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.