Monday, June 25, 2018

Buffet Review — Atlantic Buffet (Marietta, Ga.)

What's more American than eating a plate of burritos, sushi, pizza, chicken tenders and ice cream at the same time, anyway?

By: Jimbo X


I believe it was Tocqueville who once said America’s inherent greatness could be found within its churches.

Well, if that fruity Froth were alive today and exploring modern America, surely he’d change his answer to the all-you-can-eat buffet. I mean, is there anything that demonstrates the sheer exceptionalism of the American experience more than being able to eat a virtually endless amount of food while being surrounded by an assortment of really, really fat people of all races and ethnicities?

I’m utterly obsessed with buffets as both a caloric and sociological institution, and thankfully, living in the metro Atlanta area means I’m privy to about a billion of them, ranging from national franchise emporiums of gluttony to bottomless breakfast bars owned by former WCW World Heavyweight ‘rasslin champeens.

Each and every one of them has a certain character and charm all its own, but really, the smorgasbord of foodstuffs is only half the consumer experience. The other side of the equation is the ambiance of the experience, that totally bizarre (and patently American) sensation of eating until you’re about to puke while surrounded by perfect strangers who are also eating until they’re about to puke. Really, going to a buffet in the Deep South is about as close to visiting the Martian bar from Total Recall as any of us are gonna’ get. Sure, we all come for the buckets of fried cheese sticks, butterfly shrimp and brown gravy, but it’s being able to binge and purge while surrounded by people who look like extras from a Frank Henenlotter movie that truly makes the American buffet-going experience such a wonderful rite.

Well, The Atlantic Buffet Sushi and Grill in Marietta represents pretty much everything I love about the local buffet scene and then some.

You’ve got the multiculturalism (drug-addicted white women who weigh 78 pounds breaking bread with 4’8 tall Mexican men, while 300-pound black women from the Caribbean cackle loudly over macaroni and cheese while lanky Cambodian immigrants give them the stank-eye.) Then there’s the deliciously grimy backdrop (it’s situated in a strip mall parking lot that’s half vacant properties and half wandering street urchins named Marley begging you for a loosey.) And, of course, you can’t forget the robust menu (which, as you will soon see, runs the gamut from egg rolls to pizza to enchiladas to ice cream, just like the place was Juwanna Mann’s refrigerator in Friday the 13th Part V.)

But words won’t do us too much good here. Rather, let’s let the photographic evidence speak for its goddamn self, why don’t we?

Before we get into the menu at Atlantic Buffet, I suppose it's only fitting that we'd first examine its aesthetics. The building itself takes up a pretty hefty amount of strip mall space,  maybe about 20,000-30,000 square feet altogether. For a metro-Atlanta buffet in a pretty scummy part of town, it was actually astonishingly clean ... especially considering I stopped by on a weekday afternoon, when you'd expect the crew to be half-assing it like motherfuckers.

As I was saying, the restaurant was way cleaner than anticipated. You couldn't eat off the floors or anything like that, but it was nonetheless nice to walk into the buffet knowing I probably wouldn't get salmonella from simply touching one of their forks. Still, it did have a pretty weird smell to it ...

...which I would attribute to the water fountain located smackdab in the middle of the lobby. You know how fountains at the shopping mall kinda' smell like a mixture of Purex and copper? Well, that is precisely what this one smelled like, too. Granted, you'd have to be pretty close to it to whiff said offending odor, but you have to consider these guys nothing short of ballsy to put an adornment that close to the condiment section.

As far as the architecture, it had a weird seafood restaurant vibe to it, with just a few hints here and there of an Asian influence (i.e., that giant fucking Chinese star behind the cash register.) But then again, with all those jugs of vinegar and paprika laying around everywhere, it also had just a mild country buffet atmosphere going on, too, which — considering the shifting demographics of the metro Atlanta region — can't help but seem just a smidge symbolic.

The furniture is exactly what you would think it would be. Heavily used, slightly tattered, with chipped wooden tables and pleather chairs no doubt caving in from many a buffet eater's suddenly engorged asshole. Still, the floors were a lot cleaner than I'd expect, and however scrubbed off the tables last did a pretty good job ... there were no signs of vomit or discarded wasabi sauce anywhere in my dining area.

