Desert Companion

Not on bread alone

Chuck Wagon

There are as many types of Vegas buffets as there are Vegas casinos. There are the bargain-priced trough parades; there are the globe-spanning carousels with shrines to Chinese, Japanese, Greek and Indian cuisine; there are the foodie pageants offering near-gourmet grub in bulk. But the seminal Las Vegas buffet — at the El Rancho hotel-casino on the Strip — was simple. And not just culinarily simple, with its cold cuts, salad items, a nod toward ambition with some seafood. It was also simple in purpose, constructed as something of a trap. Hoping to keep gamblers free from distracting stomach-rumblings, the El Rancho conceived of its buffet as a bare-bones restaurant that could deploy cheap, fast, plentiful food without heavy overhead. That way, gamblers would stay full — and keep tugging at those slot machines — without the casino having to spend a lot on chefs, cooks and waiters. Today’s more elaborate food fantasias on the Strip are a far burp from this more functional — perhaps even primitive — vision of the buffet.

But for all the buffet’s simple efficiency, management realized one weakness of the model might be that it encouraged overindulgence. Thus the gentle reminder you can see on the wall: “Hi Podner … take all you can eat direct to your seat; not all that you see.”

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Desert Companion
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