Monday, July 15, 2013

Restaurant Review: Souplantation

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Delicious food made fresh on site
Cons: Pricey without coupons; calories still add up
The Bottom Line
Start with salad bar
Then have delicious soups, bread
You'll leave satisfied

Delicious Food and Quality Ingredients at a Buffet

It’s been quite a few years now since Souplantation opened in my town as part of the mall expansion.  I remember not being that interested – until I ate there.  Now I love to go back as often as I can.

For some reason, this is a restaurant that goes by two different names across the country.  While I know it as Souplantation, other states might have it as Sweet Tomatoes.  I know when I’d visit my brother and his family when they lived in Texas, we’d stop at a Sweet Tomatoes not too far from DFW.  I can guarantee it was the same menu at both restaurants.  It was a case of a vegetable by any other name because everything was identical.

Since this is a buffet restaurant, one price fits all.  Adult dinners are currently $10.49 at my local restaurant.  Drinks are an additional $2.50.  Dinner starts at 4PM.  Lunch is a bit cheaper as are the kiddos.  Of course, there’s no reason in the world to pay full price.  You can join “Club Veg” at their wetsite (souplantation.com) and get coupons good for $2 off or buy one get one free.  They have other deals at various times.  If you use one of them, it’s definitely a good deal.

So, what do you get if you go to eat there?  When you walk in the door, you start at a giant salad bar.  They have a few specialty salads like a Caesar near the beginning and pasta and potato type salads later on.  But the majority of this long bar is made up of just about any salad topping you can imagine.  Yes, they’ve got the classics like lettuce, celery, carrots, and cucumber, but they also have beets and shredded zucchini and yellow squash.  Since it is a bar, you can pick and choose what you want to have on your salad.  I also say I’m going to make a small salad, but by the time I’m done it’s a large one again.  There are some “premium salad toppings” like chicken that cost extra, but I always ignore them.

At the end of the salad bar is the register where you pay, and sit down.  But don’t worry, if you want more salad, you can always go back through the line – just keep your receipt with you.

Once you are in the restaurant proper, you have more choices broken down by stations.  Naturally, one of those is soup.  They’ve always got 6 or so soups going, ranging from classics like Chunky Chicken Noodle and Clam Chowder to more specialty soups like Black Bean.  On one side of the soup bar, you’ll also find bake potatoes with all the fixings.

Then there’s the bakery.  Here you’ll find what they call Focaccia, which is very much like pizza, especially the cheese one they serve.  But the garlic asiago is very good.  They also have little muffins, usually wild blueberry and some other fruit.  They’ve got delicious cornbread and slices of sourdough bread and chocolate muffins.

They’ve also got a pasta bar.  Honestly, I never find their pastas that good.  They almost always have mac and cheese and one other one at a minimum, but I usually skip this section completely.

Drinks feature the usual assortment of sodas.  If I do buy a drink, I go for their homemade strawberry lemonade.  It is absolutely delicious.

Finally, there’s the dessert bar.  They’ve usually got some jello and fresh fruit here as well as soft serve ice cream with chocolate or caramel sauce for toppings.  After 4PM, they have a hot dessert, usually a lava cake or cobbler of some kind.  The hot dessert is all you get for the extra you pay for lunch over dinner as far as I can tell.

As you can see, there isn’t quite the variety as you might find at some of the places known for their buffets, but all the food (outside of the pasta) is delicious.  All of it is made fresh daily, and you can tell by the taste.  As far as the produce goes, it always looks amazing.  I’ve never had anything that wasn’t ripe and ready to eat.

To help spice things up and keep me motivated to go back, they have specialty items that only make for a month or two each year.  These are usually around themes like fruit in the summer or a world tour they do in the fall.  They usually include one item in each area during the theme.  For example, they’ll produce a Strawberry Fields salad during fruit month, a Mexican soup during our stop there around the world, and a specialty pasta for Italy.  During the fall, they’ve got a Pumpkin Caramel Lava cake that is out of this world.  And I make a point of stopping by in December for their Turkey Cranberry Herb soup served over homemade stuffing.  It’s delicious.

The staff is friendly and helpful if you do have a question, but most of the time they are busy working.  Rarely do I see anything in the salad or soup bar that needs to be refilled.  Most of the time, things are almost full.  They have a bit more of a hard time keeping up with demand in the bakery and dessert departments, especially for the warm dinner desserts, but if you check back in a few minutes, they’ll have a fresh batch all ready just for you.  There are other employees walking around collecting used plates, bowls, and silverware so you have room for more plates as you go back for more.

The restaurants can get quite crowded during dinner time.  You might have to wait for a seat.  That requires a bit more patience getting food as well, but most everyone is friendly about it.  When it is crowded, it can get noisy from all the people enjoying themselves, but I’ve never had a problem talking to those around me.

They do serve a breakfast on Sunday mornings, but I have only been for that once several years ago.  I just remember enjoying it.

Souplantation appears to be a healthy place to eat, and if you stick to the salad very light on the dressing, you’d be right.  However, the soups an muffins add up in the hurry, and it’s quite possibly to eat more calories than you plan on very quickly.

And have I mentioned that everything tastes so good?  Well, it bears repeating.  I always leave reluctantly because my taste buds want more than my stomach can hold.

That right there is why I keep going back to Souplantation.  The only time I ever leave unhappy is when I eat too much, and that’s my own fault.

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