Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Art of Eating at an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet

The scene of the crime, Bell 2 Lodge on the Stewart Cassiar Highway, 92km north of Meziadin Junction, CA

I'm sure many of you are snickering just reading the title of this post, I salivated while remembering my experience at Bell 2 Lodge's breakfast buffet just brainstorming how I wanted to express myself in this post. You see, I've started listening to an animated podcast about food, called Sporkful. The announcer, Dan Pashman, advertises his podcast saying “It's not for foodies, it's for eaters,” using the motto: Eat More, Eat Better!” I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with his podcast. I enjoy learning about food and hearing his commentary, but at the same time I find myself whipping way the drool rolling down my chin as he talks about things like S'mores, the perfect bite composition, preparing burgers, and Thanksgiving feasts. As a tour cyclists, I fall into the category of an eater, who takes the motto, “Eat More, Eat Better” to a new level! In fact one of my host's kids back in the Denver area was very impressed “for my enthusiasm for eating,” as they put it! Therefore, it might be rather shocking to know that I haven't visited an all-you-can eat-buffet for about 10 or 15 years. Yes, I've stayed at hotels with complimentary buffet breakfasts, but that doesn't count. It is included in the price of your room. I do have to admit, that the “stuff-yourself-to-the-brim” philosophy isn't an eating experience that I seek out. I don't think it is particularly healthy and the image that comes to my mind are obese people with huge plates in front of them overflowing with heaps of processed, low-quality food items, eating way more than they actually need or want! Ever since moving to Europe, I'm all about quality over quantity.

A deliciously entertaining podcast for serious eaters
You might say I was inspired by Dan and his podcast, or the fact that I hadn't been to buffet for years, but to tell you the truth, when you hear about a restaurant for 400 kilometer from cyclist after cyclist that you pass on the road, by the time I arrived at the Bell 2 Lodge, there was no way I was going to miss out on this food experience! upon my recent visit to the Bell 2 Lodge on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. It was his podcast and my visit to the Bell 2 Lodge Breakfast buffet that inspired me to write this post, and to tell you the truth, I could probably write a dozen posts about all my wonderful meal experiences on the road! Food and eating consumes about a fourth of my day, sleeping the other fourth, and pedaling the other half!

Eating in action: YUMM!!!!!
My recent experience at Bell 2 Lodge was my first “all-you-can-eat” buffet experiences in probably 10 to 15 years! Hard to believe? The Ever since waitressing at a typical diner in York, PA, and living in Europe where quality resides above quantity, buffet eating never crossed my mind as an appetizing experience! Most tour cyclists don't turn down an offer to eat at a buffet because of the value of the meal. Thinking of an all-you-can-eat buffet, I'm reminded of two cyclists I met in rural Utah. They shared with me their experience at the Pizza Hut buffet and I couldn't stop laughing. They had been living off of tuna fish and peanut butter for weeks and all of a sudden they pedaled upon a Pizza Hut and decided to stuff their faces full of greasy pizza, wings, pasta, and tons of other processed foods. Their body went into complete shock and it took them a good 5 hours to digest their meal on the grass in front of the Pizza Hut, incapable of pedaling another mile. Yuk!
A pleasant atmosphere inside the Bell 2 Lodge

A rustic elegant log cabin style interior

However, the breakfast buffet at Bell 2 Lodge, is in a totally different category of restaurants, it's fine dining, not fast food, and my experience there was absolutely delightful, nothing I regret, in fact, I'd cycle back there tomorrow, if it were on the way, just to repeat it! As I mentioned, cyclist after cyclist I passed, a dozen to be precise, heading south from Alaska, raved about the breakfast at this lodge. They had all camped at the tenting site at Bell 2, which has an RV park as well as cabins and rooms, and visited the buffet the following morning. I'm not one to follow the masses, but when the masses are tour cyclists, pedaling passionately and love their food as much as their cycling, I take their advice to heart!
The first customer is parked outside eagerly waiting for breakfast

I rarely arrive places early, but this was a special occasion
In order to make the most of my buffet experience, I did some research prior to my visit. It's important to know key information like what time the buffet opens, prices, and must-try dishes. Bell 2 Lodge is about 150 km from Stewart, making for a long day of pedaling, but with the incentive of a delicious breakfast the following morning, 250 km would have been possible! I arrived at their lodge just shy of 10pm, a long day indeed, but I was glad to be at a proper campground. I had seen a lot of bears that evening alongside the road, so free camping was out of the question. I wanted to eat breakfast, not be eaten for breakfast!

