Sometimes when you travel, you really get tired of the endless parade of burgers, pizza, tacos, and other fast food fare. Come to think of it, that can happen at home, too. What to do then, when the whole family wants to go out but you dont want to break the bank? Why hit a buffet, of course, where everyone can get just what they like at a price that a family can afford.
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And thats just what we did in Tampa, Florida, when we stopped at Whistle Junction. I had seen the signs for a few of these in Orlando and Tampa and found them to be a local chain of establishments throughout Florida. I was told that they were formerly Ryans restaurants but that the owners of the chain took them private, hence the new name.
The outside of the building really did resemble a Ryans restaurant, though I never made the connection until I had spoken with a manager. Inside, the restaurant was very clean and cozily decorated with pictures and knick-knacks recalling the train station motif.
There were plenty of tables, and the buffet stations are set centrally for easy access wherever you sit. We had no trouble getting a table for our party, and before long we were up assaulting the buffet stations, filling our plates, and bringing our catch back to the table.
It was lunch time, so we were bound to that menu, but everyone found something they liked here. My son went straight for the pizza, and found it fairly good. He added a bit of salad to the side, though hes a very picky eater and didnt add much of that to his plate.
The salad bar was well-stocked with a large assortment of fresh veggies and prepared salads. My Beloved Barbara loves to start her meal with one, and so do I. So, we chose from the fresh broccoli, various lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, chick peas, beets, bell peppers, shredded carrots and cheeses, and so much more to build a mighty one indeed. Why not make it a chef salad with eggs, diced ham and turkey? A cold pasta salad was tasty enough as was the seafood salad, though the potato salad was a little soggy.
Next we hit the entrée station. I was impressed with the spicy Buffalo wings, even if they were a bit soggier than I would have liked. Sitting sauce can do that, though. The fried chicken was superb, spiced just so and crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. A side of fresh-made mashed potatoes drenched in brown gravy was the perfect compliment, but the oven roasted variety were tasty as well.
A slice of meatloaf I tried was over breaded, but corned beef and cabbage, one of my favorite dishes, was very well done with firm, slightly crunchy cabbage and thick slices of corned beef. Fried shrimp were on the small side, though thats to be expected, and baked fish was acceptable. A pot roast dish with tender shredded beef, carrots, and potatoes was also fair enough.
I did like the plentiful array of vegetables. Okra and tomatoes, fried okra, steamed broccoli and cauliflower with cheese sauce for topping, and more graced the table. Then we got to the desserts. There was a wide and varied array of cakes, pies, puddings, and cookies. Ice cream, of course, was also available. Barbara raved about a slice of chocolate cake, while I reveled in the bread pudding, if I only sneaked a small sample. Sadly, sugar free selections were not to be found.
Our server had little to do but clean away the dirty plates and refill our beverages, but she was prompt about it and very friendly indeed. No complaints here.
Lunch for four was about $35 with tip, and including beverages (sodas). This was a very good deal for what we got, and not much more than a fast-food stop. We found Whistle Junction a better alternative to Ryans or the Great American Steak and Buffet Company , on a par with Golden Corral , and slightly less than Fire Mountain Grill . But if youre in Florida, go with the local chain and give Whistle Junction a try.
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