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Buffet touts all-you-can eat lunches at $8.99

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On any given weekday, whether it’s lunchtime or dinnertime, a buffet-style restaurant in downtown Flushing is abuzz in the clatter of silverware and chopsticks striking ceramic plates and bowls.

At first blush, East Buffet and Restaurant, at 42-07 Main St., comes across as just another all-you-can-eat-for-a-fixed-low-price restaurant. It is a testament, however, to the fact that such eateries do exist in Queens and other parts of the city, although they do not take up nearly as much of the country’s gastronomic geography as, say, Pennsylvania, where buffets are common fixtures.

But more than the $8.99 all-you-can-eat lunch, more than the orderly atmosphere, more than dozens and dozens of dishes from which to choose, East Buffet and Restaurant accomplishes something that most other buffet-style restaurants do not: a quirky juxtaposition or traditional Chinese cuisine with Americanized Chinese fare with sushi, Italian and anything else that strikes the owners’ fancy.

“The most important thing is freshness,” said Susan Kong, one of the owners, in Mandarin. “Anything fresh, we’ll buy it.”

Of course, there is no dearth of Chinese smorgasbords in Queens. Kong, her husband Pat and her brother Timmy, knew that full well when they ventured into this niche. The competition would be fierce, and their proving ground would come on Sept. 18, 1998 in Huntington Station, L.I., when they opened the first East Buffet and Restaurant.

Kong said buffets were in vogue in Long Island, and with her husband’s more than 20 years of experience as a restaurateur — 10 of them as a French chef — she thought the restaurant would be an unqualified success. But business was a bit wobbly at first, stabilizing only after their customers, many of whom were non-Asian, tasted their fare for the first time.

“Our customers do not rely on advertisem­ents,” Kong said.

Kong, an immigrant of Hong Kong, said the Long Island restaurant was a success, and Chinese-American customers enjoyed it, too, which spawned their next experiment: a buffet-style restaurant for downtown Flushing.

Admittedly, the menu’s focus is directed at Flushing’s Chinese-American population, Kong said. The clientele is about 70 percent Chinese and 30 percent non-Asian, while the Kongs’ restaurant in Long Island is frequented more typically by non-Asians. The Main Street restaurant, she said, is also more expansive, seating some 750 people in the three-story building.

Different environs dictate different dishes.

For instance, the East Buffet and Restaurant serves steamed rice crepes with shrimp, a dish not featured on Long Island. There is also a preserved egg with pork congee, coconut sweet soup with taro and tapioca, and sweet sticky rice balls. And there is the obligatory dim sum, an expansive range of appetizer-like dishes such as chicken feet, tripe and bite-sized servings of pork.

Then, there are other creations. There is penne with vodka tomato sauce, mussels marina, fettucinne Alfredo and beef Wellington, to name but a few — not to mention the myriad desserts, both Chinese and non-Chinese.

“I’m still feeling out the different tastes of different areas,” Kong said.

The East Buffet and Restaurant is open seven days a week. Prices of an all-you-can-eat meal range from $8.99 to $23.99

— Chris Fuchs contributed to this story

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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