Don't even ask what was in the giant hand sanitizer bottle on the left. I didn't check, and I didn't want to check, but I can promise you it wasn't hand sanitizer. Along those same lines, I can only imagine the plebs who walk in and just assume the BBQ and honey mustard pumps are for ketchup and regular mustard and wind up jamming their mozzarella sticks in the "wrong" condiment. I bet they really feel bad about themselves afterwards, huh?

Interestingly enough, only the bottom rack of the pizza containment unit contained pizza (if I remember correctly, it was sausage ... so random, I know.) The things on top were garlic rolls, underneath those were those spinach things you get at Greek restaurants and below that was a different kind of garlic bread ... this one, a little less cooked than the ones on top. Needless to say; these things weren't exactly my favorite selections at the buffet.

Even around 3 p.m. the good stuff was starting to get picked clean. I can't remember what kind of fish they were serving, but apparently it was pretty popular with the locals, since that shit just couldn't stay in stock. As a general rule I don't eat oysters even from ritzy restaurants, so naturally, I didn't even bother with the half-shelled offerings here. Oh, and if you're wondering what's on the plate? It's either a chicken dumpling or a prop from that old David Cronenberg movie eXistenZ. I'll let you decide for yourself which is which.

See, I wasn't bullshitting you about that stuff going fast. These patrons were literally leaving nothing but water behind, which sorta begs the question ... why isn't anyone touching their mac and cheese, exactly?

On the left we have some sort of seafood crabcake/salmon clusterfuck and on the right ... uh, a pot roast, I want to say? I'm not really a big fan of either dishes, so I opted to skip the taste test here ... but not before taking some photographic evidence of the culinary crime scene.

Nothing says "modern America" like burritos at an Asian buffet in a neighborhood that's 80 percent black. What's even more surprising, though? Those things were actually surprisingly decent ... and way more flavorful than anything you'd get at Del Taco, for damn sure.

Now we're getting to the good stuff. Greasy asparagus, Mongolian beef, sesame chicken ... all legitimately yummy Chinese or Japanese or whatever fucking country it's supposed to come from. No jokes here — this fare is simply too delicious to make fun of, so let's keep chugging along, why don't we?

The red stuff is a thick, gooey, chili sauce. The yellow stuff that looks suspiciously like a bucket of piss? Well, that's actually something even grosser ... liquefied butter. I literally gained ten pounds and heart disease just smelling this stuff right here.

From left: cheese quesadillas, greasy zucchini and sauteed mushrooms. I'm not sure which country has that kind of cuisine, but hot fuck, do I want to visit it someday.

All these are raw ingredients reserved for the hibachi chefs. Alas, they're also out in the open and easily accessible to any and all wandering buffet customers ... perhaps you can see where there might be some lawsuit-inducing confusion here. Strangely enough, this seems to be a common practice in Asian buffets throughout Atlanta and its hinterlands; in fact, I don't think I've ever been to a thematic buffet that didn't have the raw ingredient buckets placed absurdly close to the normal buffet fodder.

Speaking of raw food, here's the sushi bar. Long story short, all of this stuff is fucking tremendous and if you have taste buds, you'll probably love it. Hey ... it might be worth the stomach cancer.

This is what I like to call the nominal dessert section. I mean, who the fuck considers gelatin and grapes and cut up bananas with grape shit smeared on them desserts? Thankfully, the good shit was right around the corner ...

... that's an entire fridge of single-wrapped brownies and red velvet cake, kids. I'm not going to tell you precisely how many of those things I had, but I can promise you this: it was more than 17.

But that wasn't the extent of their sweet stuff, though. They also had a cavalcade of cookies (which really isn't that uncommon), but this was the first time I've ever been to a buffet that not only served rice crispy treats, but several different variations. Of course, they didn't have the General Mills Monster Cereals Gangbang Special, but then again, it wasn't Halloweentime when I ate there, either.

As for the ice cream, it was your usual assortment. You had vanilla, rocky road, chocolate and cookies and creme. The stuff was really hard, though, and the scoop was way too small to spoon anything out efficiently without getting your hands in the congealed dairy treat. And no, I have no clue what kind of brands they were, so don't even bother asking.

