Great Fortune Gives Good Buffet
As a fortune cookie might put it, a hungry man who journeys to Cockeysville will find great fortune. A hungry woman won't be disappointed either, not at Great Fortune Buffet , the sort of smorgasbord that gives all-you-can-eat joints a good name for a change. Dinner on weeknights is a steal at $9.95. Friday through Sunday the price goes up (to $13.95), but so does the number of seafood offerings on the steam table (although, there was quite a lot of marine fare available on the Tuesday when we first visited. Lunch is even cheaper. If you're the type who simply must spend money, you can always order from the extensive menu, but no one here appears to.
It was our great fortune to be joined on a recent Friday-night visit by our old friend Andrea, a pal of long standing and a generally solid citizen, who nevertheless collects parking violations the way some people collect coins, butterflies, or stamps. From our seats by the window, we watched her car glide into a space marked with both NO PARKING and FIRE LANE signs. We were relieved when the car glided back out of the spot and, we presume, into one of the restaurant's many clearly marked parking spaces around back.
Seafood is Great Fortune's big draw on weekends, and the maritime bounty was indeed rich this night. Along with the usual green-lip mussels (in black bean sauce), the scintillating salt-and-pepper shrimp, shrimp salad, New England clam chowder, fried scallops, creamed scallops, and sushi (up to four varieties at a time), there were oysters and clams on the half-shell, steamed crabs, crabs with scallion and ginger, seafood delight, snow-crab legs, and a beautifully moist filet of salmon. I could easily have made a meal of the last.
Housed near the sushi, with its accompaniments of pickled ginger, wasabi, and seaweed salad, we found an American-style salad bar, with all the green fixings plus roasted vegetables, potato salad, a deli-meats salad, and bright squares of Jell-O. The fresh-fruit display included orange slices, seedless grapes, apples, honeydew, and cantaloupe. (Those with sweeter teeth will find, at yet another table, an assortment of pastries, cakes, and self-serve ice cream.)
The server had just removed our dirty plates for the second time when a young woman, part of the staff, passed from table to table bearing a license-plate number inscribed on a large piece of paper. Andrea sighed. Her car was blocking an enormous car carrier belonging to the business next door. She interrupted the story she was telling us--how she had recently come to get a $250 parking ticket--to move her vehicle.
When she returned, we went back for a final serving of our particular favorites. For Andrea, that meant the salt-and-pepper shrimp, a mild version of General Tso's chicken, Shanghai vegetables, orange beef, and salmon and tuna sushi. For C.C., it was the wonton soup, pork-filled dumplings, fried won tons, cashew chicken, kung pao chicken, and steamed white rice. I loaded up on the mussels, a fragrant eggplant with shrimp paste, charred but succulent hunks of roast duck with hoisin sauce, tender pork with mushrooms the size of golf balls, and what I think of as Chinese doughnuts, fried biscuits sprinkled with sugar.
The restaurant's owners have done a lovely job of renovating a former fast-food joint, though there's no escaping the fact you're sitting on an unsightly stretch of York Road. They've added some neon and etched glass, a few archways, and lots of artwork, some of it quite lovely. I'm a sucker for those paintings in which the lanterns on the sampan light up. Of note too is the large number of particularly dexterous diners in attendance. I'm perpetually in awe of people who can wield chopsticks with aplomb, and Great Fortune is a great place to observe the proper etiquette. My own attempts are unfailingly disastrous.
Buffets, naturally, cater to the masses, so expect to find fried rice, spareribs, lo mein, pepper steak, and such popular but out-of-place items as mozzarella sticks and the aforementioned clam chowder and Old Bay-covered crabs. We tried to steer clear of battered and fried items, which were pretty leaden. No, there's nothing radical or far out here, but if you pick and choose wisely, you'll come up with an overflowing plate of subtle flavors, intriguing textures, and sublime tastes.
As for Andrea, well, the story of the $250 ticket will have to wait. In the meantime, we are considering a 12-step program for the parking-impaired, or a full-time chauffeur.