The Diminishing Returns Diet
The following eateries, with their cafeteria-style offerings, all-you-can buffets for brunch, lunch, and/or dinner (or, in the case of one Italian bistro listed, just an endless supply of salad), can help you strap on the roomiest of feed bags. Let them lead you into culinary temptation, but not into evil.
Locust Point's genteel, charming Hull Street Blues Café (1222 Hull St.,  727-7476)--located on the site of a late-19th-century saloon--serves lunch and dinner, but it earned its special place in the hearts of local gluttons with its jam-packed Sunday brunch buffet. The luxurious spread includes the traditional melon, eggs, and bacon, but also creamed chipped beef; fettuccine topped with a piquant, chunky marinara; and, best of all, a smoked bluefish that's melt-in-your-mouth tender. Plus: fluffy pancakes and French toast, available by special order.
The Midtown Yacht Club (15 E. Centre St.,  837-1300) is a neighborhood pub that caters to midtownies and office workers with microbrews, pool tables, a big-ass television, and karaoke every Thursday night. It serves your basic pub grub for lunch and dinner, but its Sunday brunch buffet is a meat lover's fever dream--perhaps just the thing to soak up last night's liquid indulgences, or provide a cushion for the coming afternoon of sports 'n' suds. On a recent trek, we sampled scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits with sausage gravy, fried chicken wings, tender roast beef . . . and, other than the crispy, cubed home fries, found absolutely nothing that grows in the ground or hangs from a tree. Hungry carnivores welcome here.
If your tastes run more to things that swim than things that walk--and you're willing to splurge--your brunch jones may be better satiated by the luxurious, pricey Pisces (Hyatt Regency Hotel, 300 Light St.,  605-2835). You'll pay $30 a head for the privilege, but Sunday's champagne brunch features live jazz and a majestic view of the greater Inner Harbor. Pisces specializes in seafood, and the brunch buffet is swimming with the stuff, along with succulent fruit, salads, and pastries. The Bloody Mary--which comes topped by a jumbo shrimp--is a signature item.
By virtue of their proximity to one another in the heart of Mount Vernon, their similar commitment to attentive service, and the overlap in their menus, we think of Akbar Restaurant (823 N. Charles St.,  539-0944, www.akbar-restaurant.com) and Mughal Garden (920 N. Charles St.,  547-0001) as siblings of a sort. Both Indian restaurants serve up Saturday and Sunday buffets and host all-you-can-eat lunchtime smorgasbords that have become a staple for many a midtown office drone. Mughal and Akbar (which also has a Howard County outpost, at 9400 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia,  381-3600) feature traditional chicken, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian favorites--with special emphasis at the lunchtime buffets on the vegetarian dishes, like the saag paneer (spinach curry) and channa masala (chickpeas and onions). For reasons we're at a loss to explain, we're a little more fond of the tandoori chicken at Mughal, slightly wilder about the kheer (rice pudding) at Akbar. Tomayto, tomahto.
Moving away from a monoculture approach to the buffet, lunch and dinner at Imperial Gourmet (2014 E. Joppa Road, Parkville,  668-7578) features the usual "American" and Chinese staples and a sushi bar, but the spreads also offer items that can't easily be found in these parts in an all-you-can-eat setting. The suburban restaurant's offerings include an array of sumptuous, high-quality seafood, which on any given night might include frog legs in basil sauce or oysters on the half-shell, shark fin or sea scallops. Noncarnivores won't go hungry, either: Imperial Gourmet serves up intriguing twists on all kinds of veggies. Try the eggplant.
In the heart of lower Charles Village's Little Korea, New No Da Ji (2501 N. Charles St.,  235-4846) also serves up a pan-cultural buffet for both lunch and dinner, six days a week (they're closed Mondays). Korean kimchi sits near Chinese spareribs, hard by the array of jewel-like Japanese sushi (which can also be custom-ordered at the restaurant's sushi bar). Wash it all down with an ice-cold Sapporo or just a steaming bowl of New No Da Ji's robust hot and sour soup.
It's tough to think about Micah's Cafeteria (5401 Reisterstown Road,  764-7240) and not hear its pro-gluttony TV-commercial catchphrase in your head: "I've got a weight problem . . . I can't wait to get to Micah's!" (We'll wait while you finish doing the Cabbage Patch. . . .) But, despite its utilitarian lack of homey ambience (this is, after all, a cafeteria), Micah's may also remind you of cozy family meals, from the days before anyone knew anything about bad carbs and good cholesterol. The place celebrates the loosen-your-belt pleasures of Sunday dinners, Southern-style. Once you behold Micah's vast offerings--the tender fried fish, the crispy chicken, the greens, the mac 'n' cheese, the spicy sweet potato pie--you'll also likely hear in your head the voice of your most beloved (and perhaps vast) older female relative, the one who was always urging you to eat something, child.
According to the corporate Web site for the durable buffet chain Golden Corral (7911 Eastern Ave., Dundalk,  282-1777), 150 million diners walked into Golden Corral restaurants last year. And no doubt those 150 million walked out much more slowly, while mournfully clutching their bellies and groaning. The Eastpoint outpost (like the several other Corrals in the region) pushes the all-you-can-eat concept to the limit, loading up its steam tables with more than 100 different items. Its meat and potatoes is, well, meat and potatoes--you can get salads and veggies and desserts but also fried chicken and hearty steaks and spuds both mashed and baked. Pass the gravy.
Nobody makes food bigger than the Italians, and the Olive Grove (705 N. Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum,  636-1385), certainly knows how to fill a plate, with the greatest Stateside hits of Northern and Southern Italy (along with the restaurant's own twist on the Free State's crab cake). But it earned a spot in this Eat section dedicated to all-you-can-eat because of the way it re-fills its salad plates. Every dinner entrée at Olive Grove (not to be mistaken for the ubiquitous Olive Garden chain) comes with an all-you-can-eat salad (topped with its signature, the creamy, Romano-and-herb laden Mama Maria's dressing). Each main dish also comes with soft homemade bread sticks as big as a toddler's arm. A word to the wise: Go easy on these opening acts, or you'll lose your momentum for the main event. Oh, wait--that's the whole point.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201