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One Trough Closes, Another Takes Its Place

October 13, 2010

The steam tables at Duff’s Smorgasbord in Pigeon Forge will be turned off for the last time on October 31.

 The fried chicken and Salisbury steak, the mashed potatoes and gravy, even the fresh salad bar will disappear into the ether. In better times, Duff’s was a behemoth in the battle for buffet supremacy with locations across the country. It served as a touchstone in our need for elastic-waistband pants.

In short, you could do some serious eating at Duff’s.

I never darkened the door of the Pigeon Forge location, but my family were regulars at the location in Milwaukee when I was growing up. Many a weekend we would make the 45-minute trek in the Silver Bullet, our Ford Econoline van outfitted with slide-out benches and, I swear I’m not making this up, an easy chair. Think Granny Clampett but in an upholstered armchair instead of a rocker.

My grandfather loved Duff’s. Not because of the food, per se, although I recall his fondness for the fried chicken. No, he loved the place because he had three growing grandsons. He loved to think he was ripping the place off taking us, and my big-eating dad, for the $4.99 buffet.

Small price to pay for the gleaming (it was the grease!) array of foodstuffs available. In Milwaukee, Duff’s was a miracle of food delivery. Unlike the gargantuan food buffets of today where you waste precious time wandering around from meats to vegetable-like dishes (seriously, mushy broccoli only qualifies as a vegetable if you live in a nursing home) to desserts, our Duff’s had a, wait for it, conveyor belt. The food came to you! 

Patrons would stand in line waiting for their opportunity to step up to one of the carrels arranged around the steam table. It was DisneyWorld for the soon-to-be morbidly obese, only we weren’t using that term just yet. This was the 80s and phrases like husky and chunky were still in vogue.

Once in your carrel, you watched and waited as ginormous piles of food drifted toward you. Steak, hamsteak, chicken fried steak, chicken fried chicken, baked chicken, baked fish, chicken fried fish, potatoes au gratin, mashed potatoes, potato salad, green beans, green peas, boiled cabbage, cabbage slaw…my mouth would be watering if I didn’t, in my adult years, believe Duff’s to be a contributing factor to my expanded waistline.  

The upside was you didn’t have to move from your spot until you felt your plate was sufficiently full. The downside was if you wrestled over getting the Ham Hawaiian and missed your chance, you’d have to wait for the conveyor belt to cycle back around.

My family’s table was often piled high with discarded, albeit empty, plates. We worked that buffet like chubby orchestra conductors. A little salad here, some fried something and carbs, meat and vegetables, lots of bread, then dessert. Drinking sugary carbonated beverages by the gallon.

It is any wonder I once wore size 54 pants with or without elastic?

Duff’s will fade in to history on October 31. Bus tour patrons will be disappointed, but not for long. A seafood (see food) restaurant is slated to open in Duff’s place.

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From → Fatness, Food

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