular, my review mentions an orange-colored crazy-noodle salad called the Golden Nugget salad and a rotini salad with slightly cooked carrot slices.

The pre-made salads on hand this time didn't particularly distinguish themselves. And while I raved about the corn chowder back then, the soup I tried this time, a starchy and overly peppery chicken tortilla soup, was devoid of chicken and tortillas pieces.

There were two other soups available, a chicken noodle and a cream of broccoli, but they didn't hold much interest.

Some sliced, home-style potatoes with grilled onion also were overly peppery and heat-lamped to death.

The baked salmon, meanwhile, had just the right amount of pepper. A companion thought it was too dry, so I took it off his hands and enjoyed it.

The baked pollock was dried out and tasteless, while the thin-cut roast beef's dryness was offset by a perfectly decent gravy.

Both of my companions did well with the fried chicken, but the fried fish tasted mostly of batter.

The red beans and rice was saved by chunks of sausage, but was otherwise worth skipping.

Don't miss the corn bread, which had a light honey syrup on top and just the right sweetness.

Another hit was the meatloaf, which was moist and had a thin layer of red sauce on top.

The pasta primavera was better than many versions, while the mac and cheese was worse.

We all agreed the extensive dessert bar was the best part of our meals, particularly the soupy hot fudge sundae cake enhanced by a swirl of soft-serve ice cream.

Old Country Buffet's spit-shine image upgrade includes updated signs and graphics, but the beige-y dining room looks the same as I remembered it.

In addition to its "American classics" food bar area, there are Asian, Mexican and Italian stations now. While my companions ventured into Asian and Mexican territory, respectively, I think the only so-called "ethnic" item I tried was the pasta primavera.

I guess it's nice to have the option, but if I'm interested in Asian or Mexican food I know where to get it.