Furr's Cafeteria: Memories should stop at the buffet's edge

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Some restaurants sure did seem better when I was a kid.

Chuck E. Cheese was a magical wonderland of singing animals and perfect pizza; the ball pit at McDonald's was spotlessly clean -- and Ronald McDonald was always smiling down upon me benignly as I ate my cheeseburger that looked exactly like the picture.

It might have been smarter to skip dining at Furr's Cafeteria as an adult, keeping my childhood memories golden.

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J. Wohletz
But after writing a piece on buffet etiquette -- or lack thereof -- I got a hankering to haul my cans to the Furr's at 4900 Kipling Street in Wheat Ridge, the last Denver vestige of a once-mighty empire out of Plano, Texas. My voyage across the universe yielded me my first grownup glimpse of the same kind of unstylish tan building that I used to frequent with my grandparents back in the mid-'80s, when I would cram my gullet with machine -dispensed vanilla soft-serve. The recollection was tasty.

I did not recall that Furr's allows diners to eat, then pay as they leave, so I kept trying to give everyone money on the way in -- the beverage person was particularly bewildered by this. And the buffet line itself was much smaller than I remembered. I suppose the magnificent buffet at the Bellagio in Las Vegas has spoiled me, because I was disappointed by the single-line setup of salads, entrée meats, side dishes and desserts. And not only were the mounds of wilted kale that fenced in the partitions depressing, but the trays weren't clean.

Also, you don't get to serve yourself at Furr's. This place really does take the term "cafeteria" seriously, with apron-ed and hair-netted servers waiting for item requests, then quickly dropping food on plastic plates.

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J. Wohletz
I couldn't find anything to request in the cold section, where the most interesting salad seemed to be one made up of broccoli, raisins and mayonnaise. The dressing choices were limited, the fruit of questionable quality, and the the wet, sticky mounds of assorted slaws looked extremely unappetizing.

The hot entrée meats included a turkey roast; a rather gray, overdone hunk of beef roast; and some hamburger patties swimming in a dark, murky broth. The server dropped a slide of each on my plate, then added a scoop of mashed potatoes, ladling a spoonful of thin gravy over the spuds before thrusting the plate at me. I also loaded up on a couple of dry, crusty squares of fish and some green beans, as well as a mysterious, wiggly green dessert and a slice of Millionaire Pie, which I loved when I was eight.

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J. Wohletz
While getting my meal, I noticed that pretty much every bit of polite buffet etiquette was unapologetically violated by the diners in line before and after me. An older gentleman snaked his hands underneath the plastic protectors to pick through the dinner rolls; the lady behind me was demanding the server cherry-pick the "good" slices of watermelon for her; stray children darted around the dining room like mosquitoes; and people were staggering from the line to their tables with so much food piled on their plates that I wondered if they understood that they could go back for more at any time. The dining room was a mess -- a pack of wild dogs would have been kept occupied with the amount of food on the floor.

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J. Wohletz
I tucked into my first plate, and it became apparent that despite the pool of from-a-mix brown gravy, the meats were tough as tires. I gnawed at the roast beef for a few minutes, managing to tear a few bits off of the outsides, then I tried the turkey, which had an unpleasant, institutional flavor. The hamburger patty was so hard I had to use a knife to cut away a corner, and I chewed -- and chewed -- until it was tender enough to swallow. I poked at the fish with my fork, and finding it implacably dehydrated.

The mashed potatoes were instant. I hadn't had instant potatoes in so long that I'd forgotten what they tasted like, and was instantaneously sorry to remember.

I moved on to the mystery dessert, which appeared to be constructed out of gelatin, canned pineapple bits and cottage cheese -- all of which many have been fine to eat on their own, but together formed a tactile nightmare with a disagreeable taste.

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J. Wohletz
Even the green beans were not as good as I remembered. How Furr's managed to make canned green beans unpalatable is a secret that I'm okay not knowing, but it seemed as though they were bathing in salt-free, smoked water.

I prayed to whatever god was listening that the pie was at least edible, since by this point I was frustrated -- and awfully hungry. I never knew what Millionaire Pie actually was when I was a kid; after two bites, I now deduced that it's buttercream filling topped with non-dairy whipped topping filled with chopped pecans and pineapple bits.

The filling was so rich that it made my teeth ache, and I put down the fork. No childhood nostalgia was worth this ongoing, sadistic self-torture.

I paid, left with a rumbling tummy, and mused that maybe Golden Corral, Sizzler and every "Golden-Imperial-Dragon-Hunan-House" Chinese buffet in town weren't such bad options for food that you can actually eat. Much as I love carousing through the annals of my rosy childhood, there are plenty of things that are better left in the past.

Like Furr's Cafeteria.



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29 comments
JenUnoN
JenUnoN

Ahhhh, Furr's.  Funny, I took a "field trip" there just a few months ago with my brother and some friends.  My brother and I were looking for that nostalgia fix, the other two had never been to one.  We didn't promise them anything great, but I have to say it was WORSE than I expected.  I picked an unidentifiable piece of pie off the line.  The filling, inexplicably, tasted like it had been salted, and I ditched it after one horrifying bite.  There was also the small problem that the crust was hermetically sealed to the plate.  I have a picture of myself holding that plate and its pie upside down--it looks like a gag, it's so ridiculous.  Memories. 

I tend to agree with some of the others that Furr's used to be better, for what it was.

Now how about that Casa Bonita food...   

