Vendors at Pittsburgh International averaged 3 critical violations over the last two years vs. 14 when the Post-Gazette checked 4 years ago.
At the Rivers Casino you can bet $10 on electronic roulette.
You can play the nickel slot machine.
You can throw money at a black jack game on a screen.
But there is one sure thing during an afternoon at Rivers Casino: lunch.
On a sunny day this week, when it was too hot for anyone in their right mind to eat outdoors, Munch and Blue-Eyed Friend of Munch (BEFOM) hit the Grand View Buffet.
First, of course, you have to make it through the playing floor. Oddly, the smell of cigarette smoke is stronger outside of the smoking area than in the smoking area. The playing floor has this high-pitched wah-wah noise that sounds as if it might be coming from the slot machines, but seems to be piped in. Every now and then, an alarm bell rings somewhere, maybe a winner, maybe someone opened a fire door. Munch isn't sure.
The lunch buffet is $13.95 for all you can eat. For some people there, like the lady with two heaping plates full of food with a slab of pizza on top, that is a better deal than for the small man who filled half his plate at the salad bar. The price includes soft drinks, coffee and dessert.
The waitstaff members had to be chosen for their patience. These are some of the nicest people in Pittsburgh, and they are great about taking empty plates away.
In the buffet business, exercise is about going back again and again. There was no one rushing us, our waiter brought multiple sodas (at midday, we weren't drinking beers, which were $3.75) and coffee and, while he increased the volume of his voice when the table next to us could not hear him, he was never impatient.
The plates for this buffet make a normal portion of food (the amount of food you might need for, say, lunch) look downright measly. These plates are sort of an oddly squared-off oblong shape and about a foot wide at the widest point, and diners all over the room were loading them down. This turned the buffet into a sort of weight-lifting competition as people staggered by under piles of food.
Munch was not going to be outdone by these mere gamblers. After all, Munch eats for a living. The buffet was a sure win for Munch.
After you pay the entrance fee for the buffet (which includes factoring in a tip upfront), a hostess takes you to your seat and your server brings over the drinks. The stations, along one wall, are marked: Italian, Mongolian (yes, Mongolian; Munch was surprised, too), Asian, American and Bar-B-Que. The desserts are behind the cashiers and the salad bar is in the middle of the floor.
The stations are beautifully done. There are no big metal steam trays; instead each item is placed on a rectangular concave white plate that is on a warming table. Any spills are immediately wiped up.
At any well-eaten buffet there is always a reconnaissance run. You must first assess the offerings. This buffet had some beauties, for instance, peel-and-eat shrimp. There were maki rolls, identified for us Pittsburghers as "sushi." There was a huge slab of ham and a smoked turkey breast and the whole Mongolian grill for which items were made to order.
Munch's second pass was to load the plate (not too heavily because you can always go back for more) with the sausage and pennette (smaller versions of penne pasta) marinara, a helping of Hunan beef, cheese ravioli, garlic bread, the aforementioned sushi and corn bread.
The mix of cuisines led to a surreal dining moment when, as Munch was sampling food from around the globe all around the plate, Munch realized that Munch was eating the penne pasta marinara with chopsticks.
BEFOM missed that moment because the Mongolian beef took a long time to cook.
Munch was half done with that first plate when BEFOM finally arrived. The fault for the delay was not in the cook, but in the system.
The second round took Munch past the salad bar (why waste too much space on greens) that had crisp fresh spinach and the usual assortment of veggies with the addition of chicken and tuna salads and cold cuts and cheese for antipasto.
Munch also had the smoked turkey, baked beans and a roll. A taste of gnocchi with chicken left the gnocchi congealed to Munch's soft palate like peanut butter.
In the final pass through the buffet, Munch hit the dessert bar and polished off the meal with seven, yes seven, desserts: apple cobbler that was a tad gelatinous, a macaroon that was wonderful, a tasty small cannoli, a white petit four that had an odd sort of Bengay taste to it, bread pudding that was dry in spots and the smallest, most wonderful little chocolate mousse.
The visit ended with Munch and BEFOM getting lost on the casino floor.
Editor of Munch probably thought Munch was AWOL gambling, but nope; Munch was just trying to find the door.