Food warmers with savory treats inside, soon to be visited 

The Bell 2 Lodge Restaurant, is like an oasis, in the middle of nowhere. It's a beautiful log cabin style lodge that has been recently renovated with additional Alp-like chalets on a wide open lot that backs up to one of the many lakes in the area, and the Bell River (hence the name). All the RV guests were shocked to see me roll in so late with my head torch on, but they welcomed me and were excited to learn of my travels and enthusiasm for the breakfast buffet. It was too late to check in at the front desk, but luckily there was another cyclist camped out, Cress, from Smithers, BC, who was just headed off to bed. He let me share his site. I set up camp, took a warm shower, left my food in the campground bathroom, and went to bed. I was too tired to prepare dinner, and settled for dried fruit and yogurt, which I had bought in Stewart that morning. I set my alarm for 6am, thinking it would be plenty of time to pack-up and be the first at the door for the buffet.

Wouldn't you know, I was the first one at the door, in fact, I got to the lodge restaurant 5 minutes before they opened. You see, I had been told that they don't replenish the buffet once they run out of food, but actually this isn't true either. Krysten, my young waitress from Smithers, BC welcomed me and helped me find a strategic seat, close to the buffet with an electrical plug to charge all my technology. Like I said, I hadn't been to a buffet in years, so I was overwhelmed upon my arrival. I decided to assess the situation first; I did a “dry run” or so you could say, walking through the buffet to assess my options. At the start of the long buffet table there was yogurt, cereal, milk, and fruit. Following these cold items, there were three large warmers. The first was filled with what looked to be french toast, the second with potatoes, bacon, and sausages, and the third with an egg breakfast sandwich. At the end of the buffet table there was a variety of juices, followed by coffee and tea. I should preface my buffet experience by admitting that I'm a Libra, a sign known for being creative and indecisive, two traits that strongly characterize my personality, both an asset and hindrance to a buffet experience. Although I'm not obsessed with horoscopes and such, I'm typically have a hard time making decisions when faced with a million choices. Breakfast, however, is not so overwhelming, because I know myself well and my eating preferences, even when I'm ravenous! My rules are simple: I have to eat sweets before savory items, cold items prior to warm ones, and along those same lines, juice before coffee.

Plate, bowl, number one: Fruit, cottage cheese, granola and honey on top
Hence, I started with yogurt, cereal, and fruit, plate (bowl) number one! They had yogurt and cottage cheese, both good choices to top fresh fruit. Cottage cheese took precedence, it's become an obsession on my trip, ever since I landed in North America. Cottage Cheese doesn't exist in Spain and it is a delicious dairy product filled with protein that can be prepared to satisfy a sweet tooth or a savory craving. I first loaded my bowl with fruit, piled the cottage cheese of top, sprinkled it with granola, and poured honey over it all! I accompanied this with a glass of orange juice and prepared a cup of coffee for when I finished off the juice. Had this been any other day on my trip, my first trip through the Bell 2 buffet would have been plenty a breakfast for myself, at least to hold me a few hours 
pedaling. However, with all the gourmet items to choose from for breakfast, this was just my appetizer.

My favorite dish by far, cinnamon roll French toast, a brilliant invention!
My second trip through was my favorite. I love French toast, especially when you can top it with yogurt and fresh fruit. Bell 2 had all of the above, but of noteworthy mention was their French toast, made from none other than cinnamon rolls. What an invention, their chef is a genius! I had a generous portion of French toast smothered in syrup, vanilla yogurt, and fresh fruit. Yes, I have an intense sweet tooth! By far this plate was my favorite of the five I ended up eating; you just can't top cinnamon French toast! Trip three, stands out as being my only entirely savory plate and therefore deserves an honorable mention. It was a combo plate with a breakfast egg sandwich on an English muffin, topped with cheese and a tomato, which I then accompanied with flavorful sausage, home fries, and bacon. I quickly opened the breakfast sandwich and placed the bacon on top, to make a heartier sandwich, a brilliant decision!

Multi-tasking galore: eating, blogging, chatting, and charging......