Chow Hound
Chow Hound

Oh dear....when my sister was here visiting from NH we went down memory lane and remembered all of the happy meals we had at Furr's over on Monaco.  I remember their food as delicious, best baked fish I ever had, wonderful rolls, and great deserts, too.  We were all so sad they had gone out of business in Denver, and now I find out there is one still in business!!

So sad...right off the bat when you stated the plates were of paper, that alone is quite telling - yet from the review it seems that the place was full of people??

We might just go there for the fun of it, are the prices still reasonable I wonder? 

I wonder why, when the Furrs were went to was always so so busy, they went out of business, they had to be making a profit alone, from all the church folk that flocked there after Sunday services.

Well, thank you for the review, I found it most interesting.

Dan N.
Dan N.

Jenster, thanks for the stroll down memory lane.  My folks would often take me, my sister and two stepbrothers to Remington Steakhouse in Framingham Mass when we were kids.  We were the stray children running around like mosquitoes that you speak of.  My folks were terrific. But they stood no chance with the 4 of us all within 3 years of one another, which is why we ended up at places like this.  Fortunately we all have fond memories that haven't been corrupted by a recent trip to Furrs.  Although I did go to Ponderosa Steakhouse near St. Louis about 10 years ago, and it wasn't terrible.

I am turning Japanese
I am turning Japanese

Are there any ginormous Asian buffets still operating?

Not the usual 10-20 item buffet, but there used to be some that had dozens of entrees, fresh seafood, etc.

Steveo65
Steveo65

My parents weren't big on buffets when I was growing up, although I remember eating at Wyatt's once. For us it was Taco House, one on 55th and Federal and the other at Lakeside Mall next to King Soopers. It was cheap, the plates were so hot they could melt skin, and we always left satisfied. But I haven't been back in 25 years. As much as I loved it as a kid, I'm pretty sure the food was actually terrible, and who wants to ruin childhood memories? Jenn, can you please check it out to find out if it's safe for consumption? I know there's one still open on 13th and Wadsworth.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Ah, Furr's.  After church every Sunday in Roswell, NM.  Also, my first job at 14 - first in the dish room and then behind the line.  "Would you care for a roll or maybe some jalapeno cornbread?"  I have to say I thought the food was great, especially the baked halibut and the apple dumplings.  We did a tour down memory lane at the Furr's that Jenn is reviewing a while back and I have to say either I have grown taste buds during the past 40 years or Furr's has gone to hell in a hand basket.  I tend to think the later is the case.  

Legen Dairy
Legen Dairy

I will pass on this place. And i thought about going in every day when i drive by on the way to and from work. 

Guest
Guest

I don't believe there are any Sizzlers left in Colorado, nor Shakey's Pizza, two favorites from my youth. Better to leave those memories intact.

GFTW
GFTW

GREAT REVIEW JENNSTIR!! It's awesome having a dare-taking guinea pig! :P

I haven't been to Furr's since I was a kid either, and I'm sure my pleasant memories would be devastated too.

steveville
steveville

I don't know why so many people think of a cafeteria and a buffet being the same thing. Cafeterias have always been manned by servers behind the line dishing up requests.  Does anyone remember Wyatt's cafeterias?  It's a good thing automats don't exist anymore.  These people would go nuts!

used to work at Wyatts
used to work at Wyatts

 LD buffet on Parker Rd and Yale is pretty ginormous........never had the guts to try the sushi or any "fresh  fish" but the rest was pretty good.  Lots of selection.

Lori Midson
Lori Midson

I admit it: Taco House is my guilty pleasure. 

steveville
steveville

There's also a Taco House still open on South Federal Blvd between Center and Exposition Aves.

steveville
steveville

You're correct.  Sizzler and Shakey's still exist, just not in Colorado anymore.

Oldtimey
Oldtimey

Our Furr's in Colorado Springs had a piano and piano player sitting in the middle of the dining room.  It was where our Great Grandmother would take us for dinner.  It was only surpassed by The Village Inn (not sure of relation) a restaurant housed in what had been a church.  She would not go to the Broadmoor as she had worked there for 30 years!

what
what

 Except according to Jenn's review, apparetnly any and all civility is out the window.  Back when I was a kid, no one would have dreamed of sticking their hand under the glass partition and grabbing what they want. 

But sad to hear about the decline in food quality, but not surprised.  I cannot recall the last time I was at a cafeteria, so I am sure it is the same for most people.

Jenn Loves Green Beans
Jenn Loves Green Beans

 @6e049a2cb8671677bb2ad5229c6e2879:disqus : Was the food good in these automats?

Mantonat
Mantonat

I've been predicting the return of the cafeteria for years, but I finally realized that it's been happening right under my nose. It's just called "fast casual" now. Walk down a line of pans in a steam table and point at what you want and someone behind the counter slops it onto a plate/burrito/bowl/pita/mound of rice for you.

what
what

 Wyatt's - in the "basement" of Lakeside mall.

steveville
steveville

Hi Jenn  --  Actually, the food was good at the automat.  Horn and Hardart's was the best.  I'm not from the east coast, but when on holiday in Manhattan, it was a neat place to go.

Jenn Loves Green Beans
Jenn Loves Green Beans

 @595d2c6d2a9e562388779917aed95759:disqus : Heeheeheehee ::wipes eyes:: heeheeheehee....

steveville
steveville

I haven't been to one of those joints, but I believe you.

loso
loso

 Shakey's in Arvada had the piano and a window where you could watch them make the pizza

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