For anyone enjoying a stay at the Monte Carlo, Big Belly Buffet offers a convenient and affordable destination where you are welcome to enjoy a variety of all-you-can-eat favorites. Open for brunch and dinner daily, the buffet provides a decent range of different cuisine that is rotated and changed throughout the day. This morning, my photographer and I have arrived for Big Belly’s every day brunch just before 7:30 a.m. It takes us ten minutes to get through the line, pay the cashier, and be seated. Not too shabby, but again, it’s sort of early so I didn’t really expect much of a wait at all. The dinner line last night was much longer, and I’m sure there were some people who stood for thirty minutes until their turn to pay.
The décor and layout of the dining areas create a relaxing atmosphere, with large arches extending throughout the entire space, supported by tall square columns. Several dining rooms are separated by stone partitions between the columns, making the buffet feel less full. Just above eye level there are rows of bright green fake trees “planted” in beds of polished black stones with granite trim along each side. The partition is just high enough to provide a degree of privacy between the different booths and rooms, but we have a bit of trouble getting situated in our booth. Two tall guys like us just were not meant to sit this low, our legs are too long.
At first, we wonder if a server will be by to take our drink orders, hoping to request a different table. But we soon realize that all of the drinks are self-serve, and so shall be the remainder of our meal. In-short, there will be a lot of getting up and down from this rather low table. The buffet offers assorted soft drinks, coffee, decaf, four hot teas, and three different juices. I get my usual, coffee, water, and orange juice, which requires two trips to the drink bar. The coffee is okay, and the juice, although obviously from concentrate, is quite refreshing. With my first cup of coffee down, I head over to the nearest stack of plates to scout out what my brunch will include this morning. I walk past the salads and then the omelet station in the center of the room to begin my recon at the left side of the buffet stations.
Here I find Asian items like fried rice, lemon chicken, lo-mein, steamed clams, pot stickers, vegetable curry, and lemon-herb tilapia. Moving along to the right, I come across several classic American items such as mac ‘n’ cheese, roasted potatoes, and dinner rolls as well as Italian pizza and pasta dishes. Next, I find Mexican inspired chicken fajitas, red Spanish rice, refried beans, nachos verdes, and fresh flour tortillas just before I arrive at the carving station. Today they have honey ham and hot Italian sausage; both are perfect brunch offerings for those who like to load up on protein. The diversity of the different lunch-style entrees, though not significantly large, is decent for the cost of admission. With all-day dining passes available, I can definitely picture coming back later in the afternoon and again for dinner when searching for a good deal.
Now I approach the breakfast stations loaded with all of the classics and a few more rare items. There are delicate apple crepes, fruit turnovers, blintzes, pork sausage links, corn-beef hash, western-style scrambled eggs, apple-chicken sausage links, bacon, and breakfast sausage patties on one side. Further to the right, I see French toast, bananas foster, waffles, buttermilk pancakes, buckwheat pancakes, biscuits, hash browns, country potatoes, and chicken-fried steak. Between the two, a small display features Bagels and Lox. Having thoroughly scoped out my options, I begin with a plate full of French toast, a buckwheat pancake, hot maple syrup, a biscuit with country gravy, bacon, and a sausage patty.
The buckwheat pancake, a healthier alternative to buttermilk, is dark brown and soaked in warm syrup. You don’t often find buckwheat pancakes since they are a bit on the grainy side and slightly more expensive. I find mine to be quite delicious, especially with the thick syrup. My French toast is thick-sliced and flavored with cinnamon. The bread is soft and chewy, acting like a sponge that absorbs the syrup. Each bite has a blast of sweet, sugary flavor and for those who like something a bit more decadent, the bananas foster are a perfect topping as well. My biscuit is hot and fresh-baked. The inside is soft, protected by the crispy, golden-brown exterior. Smothered in gravy, the breading adopts the creamy, peppery flavor, while the small bits of sausage give it extra kick. The sausage patty is juicy and satisfying, and the bacon, though very thin, is cooked well, providing a crispy finish. With one plate down, I refill my coffee and head straight to the omelet station.
