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The Spread Buffet

1000 Broadway Cincinnati, OH 45202

The Horseshoe’s main claim to food fame is their “The Spread” buffet. Get in line early. I was 4th in line 45 minutes prior to opening and my wait was almost an hour.
Walking in you see the big signs above the food station reading Italian, Asian, Mexican, Heartland (traditional American) and Rhineland (German). It reminded me of Vegas’s Station Casino buffets. They offer a “food court” of various theme restaurant fronts that make up the buffet. Some food is made to order, most is self serve. The Station buffet by far stomped all other high end Vegas buffets into the dirt. The Horseshoe followed suit as it had a similar layout, that gave me high hopes.
First I tried the Italian. Meatballs, pasta, shrimp scampi and other related dishes, basically the norm. There wasn’t anything true to form Italian but the Spanish Paella stood out as colorful and fresh looking (photo). Closer inspection proved it looked better than it tasted. Rather bland, un-spiced, and flavors clearly not cooked together as paella should be. The shrimp were totally un-seasoned and semi cold. All around it was fair to disappointing.
Next was the Mexican station but unlike the Station buffet, this offering featured no tamales, grilled tacos, enchiladas or any other entree. Beans, rice, chile colorado, chile verde and chips & salsa or queso were the main dishes. Not much more than a chips & sauce station. Ridiculous. If they are not going to serve entree dishes, they should do away with this station altogether. I didn’t even bother to sample it.
Third was the Asian station. Right off I saw crispy shrimp, delicate dumplings, noodles and “Dim Sum” dishes. I snagged a bit of each. Dumplings... light and delightful with a green onion & pork filing and mild seasoning. Noodles... a bit over sauced but well cooked and laced with fine flavor. Quite fine for a buffet. Crispy shrimp... spicy seasoning, a dusting of flour so thin you can see through it and fried crisp. I went back for more shrimp, twice. Damn good shrimp.
In the center you have the Heartland station. It features American and Southern dishes. The meat station looks impressive with its huge hunks of meat under red hot spotlights, sliced per your request by razor sharp knife wielding cooks. Brisket caught my eye right off. An easy cut to screw up, it’s a great test of a kitchen. It reeked of rich smoke and spiced rub. The smoke ring went 1/4” deep. It tasted decent, if you had the sharpened teeth of a wolverine to chew it up with. This brisket needed two more hours in the cooker easy. Three would be better. The Brazilian Beef also looked & smelled divine but again was cooked so over-well I couldn’t handle the toughness. If you have dentures skip all the meat station entirely.
The Collard greens and mashed potatoes were surprisingly stellar. Chunky mashers loaded with butter, lightly salted. Delicious. The savory collards were rich and featured deep flavors thanks to some smoked meat. Again delicious. The rest of the Heartland station was so so.
Lastly was the Rhineland station, a German theme. Right off you see deep red whole link sausages, chicken schnitzel with gnocchi-style dumplings, a cabbage kraut and potato pancakes. The kraut was seasoned with Mexican spices, crazy! The pancakes were tough, overcooked (who would guess) and had an over the top onion flavor. The schnitzel was heavily breaded, tough, chewy and dry (again over cooked). The dumplings looked amazingly good but featured the same dry, tough texture as soo many other side dishes. Too bad because they were otherwise decent.
The fat little sausages were another story. Plump, charred and smoky on the outside, juicy tender and mild on the inside. A fine sausage in the German tradition. Superb quality. I ate two of those. Slowly savoring them.
Another star of the Rhineland (oddly enough) were the chicken & waffles. A tiny tin cup held one waffle strip and a single wing. The wing was triumphantly terrific. Crispy through to the meat, juicy and well seasoned. No under-skin goo from fast frying like you see with many. I ate three in a row. The waffle strip it comes with is sweet and soft on the inside, browned crisp on the outside. Beside the Rhineland station is a draft beer bar.
The grand finale desert station looks too good to be true. Rows of tiny brightly colored, well decorated treats sit pretty in a showcase. A sign proudly proclaims that all deserts are made in house by pastry chefs. I was excited at the plethora of options.
The cheesecake tasted like pure aspartame. The neon green key lime pie was like Pixy Stix pudding. The deep orange & red exotic fruit cup was good but had a strong liquor flavor aftertaste (or aspartame). The cannoli was dry but decent. The tiramisu was over the top sweet. And the rest were all too chemical tasting for me. I say stick with the Graeter’s ice cream bar.
In the end I was $30 lighter in my pockets, yet 13 lbs heavier. I waited an average of 25+ minutes between drink refills (1 total) and they weren’t even that busy yet. If I return I will dine on collard greens, mashers, sausages, chicken wings and everything on the Asian station. I will finish with a Graeter’s cone and have a good experience. Is that worth $25 + tip per person? I guess that depends on how many wings you can eat. If only the beer was included!
The Spread could have been a knock out success knock off. Sadly, the consistent over cooking and under seasoning of nearly everything brought the overall experience to a low. The chef in charge shows neither authenticity nor creativity in his recipes. Quality ingredients are wasted in poorly constructed dishes. If I come off as hard core critical it’s because when I pay $60 for dinner for two, it had better be at least average.
At the Spread I found a few good side dishes, a great chicken wing and a sausage worthy of a quality rating. I realize Horseshoe can’t pull out all the stops the Vegas casinos do but C’mon man! Cooking temps and over-cooking is 101. I expect more from a place of this caliber and at this price.
So the buffet is so so. Most of them are. I doubt too many people are going to the Horseshoe for the food. Most are going for the games. And just how does the Horseshoe stack up against the Indiana joints on gaming? Far better than the food does.

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