By George Humphries
If you are a dedicated foodie, then the Epic Buffet at the Hollywood Casino (we still call it the Charles Town Races) is the closest you can get to heaven. Located on the lowest public level of the clubhouse building at the far end of a vast expanse of slots and gaming tables, this may be the most extensive spread of comestibles that can be imagined. According to the Sous Chef we cornered as he made his rounds checking on the various food displays, the Epic Buffet offers more than 100 different items at any given time, all of which are prepared on the premises.
Diners pay a flat rate to enter and are escorted to a comfortable booth or table. Lining the far end of the cavernous main room is a long buffet and steam table with most of the hot entrees. At the center of this wide expanse, two toqued assistant chefs stand behind the carvable offerings, waiting to provide you the quantity and degree of doneness or rareness you ask for among steamship round, prime ribs, pork roast, ham, turkey, or roast chicken.
Flanking the carving area on both sides is a vast array of hot offerings. On one side, we found mussels, clams, shrimp (one of about five different shrimp dishes at one location or another), taco-crusted tilapia, a lovely salmon, curried chicken, pot roast, hush puppies, and a complete Vietnamese Pho station with broth, noodles, meats, vegetables and herbs layered to request. Next to this is a sushi station. On the other side, some Italian dishes, several kinds of pizza, Angus sliders, a steak dish, liver and onions, barbecue ribs, and catfish. Scattered throughout were vegetables such as broccoli, steamed cabbage, green beans, fried okra, Brussels sprouts, and various potato, rice, and pasta dishes.
At the center of the room is a racetrack-shaped buffet with soup, chili, breads, some five different green salads, 14 chef-prepared salads, and a dozen or so glorious desserts. This included crème brulee, cakes, cheesecakes, brownies, a particularly good bread pudding, and a sundae bar with sauces and toppings.
Unlike many buffets, this one is very accessible. You can approach it at any point without having to wait in a line. On two Saturday nights, the only line we saw was in front of the meat carving station, and that was only about five or six people. The room “works” remarkably well considering that it seats more than 300, and on one weekend evening we went it had already served almost 1,000 people by 7 p.m. without seeming at all crowded.
Writing a food review is difficult, because it is all good, and no matter what people’s preferences might be, including vegetarian, anyone can find enough to fill a plate at least once and even more times.
The Epic Buffet is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with a brunch on Sunday. Weekday dinner prices are $16.99; Friday and Saturday $21.99. Tuesday is crab leg night at $34.99. And every night, that’s for all you can eat, including your choice of beverages served at your table. Hollywood Casino has a total of seven restaurants and a food court. Epic is our favorite because we can have a big meal and then walk it off as we watch some horses at the track. Parking is free.
The Blue Ridge Grill at Brambleton is half of the Blue Ridge Grill family, the other located in Leesburg in the southwest corner of Route 15 and Edwards Ferry Road and tucked in behind the McDonalds, Sheetz, and The Tire Center. The Brambleton restaurant, opened two years ago, also is planted deep in a busy retail center – but it’s worth the effort of finding it.
The Brambleton Plaza, in case you are not a near neighbor of the massive development, is located off Northstar Boulevard where it intersects with Ryan Road. The restaurant sign is located high on the building to the right of the Regal Fox Cinema. While there is limited on-street parking, there is a large parking garage that is easily accessed behind the shops and cinema.
The restaurant faces the fountain in front of the theater and has outdoor seating that will be very inviting in good weather. Inside the spacious restaurant are comfortable booths and tables as well as a bar the length of the high-ceilinged dining room. It is a pleasant and well-arranged space, and features brilliant large photographs of steeplechase racing, kayaking, and other scenes of Loudoun County country life.
And the food is the best part of this attractive and inviting place.
The lunch menu consists of a surprisingly long list of tempting offerings in groups labeled Appetizers (8 different offerings $4.50 to $9.50); Entrée Salads (6 at $8.50 to $14.50, three of which were available in smaller portions with an entrée); Seafood and Pasta (5 from $12 to $17); Chicken (3, $10 and $11); Sandwiches (8 $7.25 to $13.75); Burgers (3 all at $8.25); and Steaks and Ribs (5, $15 to $18). In addition, there are eight sides ($3 and $4) and three dessert choices ($6 and $7). The dinner menu is slightly expanded with entrée prices just a little higher.
We started a recent lunch with the soup of the day – a deliciously-flavored Chicken Mushroom Soup that turned out to be almost a stew – hearty and satisfying enough to be a main course. In addition to the soup of the day, the Grill offers a “Homemade” Lobster Bisque, both at only $4.50.
The sliced Prime Rib sandwich ($13.75) was plentiful and tender and served on a French baguette with au jus for dipping. It also had a layer of Monterey jack cheese, and was served with some of the best French fries we’ve had anywhere – thinly cut and subtly seasoned with BRG’s special blend.
My wife chose to combine an appetizer and a small salad for a meal, which turned out to be a good choice. The Asian Chili Shrimp consisted of some 8-10 fried shrimp ringing a mound of Asian peanut slaw topped with tempura-style fried green beans and chopped peanuts.
The Mixed Greens Salad was adorned with chopped tomatoes and mangoes and tossed in a classic vinaigrette. Excellent. The Grill offers a small version of this at $4.50, as well as small versions of its Caesar Salad and its Blue Ridge House Salad (romaine, tomato, corn, cucumber, and croutons tossed in a ranch dressing).
At another lunch, we chose the Barbecue Ribs ($17.75), which turned out to be an entire rack that almost hung over the already large serving plate. They were juicy and the sauce was tasty without being too sweet. They were served with fries and a side of Blazin’ Saddle Beans, a BRG recipe. We highly recommend the dish.
The Prime Rib dinner was all it should be, tender and flavorfully rubbed with some BRG special blend of seasoning. Prime Ribs go for $15 at lunch, and are available at larger sizes at dinner for $19 and $24. The Grill also offers several steaks and chicken dishes.
The wait staff is well trained and refreshingly, they pitch in to help one another. When a glass of ice tea starts to reach bottom, another magically appears handed by a different waiter even when our waitress was not immediately available.
Blue Ridge Grill Manager Kevin Weitz tells us that the restaurant blends all its seasonings and sauces onsite with its own recipes. He also is particularly proud of a dessert that he created –Dulce de Leche Chocolate Cake – a thick dark chocolate cake baked with a dulce de leche center and served with vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream, then drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauces (like it needed it!) Other desserts are a Catoctin Mountain Apple Walnut Cobbler and Banana Pudding.
The Grill serves wine, beer, and a full range of alcoholic drinks.
George Humphries is a retired Navy aviator who began cooking at the age of 10 and has managed several large restaurants. He has lived in Loudoun Country since 1984.