Spread the Word

Not too far from Vasil's EuroGrille (see this week's review) sits the Inverness Hotel and Golf Club (200 Inverness Drive West in Englewood). The Garden Terrace serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, but the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch -- which has snagged Best of Denver honors two years running -- and the Friday/Saturday seafood spread are the real reasons to stop by, whether you're in the neighborhood or two hours away.

The spacious dining room, conservatively decorated and bordered by windows that look out on the golf course, usually plays host to out-of-towners and business types. On the weekends, though, you're just as likely to see families taking advantage of the foodfest. The Sunday brunch costs $21.95, the seafood buffet $24.95; kids are always half-price -- and you'd be amazed at how much a young 'un can put away when he gets to pile as much cubed cheese on a plate as he wants.

Despite their different titles, the offerings at both buffets are much the same, with one important distinction: more seafood at the seafood version. On a recent Saturday night pigout, the main draw was king crab legs. I have to confess that I tested the Terrace's all-you-can-eat pledge, and it passed with flying colors; the cook doling out the legs by the prime-rib station quickly figured out that I was serious and just started piling the plate six high every time I came around. (I shared with the rest of the table, of course.)

We also loaded up on the rest of the buffet's bounty: beautifully cooked, well-carved prime rib; a plethora of salads, including a strong Caesar and a spicy, Cajun-style one with baby corn; oysters on the half-shell; peel-and-eat as well as sweet barbecued shrimp; four kinds of smoked fish; clam chowder and vegetable soups; a cheese board and a dozen hot items, such as chicken stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and chunky mashed potatoes. And then there was the dessert overload, which featured a dozen pies and cakes, one of which was a good Key lime mislabeled as peanut butter, which made for a fun surprise. Everything was well-made and kept freshly stocked.

I did have two complaints, though. One was that the place had overbooked and we had to wait about a half hour to get in. The other was that the few service needs we had -- drinks, booster seats, bread and butter -- were either ignored or taken care of very slowly. But overall, the Garden Terrace is a real boon for the buffet hound.

A little less fancy is the buffet at Sweet Tomatoes, a chain that started in San Diego in 1978. The concept is similar to that of Healthy Habits, but since Colorado's Sweet Tomatoes are newer -- there are three in the Denver area, including the one I visited, at 15014 East Evans Avenue in Aurora -- they're tidier and had a more contemporary decor. And despite its chain links, Sweet Tomatoes boasted both better service and better food quality than what I'd found at the Garden Terrace -- and for much lower prices. The per-person tab is only $6.29 for lunch and $7.69 for dinner; kids ages three to five eat for 99 cents, and those six to twelve eat for $3.99.

The motto here is "No Restaurant Is More Committed to Fresh Food," and I found that to be true, with a few exceptions. Certainly the salad line, so extensive it featured both fresh and pickled beets, was full of fresh-looking stuff (couldn't someone have torn the stems off the spinach, though?). In addition to the usual fixings, there was a tarragon-laced potato salad as well as a good German one, a pungent tabbouleh and several pasta dishes blessedly lacking in mayo.

The hot-line stations were broken up into pasta -- that night, walnut pesto over penne, a simple fresh tomato on spaghetti and a smoked chicken over linguini were offered, and all had been competently prepared -- as well as soups, baked potatoes and baked goods. The soups were the most popular and the best-made: a mild Longhorn chile packed with green bell peppers that was just begging for shredded cheese and sour cream from the nearby baked-potato toppings; a heavy-on-the-celery Mexican meatball with rice and corn; a simple vegetarian Southwestern black bean; a vegetarian sweet tomato and red onion; a fiery jalapeño-filled chicken tortilla concoction; and -- everyone's favorite (judging by the line to get to it) -- a just-like-your-grandma-made chicken noodle with honest-to-goodness homemade noodles.

The baked items were the toughest to keep fresh, mainly because the heat lamps were up way too high, as evidenced by the fact that I literally burned my hand on the tongs. The staff tries to keep the offerings -- corn-filled cornbread muffins, garlic focaccia with parmesan, Indian multi-grain bread, blueberry muffins, brownie-like chocolate muffins and focaccia-based pizzas -- from drying out by covering them with cloth napkins, but it was a losing battle.

The dessert station held little appeal for adults who weren't on a diet -- the frozen yogurt was so soft it started melting before I got back to the table, and the Jell-O was typically scary -- but at least there was fresh fruit and cottage cheese.

But, hey, you can't feed an under-fiver for 99 cents at McDonald's -- and you might even get him to eat his veggies.