I snuck a bit more cottage cheese on plate #3
By the third plate, needless to say, my hunger had dissipated. I also had company at my table, distracting me for focusing all my energy on the food. Cress joined me and my pace slowed, talking between bites, but his company was welcomed. By the time I was ready for plate four, we also had 2 other cyclists join us. I didn't realize there were so many other cyclists at the lodge when I rolled in the previous night, but like I said, the Bell 2 Lodge is famous in the world of tour cyclists. When there is delicious food en route, word travels fast, far, and furiously! Mark was cycling with Allan, who was driving a SAG van behind him. They had started in Anchorage and were making their way south from to their hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. They were they shocked to hear that I had been through Cheyenne about 2 months ago, starting my trip in Spain, originally. Mark, Allan, and Cress visited the buffet twice. They must be weathered buffet participants, with more self control. I went back for a fourth, and what I thought was my final plate while sitting with them. As they say, when in good company, eat good food, or at least that is what I say!

Still smiling and still eating!

The cyclists at Bell 2 Lodge for breakfast, fun company

By this time, Krysten, my waitress was laughing, but not at all shocked by my fourth trip. She told me they get on average at least a dozen cyclists a week during the biking season and is now not surprised by our appetite! She was ready with the camera once again, to document plate number 4, which was another combo plate: sweet and savory. I forgot to mention that after savory, I also like a bit of sweet. Plate four consisted of another piece of French toast, yogurt and fruit, and potatoes topped with bacon, YUMMM!!!!! Was I really hungry at this point? I don't remember.....which brings up the subject of buffets and healthy eating. The “not-so-healthy” component of participating in an all-you-can-eat buffet is that you always end up eating more than you want or need. But is there really such thing as eating too much when you are riding your bike 8 hours a day, day after day, week after week? The long answer would require visiting more buffets, but the short answer is NO! Which is why I had no problem going back for plate number four. I must admit that after this plate, I had reached the right amount of fullness, you know where you are satisfied and content, but don't have to unbotton your pants to be more comfortable. I could actually sip and enjoy my coffee and catch up on emails after saying goodbye to my cycling companions.

It's a pathetic plate, but it still counts, and I enjoyed it equally: Plate #5

I hung around another hour or so, while several other clients came and went. Krysten kept the buffet plenty stocked for all their guests up until closing at 11am. Just before then, I couldn't resist just one more plate, plate number 5. They had replaced the French toast with pancakes, so of course I had to try them. It was a rather pathetic plate in comparison to number 2 or 3, but I topped up on sweets with a couple of pancakes, granola, and fruit! By then I was the last guests, after being the first to arrive, living the buffet experience to the fullest: 4 hours of fun filled with delicious food, enjoyable company, and wonderful service! Krysten went about cleaning everything up and let me chill out in the restaurant finishing up a couple of things on my computer. The kitchen staff was still around, so I introduced myself, told them their food had become renown among tour cyclists.

In the kitchen with head chef James, at Bell 2 Lodge

I started pedaling around noon. By then the clouds had rolled in and it was starting to drizzle, but I couldn't be bothered by a little rain, I had left Bell 2 content, with a full tummy, and plenty of nutrients to tide me over the 120km to my next campsite. Wouldn't you know, Cress was there waiting for me there and had left overs from the dinner he cooked a few hours back. Hard to believe, but I was actually hungry by the time I arrived! The next morning I came to another lodge north on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. I was disappointed to find out that there was no breakfast buffet option, but I did manage to do a magic trick, one of my favorites called “The Disappearing Jumbo Cinnamon Bun” following the vanishing fried eggs, toast, and bacon trick!

Disappearing jumbo cinnamon bun: now you see it.....
Now you don't!

 And so I concluded, reminded of one of Dan's guests on Sporkful, the nation's third ranked competitive eater. He earns a living in a profession I never knew existed and won his first competition eating 2 gallons of chili in 6 minutes. Gee,......I might have just found my new profession, “Hi, I'm Melissa, I'm a competitive eater riding my bike around the world, nice to meet you!” Finding hosts for this trip might become problematic!

A special thanks to the Bell 2 Lodge for giving me a complimentary night's stay at their lodge campsite. They also wanted to give me a discount on the buffet, however, Mark and his cycling pal Allan, paid for me without me realizing. What can I say....People around the world continue to take good care of me! Thank you! If you are ever on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway headed north or south, don't miss stopping at The Bell 2 Lodge. I hear their dinner buffet is equally as delicious featuring fresh fish and wild game from the area!

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