Whatever it was, though, the ice cream was pretty solid. After cramming down God knows how many milligrams of sodium and downing about three cups of instant coffee during the affair (that's a good trick for frequent buffet patrons — not only does the java curb your appetite a little, it also prevents you from filling up your belly with other liquids, thus allowing you to scientifically cram more food in there) I was in dire need of something cold and sugary. You think I'm joking, but according to my FitBit my heart was hitting about 129 beats per minute just trying to process the maddening surfeit of food I just ate, and even in the middle of freaking winter I was sweating like a whore in church. So, yeah, asides and shit; I really liked the cookies and creme ice cream and you probably will, too.

Let's take a closer look at my own individual dishes, why don't we? The sushi bar is the best place to start, naturally, and as you can no doubt see for yourself, these guys have a TON of variety. The fried thingies with the boom-boom sauce on it was my favorite, but the little wanton packet filled with shredded fish wasn't bad either; that, and I goddamn loved their red pepper paste ... that stuff is just plain exquisite.

And here's a closer look at those aforementioned pork dumplings and Greek spinach buns. They may not look very appetizing in photograph form, but I really enjoyed both offerings, considering they presented two totally diametric gustatory experiences; one was greasy and chewy, the other was flaky and buttery. That's a hell of a combination, really — maybe not "buddy cop movie" duo good, but quite good nonetheless.

Outside of the burrito and cheese-stuffed shrooms, I have no idea what the hell any of this stuff is supposed to be. I think there's some shrimp and chicken fingers in there, though. That orange and yellow thing in the middle, though, could be anything ... and I do mean anything.

Grilled (read: oily as fuck) asparagus buried under more shrimp, Mongolian beef and sesame chicken. If your stomach doesn't start rumbling just looking at this, congratulations on being a.) a vegetarian, b.) a pussy or c.) come to think of it, there's not really much of a difference between a.) and b.), actually.

And we wrap up our whirlwind tour of the buffet's cuisine with the usual subjects; coconut shrimp, crab rangoon and an egg roll. Not that you really need me to tell you this, but this stuff really sticks to your ribs, and I literally gained five pounds over the course of one 60-minute eatin' (I weighed myself before and after, so that is mathematically indisputable, motherfucker.) Even better, I only spent about $8.99 on the whole meal, which is a steal, really, considering I easily ate at least that much in cheese quesadillas alone.

Oh, one last thing. They didn't have a game room with any coin-ops, but they did have a whole bunch of gumball toy dispensers, all of which looked basic as shit. I mean, the NFL stickers are kinda' cool, I guess, but who in the fuck wants a temporary tattoo of a pizza? Ditto for those crappy bouncy balls on the bottom left corner. Heads up, parents: if your kid is entertained by that stuff for more then two minutes, he officially has autism.

I'm not sure what the buffet owner's name is, but the guy behind the waving golden cat was a pretty nice chap who didn't give one fuck that I was taking pictures of everything like some sort of health inspector/paparazzi for burritos. In fact, I was so enchanted and enamored by my experience at The Atlantic Buffet that I even left them a huge tip of exactly $2.12, which is probably the most I've left at any restaurant so far in 2018. Hey, you folks deserve that change, and then some.

Interestingly enough, they also have a sister restaurant called — what else? — Pacific Buffet, which is about ten miles away in Kennesaw. That one I've been to many times in my youth, and while it's a bit ritzier buffet, I still think I prefer The Atlantic. For one thing, it's considerably larger and the menu has more nuance, but really, it's the atmosphere of the place that drew me in. It just feels like some sort of urban sprawl utopia, a place that could be either 20 years into the future or 20 years behind the times. Yes, it's a great place to eat General T'so chicken until your stomach begins to rupture, but it's an even better place to people watch. The animal kingdom has the watering hole, but in the land of man, we've got the line for more mayonnaise. And hers, indeed, is a sight to behold.

It didn't take too long to find The Atlantic's Yelp page, and their Facebook page is right here if you are curious. If you're ever in the 'burbs of Atlanta, I'd wholeheartedly recommend giving these guys a try. It's totally unpretentious, no-frills, straight-to-the-point, gimmick-free, kinda'-grimy-but-not-too-grimy buffet dining in its purest essence, and I'd love to dine there at least once a week, if I could. 

Except, you know, if I did that I'd probably weigh 400 pounds and die at age 38. Which kinda' begs the question; if these people literally live off this shit, how come you NEVER see fat people working at an Asian buffet? Methinks there's something major going on there that ought to be investigated. I mean, seriously ...


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