572 Clock Tower Way
Crescent Springs, KY
Empire Buffet bills itself as "the most elegant buffet in Kentucky." I haven’t been to every buffet in Kentucky so I cannot vouch for that claim, but the atmosphere is certainly a step up from the usual. The substantial space is partitioned into several smaller sections, which gives the restaurant a cozy feel, and unlike the majority of local buffets, it has a number of screened booths which lend an air of privacy. Nicely decorated in honeyed tones, the ambiance is warm and inviting.
When I asked to order from the menu, the friendly and enthusiastic hostess tried very hard to dissuade me and pushed the buffet option. Upon learning that I am vegetarian, she personally took me around the buffet and pointed out the vegetarian-friendly choices. Her insistence that I opt for the buffet raised my suspicions that either the ala carte food wasn’t very good, or ordering it would throw off the kitchen’s rhythm and ability to keep the 160-item buffet fully loaded. Even though the vegetarian choice on the buffet was small, I relented, figuring that I’d be able to find one or two things I really liked.
Whoever coined the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" must have had Empire Buffet in mind. The restaurant is an amalgamation of cuisines - Chinese, Japanese, American and Italian - none of them done very well. Of the approximately 15 vegetarian items on the buffet, only the hot & sour soup proved a winner with me. I might have enjoyed the mei fun rice noodles a bit more had they been warm, but they’d obviously been sitting for awhile. The egg foo yung and fried bananas were too oily, the buttered potatoes limp and lifeless, and even the items that were halfway decent (sautéed garlic green beans, buttered mushrooms, lo mein) were greasy tasting. The spring rolls were vegetarian, but plunked into the same pan as pork egg rolls, which didn’t sit very well with me.
Likewise the Japanese hibachi option, where you choose your items and have a chef grill them up while you wait. When I asked the chef about cleaning the hotplate prior to preparing a vegetarian dish, he didn’t seem to understand and couldn’t answer my question, so I walked away without giving it a try. I also perused the sushi bar but came back empty-handed.
As far as American and Italian cuisine, the only vegetarian items on the buffet were cheesy potato casserole and pizza, both of which had orange pools of grease on top. I steered clear.
The restaurant has a salad bar – amply stocked but nothing special. There is also an extensive dessert bar filled with vegetarian no-no’s like Jell-O and marshmallow fruit salad. They also offered profiteroles, much to my amazement. I knew they wouldn’t be any good, as profiteroles are made to be eaten immediately, but I tried one anyway. Filled with a thick, eggy custard instead of fluffy cream, it was horrible.
We were lured to the Empire Buffet by a Reach Magazine advertisement with money-saving coupons, but we felt our money would have been better spent elsewhere - anywhere else. My husband summed it up best: "I think I’d prefer a lot less choice and better tasting items." I wholeheartedly agree.