I have never eaten at the Golden Corral before. There are no
Golden Corrals in my state. And so I can be forgiven for
thinking as I stand outside the entrance that I am merely about
to have dinner at a buffet restaurant. I do not know. I have not
been told. I am more than virginal. I am naked, newborn, a Tabula Rasa. I do not understand as I place my drink order;
receive my tray, that I am an initiate.
The setting is meant to deceive. There is a seating area, large,
but in no way unusual. Several buffet stations, for carved
meats, for main courses, for side dishes, for salad and desert.
The aromas are pleasant, the food looks good enough. It's a
little noisy, but if the food is even palatable the price is
bargain. And there's a great deal of variety. There are many,
many choices. I take some rice and bourbon chicken, a couple of
ribs, a little salmon. I ignore the salad bar, even though it
stretches away from me like train tracks, diminishing,
converging to a point at the horizon. I have been to salad bars.
I did not come for salad. My plate is full and so I move to
select a table. For a moment I think they are taken, there are
huge stacks of dishes on each table; surely patrons even now
wandering past the hundreds of selections have claimed these
tables. But no, I see seated diners push aside soiled plates,
soiled plates immediately and unobtrusively removed by wait
staff even as the patron pulls a clean, new plate and proceeds
toward the nearly endless buffets. I sit.
There is a basket of very pretty rolls at my table. They glisten.
They have been lightly glazed with something highly reflective,
perhaps honey. The ribs, the bourbon chicken are alright.
Nothing to write home about. I try a roll, and it's good.
It's very good.
It's very good the way the second time you ever had sex is good.
Not the first, fumbling panicky time, but the time right
And the basket of rolls is empty. Surely I only had one, maybe
the rest of my party has been greedy, and I brim with sadness
for the absence of rolls for only a moment before in a subtle
flashing of obsequious hands, it is full again! It has been
refilled! And there is no one there now to even thank!
How could I have thought the ambience of the Golden Coral was
non descript, when now I see it is so clearly lovely? And the
ribs, the salmon! Not the best I've ever had by any means, but
it isn't trying to be the best. It is only trying to be the
good, honest food. The kind of food you can trust.
My ice tea has been nearly empty on three occasions, but every
time I want a drink it's full again. My plate is empty so soon!
Why did I eat so quickly? I was so much hungrier than I'd
realized, starving really, and I'm still hungry, as if I hadn't
eaten yet at all! Well, why not? It's not as if I eat here every
day, and they are grilling these huge steaks and you can have as
much as you want! The smell of them reaches out toward me
physically, like in those cartoons where the smell of food
becomes an arm, a hand, a beckoning finger! I haven't tried the
shrimp, or the mashed potatoes, or most of what they have on
offer. How could I? I'd have needed a plate the size of
This steak is so god damned good it makes the ribs I started with
seem like something I tore off a rotting possum carcass I found
by the roadside. It's tender and juicy and when I swallow it
seems to go as much up into my brain as it does down into my
stomach, and it's warm and good both places and it says 'This is
what meat is, this is what man has eaten since the dawn of time,
consume me, devour me, when you eat you are alive!'
I am easily the most slender person here. Outside the Golden
Corral I was slightly overweight, a little paunchy, but it's all
a matter of comparison, isn't it? In here I am wasting away, I
am frail, I am perhaps even dying. To be sure, many of my
fellow patrons outweigh me by a mere sixty or seventy pounds,
but there are also some very "big and tall" people here as well.
Some of them are, to be honest, a little bit disgusting. Thank
God I am so very, very thin, because if I looked like some of
the other patrons here I would never allow myself to return for
a third plate.
Witnessing the birth of my first child is still the single most
sublime moment of my life, but this applewood-smoked chicken
breast wrapped in bacon is a very close second.
You know, they don't seem to be hurrying anyone out of here. You
could easily come in for lunch at around noon, eat your fill,
slow down a bit, linger over a few pastries and coffee, sneak
into the bathroom for a little nap on the john. Before you know
it you could start an early dinner. Screw lunch, you could come
I was a fool to skip the salad bar! How could I have compared it
to other salad bars, how could the me that existed before this
meal have been so blind? Everything, everything you could ever
imagine stacking on top of lettuce is here and several things I
have NEVER imagined stacking on lettuce, even in my most
fevered, forbidden dreams, dreams that I could not recall on
waking for fear they would DRIVE ME MAD! And somehow the Golden
Corral has infused each item with a near magical ability to
align itself with others on a salad plate! Like some edible game
of Tetris my salad leaps upward off the plate, not a cone, not a
pyramid, but an immense, utterly stable COLUMN OF SALAD! Surely
I am overcome, I am only imagining a distant hazy waitperson
atop a golden ladder reaching into the clouds, ladling huge,
gooey splashes of Italian dressing on my salad column... I come
to at my table, chewing, chewing, chewing...
How do they keep the buffets full? It's impossible, madness! I
feel as if I am undersea, everywhere gargantuan Human Sea Lions,
Elephant Seals, Manatee, Hippopotami, Whales of every species
vacuuming creamed corn and butterbeans through their baleen, at
any moment I'll be crushed to death between the rolling flanks
of ravenous dinners! But no, it is all too choreographed, a
miraculous synchronized swim from table to buffet and back
again, beautiful, graceful, they are delicate hot air balloon
people, hot air balloons all belly and mouth! Do these blissful
giants even see a man as tiny as I, a bare milkweed seed of a
man between the manicotti and the salt Virginia ham?
Surely this is Rome; surely there are braised Lark's Tongues and
roasted hearts of Albino Lions on that steam table. Any moment
the staff will gently lead me aside into some quiet alcove vomitorium where I may discreetly disgorge so I can return to
feeding unencumbered. I have no doubt there are portable
defibrillators hidden everywhere, that with the same casual
assurance they refill your Dr. Pepper, the staff of the
Golden Corral can apply the paddles, call down the lightings and
return you from the dead to stand and eat again.
I am one with the bread pudding.
I see now that we are eating the world. Here within the Golden
Corral, we chosen few open our cavernous maws, tumble in
steam shovels of coal and iron ore, vast helpings of forests from
all over the globe, steaming waves of arable land, we chase it
with vast, overflowing flagons of crude oil and slave's blood,
while through the windows we can see the people outside the
Golden Coral, the poor, the powerless, the sick, the starving!
Now and then we shove vast tentacles out the door and scoop them
up and eat them too, like handfuls of dry Chinese noodles, or
croutons, and it's good, they stick to our ribs, and eating the
world hollow is just what God wants us to do, for who could run
the Golden Corral but God? Who could keep the steam tables
furnished in the presence of our foes, our cups overflowing, all
under the full assault of our massive, desperate, yearning
bellies? Who could afford to feed us such bounty for about ten
dollars a person, how can there be a penny of profit in it, who
could make a demonstrably ridiculous business plan like this not
only work but prosper?
God. God. Only God.
And God is good.
God is delicious.
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:
The Junk Drawer Of My Despair!