Somewhere over the last 30 years, our nation got way fatter and our military handed our all-you-can-eat buffet technology to the Chinese.
How else has it come to pass that virtually the only surviving buffets these days are variations on the theme of Double Dragon or China Palace or any of countless other generic-sounding — yet perfectly palatable — Far East permutations? And exactly where along the line did we abandon the revolving buffet?
The best thing I ever ate — also the most things I ever ate — amounted to whatever was making the rounds at Duff’s Smorgasbord, a celebration of gluttony I became dangerously well-acquainted with as a child, at its location in the bombed-out Laurel Square shopping center in Brunswick.
Duff’s was special-occasion dining for folk who knew damn well there was another, purer form of fine dining out there but that they would never know what that form tasted like. Fine dining here meant every food you ever wanted — and as much as your accommodating carcass could put down. It was the best place my 11-year-old eyes could ever imagine, surely a glimpse of what heaven’s cafeteria would look like.
Duff’s, above all else, was the place that tempted taste buds with not one but two slowly revolving circular chow stations that rotated like steamboat paddlewheels churning through peanut butter.
Think that incoming fried chicken is looking fine? Best you lurch at it just as it reaches arm’s length or you’ll lose your chance till it makes its next pass, some two minutes later.
Hoping for mashed potatoes and gravy on a single go-round? Don’t plan on accomplishing that feat without putting both hands to work — an early form of multitasking that generally led to a sloppy, gravyfied bastardization of the spud bin.
There were at least two ignominious facets of wonderful Duff’s, the first one being the inescapable truism that the patrons who love the place most also tended to be those least capable of wedging their porcine forms into the revolving food-trough compartments. Blessedly, no member of my family faced this dilemma.
The other was the modest novelty station that awaited you on your way out after each visit.
Being a child of 11 or so, I considered it my birthright to be handed a quarter to pop into a machine at the door of any establishment I frequented. Usually this was the means to a miniature NFL football helmet or a cheap metal ring that I was sure was going to be the glow-in-the-dark slime that was so prominently displayed on the case.
Not so here.
For one last 25 cents in Duff’s coffers, you could feed a machine that would provide you with your choice of:
1) your body weight (as measured immediately after ingesting 17 pounds of the finest
institutional international cuisine), or
2) your heart rate (recorded at precisely the moment when every system in your body is revolting against the basketball-sized bolus that just overtook it).
I remember feeling vaguely groggy after another expansive repast, and I remember paying a quarter to learn that my resting heart rate was around 138 at that moment. I also remember my parents taking note of that figure, and I remember very few meals at Duff’s after that.