On my way to the omelet station, I pass the salad bar. There are three types of greens offered, with a selection of six different dressings, twelve toppings, and a limited selection of fruit. It appears only the honey dew melon is fresh, while the peaches and pears are from a can. I arrive at the omelet station with three people ahead of me. First, each person grabs a small bowl and fills it with a number of the ingredients that they desire. Options include black olives, spinach leaves, chopped tomatoes, onions, mixed bell peppers, jalapenos, mushrooms, ham, sausage, and bacon. With so many different possibilities, I’m glad I am able to personally select the items for my omelet.
I go with the works, but I don’t want to over-do it, so I fill my dish with small amounts of each item. By the end, my bowl is nearly overflowing, and the chef smiles as I carefully hand it over. Then, Big Belly Buffet takes things one step further by offering a choice between whole eggs, scrambled eggs, egg whites, or egg beaters. I’m a fan of whole eggs, and I eagerly watch as the chef skillfully cracks three into the pan with the sizzling ingredients. I notice he is simultaneously preparing all three of the orders ahead of me, and he puts on quite a show, quickly shifting the pans and turning the eggs. He offers mixed cheddar cheese as the final touch and folds a generous helping neatly into the finished custom creation. With the omelet occupying half my plate, I fill the other half with an apple crepe, a canoli, and a chocolate coated cream puff pastry.
Other dessert items catch my eye like the miniature cheesecakes, assorted cupcakes, and fresh banana bread, but this plate is full, so I head back to try the steaming hot omelet. At first bite, I declare this to be the shining-star feature of the morning brunch. The egg is fluffy on the inside, golden-brown on the outside, and the cheese is completely melted. The diverse flavors of the different ingredients mix well in such small doses, and the creamy, slightly sharp cheese helps tie everything together perfectly. My crepe is filled with cinnamon-coated apple slices and raisins in thick, sweet apple compote. It is very sugary and tastes best when fresh and hot. The canoli and the cream puff are well portioned, with no more than two bites each of sweet cream, light breading, and chocolate.
I decide to make one final pass, this time sampling heartier protein items such as the ham and Italian sausage from the carving station as well as the lemon-herb tilapia and steamed clams from the Chinese portion of the buffet. I find that the Italian sausage is a bit on the cold side, but the ham is still steaming hot. The skin of the sausage is tough, and overall, I’d skip it next time. The ham, though slightly dry, is full of flavor. The salty meat is a welcome addition to my diverse brunch. To finish the meal, I sample a couple of clams, which are very chewy, and the tilapia, which is tender and full of fresh flavors from the bold herbs. The seafood creations are a nice change of pace from the flurry of breakfast items I have consumed, and it is good to have such an option available even though it is early in the morning. The fact that brunch is served everyday is definitely an attraction for anyone in search of a satisfying, fully loaded meal before a busy day of meetings or gambling.
Fully satiated and ready for action, I fill my coffee one final time. It is still strange that there is no one to fill my coffee. Having been to several Vegas buffets, I have become accustomed to such a basic service. Throughout my meal here at Big Belly Buffet, I have not even laid eyes on the person who clears the used plates as I make trips to gather more food. This is a definite downer, especially since my friend and eye are cramped into such a small booth and would love to have requested a different table. There was simply no one to place said request with because no one checked on us once we sat down. Although the selection of food and the quality of the breakfast items are fair for the price, I had hoped for much better customer service.
With everything said and done, we leave with full bellies, but the overall experience has been slightly underwhelming. The selections are good quality, but the number of items to choose from is limited. The omelet station is a high point, and the breakfast spread included unique items like buckwheat pancakes and bananas foster for topping, which definitely earns a few points. But, there are two very major draw-backs. First of all, the booths are very low and uncomfortable for anyone over six feet tall. Second, and more importantly, we receive no actual service other than that of the cooks preparing the food on the buffet floor. All the drinks are self-serve, the hot tea selection is limited, and there is no one around to care that we are uncomfortable at this table. Though definitely convenient for guests of the Monte Carlo, this is not a place I would seek out for a special meal.