So, buffets. A lot of snobby foodie types don't dig them. Hell, a lot of people in general don't dig them. I'm not saying it's completely unjustified. One trip to Golden Corral could poison you against the idea forever. Still, I'm sure there's a few truly good ones out there (I've heard good things about buffets in places like Vegas and Singapore, for example). We don't have any stellar options here, but I have to admit I'm still a fan of the overall concept. There's something nice about going out to a place where you serve yourself whatever you want in whatever portions you want it. You pay your money, and two minutes later you have a plate with a bite or two of a dozen different items. Or maybe you just have as many crab legs or fried shrimp as your plate can hold without risking catastrophe, I'm not judging.
Like I said, there are no really amazing options for buffet dining in this area, but there are a few that are worthwhile. Tucanos is a place I have to visit at least a couple of times a year. Just lately I've become a fan of Ming Hao in Nampa when I'm craving Chinese, simply because they hit all the comfort food/nostalgia/Americanized notes I fell in love with during my childhood. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Madhuban, even though I haven't been there in years. This week I added another to the list of Track-approved AYCE joints and, even though I don't usually write up buffet eateries, I'm going to tell you about this one. If you have kids in tow, or are just in the mood for some serious carbs, you could do a lot worse.
I'm not sure when the Boise location of Pizza Pie Cafe opened, as I discovered it quite by accident. They're a small-ish chain of seventeen locations scattered primarily through Northern Utah and Southern Idaho, with a spot in Southern Utah and another in Arizona just for good measure. Anyway, I was watching TV late one night and saw one of the commercials for Cici's that are constantly on cable and satellite services here even though the nearest location is hundreds of miles away. That got me thinking about a place called Primo's that my ex-roommate and I used to take her kids to on occasion. They weren't great, but they had a little salad bar, a couple of pasta options, and a fair selection of mostly decent savory and dessert pizzas. But you see, I couldn't remember the name of the place at first. So, I did a search for all you can eat pizza in Boise to refresh my memory, and that's how I found out about Pizza Pie Cafe. I probably would have forgotten about it moments later when the commercial break ended, but I was surprised by their scores on the various review sites and filed them away for the next time I was running around with children and we couldn't agree on a place to eat...which of course happened only a few weeks later.
It's big and annoyingly lit, let's get that out of the way. It's one of those buffets where you pay when you walk in. There was a spot on the card slip to write in a tip, which is nice because most buffets don't have that. I don't go 20% or anything at a place like this, but at least a buck per person for clearing away the empty plates seems appropriate. There is a small salad bar, that I completely avoided. The younger of the two kids in my care took a trip through, because she never passes up the opportunity to load a plate with fruit (peaches and pears in this case), a large pile of green peas, and maybe some green leafy stuff with dressing. She didn't finish the leafy stuff because she didn't care for the Italian dressing, but the rest of it all went into the black hole that resides somewhere in her torso. I didn't get a pic because fuck peas. Seriously. Fuck. Peas.
Cheese Stix: I guess that's not right, but I don't know how you'd write the singular version of the item. Anyway, it's basically a sauceless cheese pizza, and not very flavorful. You can dip them in marinara, but at that point why wouldn't you just get a slice of regular cheese pizza?
Spud-o-licious: Is there a pizza joint in Idaho that doesn't have a potato pie option at this point? This one is kind of the baked potato variety, with ranch, mozzarella and cheddar blend, bacon, chives, rosemary, and garlic. Not particularly my thing because ranch isn't particularly my thing, but I can easily see this one having fans.
Garlic Knots: These were pretty freaking tasty. Just what you'd expect, little knots of dough brushed down with butter(ish) and a surprising amount of seasoning. Potentially addictive, you've been warned.
Firefighter: Not unbearably spicy, but maybe surprisingly spicy considering it's on a buffet where kids can grab it. At least they keep it on the top shelf. More ranch here, but it wasn't allowed to dominate the other components (mozzarella, pepperoni, garlic chicken, jalapenos, and chipotle seasoning). I would get this again.
Hillbilly: Finally, some red sauce! Plus a lot of meat. Pepperoni, Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, bacon, and a bonus treat of Asiago cheese.
Of course, it wasn't all hearts and flowers. There are eleven specialty pizzas on their menu, but not enough space for all of them at once. I would have loved a meat and veggie combo pizza, but theirs has pineapple on it for some reason so that was a no go. I would have settled for the Pesto Veggie, but it wasn't one of the available selections. Same with the Breakfast Pizza and the Buffalo chicken option, because in addition to the specialty pizzas they do of course have to have some simpler varieties like plain cheese and pepperoni on hand. All of that taken into consideration, there really weren't any other pizzas I wanted to sample.
Lucky for me, there was another option. Behind protective glass are a selection of nine different pastas that have been mostly cooked. Tell the attendant what kind you want, and if you want a half or full portion, and they will pop your pasta into a hot bath for a few moments to finish it off. Before you know it you have a steaming hot bowl of noodles and six sauce options to choose from. I started by selecting a sauce. There are three white and three red, and since I don't care much for white sauce on my pasta I was left with the options of marinara, meaty marinara, and the roasted red pepper sauce that I ended up picking. Not entirely certain which type of pasta would be the best match, I picked the one that would make for the most interesting picture...
...which, of course, was the Spinach Fettuccine. Not a pretty plate, but surprisingly good. Flavorful and with a nice amount of heat. In fact, the sauce (along with all of the other pasta sauces) is available to use on a build-your-own pizza, which I am seriously considering. They also have some specialty dessert options available to order, but we decided to stick with the ones available on the buffet this trip.
More accurately, we stuck with one option: the Oreo Pizza. They had a few others, mostly fruity, but this was the first one everyone tried and we got stuck on it. I was only able to fit one small slice in after all the pasta, but the kids went back for seconds (and maybe thirds).
If you've stuck it out this far I'm guessing you're at least a little interested in the place, so I've got a little something for you. Dinner buffet for an adult costs $8.25 at PPC, while kids are $2.49 to $5.49 depending on their age. Not a lot of money, but of course it can add up if you have a lot of people. Add drinks to that and...well you get the idea. If you click this link, you'll be taken to a page where you can sign up for their text club. In my experience, what this gets you is a text message two or three times a week with a discount good for that day. It's usually a pretty good discount, too. The night we went, I had a text that dropped the adult price to $5.55 and allowed tacking on a drink for an additional fifty-five cents. Not bad at all.
Glancing back over this, I see it how it could appear that I'm schilling for this place. Of course those of you who have read my stuff will know I'd tell you if that was the case, but just to be clear I swear I'm not getting anything for this review. It's not spectacular food, though to be honest I liked their pizza as well or better than a lot of other places I've been here. I'd definitely go to PPC before any of the big chain pizza joints. It's just a low price for a wide selection of pretty yummy comfort food. And hey, they even have special booths for those romantic evenings!
Food: A little higher on the spectrum than the lowest common denominator offerings found at most buffets, with a few standout items.
Value: Good. VERY good if you have one of their text coupons.
Service. The cashier and the pasta guy were friendly, and the empty plates vanished quickly.
Atmosphere: A little bright, but comfy with big booths and lots of good 80's music.
Final Grade: B+ (especially if just compared to some of the other buffets around)